Rebuilding classic cars is often described as a labour of love. This is especially true for one car enthusiast, Jonathan Brand. Born in Sarnia, Ontario, Jonathan Brand inherited his father’s love for Mustangs as they rebuilt vintage models together. The time spent rebuilding these classics taught him how to weld, visualize and create; part of what he does as a professor of sculpture and 3D Design at Parsons School of Design in New York. After selling a yellow 1969 Mustang Coupe that he rebuilt with his father to pay for an engagement ring for his wife, Jonathan didn’t rebuild a car again – that is, until he built one out of paper.

Today, Jonathan lives in New Haven, Connecticut with his wife – yes, the same woman who received the ring bought with the funds he made from selling his Mustang. He commutes into New York to teach, and owns an art studio where his paper car currently sits. It’s a life-size model made entirely out of inkjet paper, folded meticulously together to create parts of the vehicle. It is based entirely off of drawings he created from memory of the same yellow 1969 Mustang Coupe that he bought with his father in Mississippi for $500.

“The motor was in the back seat and it was sitting in a field when we bought it,” says Brand. The restoration took about seven years. The vehicle sat in their garage while he was in university, until he decided to put the finishing touches on it and sell it to purchase an engagement ring. Four years later, he found himself still thinking about the car.

“Restoring cars really influenced how I work on my sculpture,” Brand says. “It’s less about a connection to the Mustang, and more about how I work. As an artist, I remake things that are important to me in my life.”

paper engine, photo by Laura DeSantis-Olsson

Brand started by drawing the vehicle in life-size 3D on his computer, which took about one year. By printing colored pages on a regular inkjet printer, and cutting them by hand, he began the process of intricately folding the paper to create his first part, a tire. Brand says once the tire was completed, after three months, the rest of the car came together in a relatively quick nine months. It helped that, in March 2011, the Hosfelt Gallery in New York City offered him an exhibit for the car in September 2011, putting a time limit on his creation.

The only structure that he included is a compressed paper board for the body of the car, so it could maintain its delicate nature. “I wanted it to still look like it was made of paper and be kind of floppy,” says Brand.

Although other car manufacturers have asked him to create other models on their behalf, Brand says it’s his intrinsic connection to Ford that allowed him to create the paper car. “It wouldn’t work as a part of my artistic practice to make something else, I would never have had a connection to it,” he says. This is a similar connection that his grandfather also had, purchasing only Ford vehicles throughout his life. That being said, it’s no surprise that Brand worked on all three of his family’s antique Ford Mustangs. His parents, who currently live in Mount Bridges, ON, still exclusively drive Ford vehicles.

It’s that connection that leads him to researching the whereabouts of his old yellow ’69 Coupe, and a permanent home for its paper counterpart.

“I think they resold it,” he says. “Since I’ll never see the original one again, it would be nice to be able to see the paper one again in a permanent exhibit.”

Photography by Laura DeSantis-Olsson