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David Harris' 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback

David Harris' 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback


It is remarkable how a movie can dictate an impression etched into a nation's psyche be it a character, device, or a vehicle.  One such film is Bullitt made in 1968 by Peter Yates starring Steve McQueen as Frank Bullitt, a hard-nosed police lieutenant.  Our protagonist drives a modified 1968 Ford Mustang GT Fastback that, intentionally or not, became a metaphor reflecting America in the 1960s as a sexy, condfident, and uncompromising nation.  The image of this Mustang captivated audiences with its compact, muscular tone, and a famous 7-minute chase scene; a role that helped propel Mustang as an American icon to near legendary status.  The car remains one of the most sought after models for serious car collectors and pony car enthusiasts.

Living in northern Ontario, Mustangs were a rare sight and the winters are harsh and unforgiving.  In northern Ontario, you don't freeze, you rust.  It is the greatest nemesis to cars, particularly Mustangs.  The first Mustang David saw was a 1968 GT Fastback owned by friends of the family who had bought it in Winnipeg.  Used as a daily drive, the bitter winters and blistering summers slowly deteriorated the insouciance of the car and either years later it lay, like a fallen tree in the pinewoods collecting moss near his family's cottage.

My second eldest brother bought it, but once he attended university, he didn't have the time or money to restore the car.  He sold it to the youngest of the three brothers, but by 1978 it needed serious bodywork.  My dad, a Chevy man, acquired the car with the determination to restore it to its former glory.  He was a trained mechanic and worked as a stationary engineer.  "He could tackle anything and everything related to cars and motors," reflects David.  "It was his passion to go to the garage every morning and put in a full day's work on the restoration.  My brothers and I would pitch in on our visits from college and university, but my dad did the lion's share of the work."

In 1994, with the car completely restored with new floor pans, front and rear quarter panels and repainted, David's parents drove the car to Mustang's 30th Anniversary at the Charlotte Speedway in North Carolina, a five hour drive from their hometown.  "The '68 still proudly wears the sticker from that celebration," boasts David.  "The 302 cubic inch engine with the four barrel Autolite carburetor had been removed to repaint the engine bay and at the same time, my father rebuilt, balanced, and blueprinted the engine."  With its TopLoader 4-speed transmission, it ran and sounded brand new, even with 80,000 miles under its belt.

As the couple was returning, they decided to drop by and visit their son's family in Ottowa.  "My father, then 62 years old, came over to me and said: 'David, I have had my fun and time with the car, now I want you and your brother to have it.'"  While this may have seemed like a dream, it would also have some unpleasant consequences.  Ironically, for all of Mustang's popularity, David never wanted to own a Mustang and yearned for a Corvette instead, but the car fell into his possession like a family heirloom.  The most obvious problem was the impracticality of the two brothers living over five hours apart - one in Ottowa and the other in Oakville.  "My wife was concerned as to the costs of maintaining such a vehicle as we were just starting a family of three children.

"I began taking it to cruises and auto shows," states David, "and as possession is said to be nine-tenths of the law, I began to see the '68 as 'my' car."  He gave it a cosmetic facelift by incorporating a sport's steering wheel, American racing rims, and radial tires, and some engine "dress-ups."  With such attention and expenses, David "possessed" the car as his own.  It had become his love and as a result, a dispute emerged between the brothers with neither of them speaking to each other for years.  It is ironic that an act of kindness split the family apart.  David continued upgrading the car to accommodate his kids' adjustment to standard by replacing the transmission with a Tremec 5-speed that is easier to shift.  "Essentially, the car is 'stock'.  I've kept all the parts and pieces that have been replaced."  To keep the car roadworthy, David had to upgrade and the car has over 160,000 miles on it.  "The radiator and mechanical cooling fan were replaced.  Spal electric fans, four core aluminum radiator, Hedman longtube cermaic coated headers, and a larger diameter, stainless steel exhaust system with Flow max mufflers for a nice throaty roar have been additions."

Before returning home, I helped my dad buy a new Chevrolet, but he still had the Mustang bug gnawing at him.  In no time, he purchased a 1966 Mustang GTA Fastback and a '64 ½ convertible.  "My youngest brother now has the '64 model but sadly the '66 was in an accident and was sold."  The Mustang has provided David with a new family of friends from the Cruise Nights and the local Mustang club.  "The camaraderie is contagious as each year David and his comrades go on their pilgrimage to participate in the big auto show in Carlisle, Pennsylvania.  "When the time comes when I will also say: 'take the car, I have had my fun and it's yours,' I am not sure if any of my kids will want it.  Today's cars seem so much more exciting and sporty to them."  It leads David a moment to ponder about the future, "I have noticed over the years at cruise-ins how the older vehicles and their drivers are starting to drop off, especially with the vintage models.  It may be that early Mustangs will share the same fate as their drivers grow older."  Like any generation, the young prefer and can relate to their own 'muscle cars'.  "I wish there was a Canadian Mustang Museum whereby Mustangs could 'retire' on display to be admired and understood for generations to come."  One can feel the passion in David's voice as to the relevance of owning such a classic car, "in spite of never wanting a Mustang, it has grown to be a part of me."