DANVILE, Ind. - During a private event in Danville, Indiana, a team from The Finer Details auto restoration shop presented the keys to a restored Candy Apple Red 1967 Mustang coupe to 96-year-old World War II veteran Harry Donovan and members of his family. As Mr. Donovan looked on, Jay Webb and David Engle pulled the cover off the “War Hero Dream Mustang.” It was back on Saturday, March 31, 2018, and a moment that will be long-remembered in this community.
The proud yet humble owner stood in total silence taking it all in, then slowly moved his head up and down in a nod of approval. Mr. Donovan then carefully made his way toward the driver-side of the restored ’67 Mustang. He stepped back, opened the door to look inside, then reached up and placed his right hand on the roof as a tear ran down his left cheek. Through the lens of my Nikon, Mr. Donovan’s emotions were clear – both in the expression on his face and in the look in his eyes. With the help of several talented members from The Finer Details, who decided in the fall of 2016 to do the right thing, the 96-year-old World War II veteran has successfully completed the most memorable rescue mission of his life.
Back in 2009, Mr. Donovan set out to restore his ’67 Mustang for his late wife, Marie. A so-called family friend stepped forward and offered to restore the car. Mr. Donovan trusted the person with the car and gave him the keys and several thousand dollars toward restoring the Mustang. That restorer drove off, and not long after, went off the radar. The ’67 Mustang and restorer were AWOL.
With help from the State of Indiana, Mr. Donovan’s ’67 Mustang was recovered a few years later as a rolling shell. The hood, engine, transmission, interior parts and most of the exterior trim had been pulled from the car and likely sold after it was stolen from Mr. Donovan. Not long after, on July 7th, 2016, Indy Star “Call for Action” reporter Tim Evans made the theft and recovery front-page news, and that’s how the team at The Finer Details found out about it.
After seeing it on the front page of the Indy Star and reading the disturbing details of how Mr. Donovan had been taken advantage of, the young men from The Finer Details felt compelled to do the right thing. They came up with a plan to restore the ’67 Mustang for Mr. Donovan. Their plan called for each of them to provide their automotive restoration expertise free of charge to Mr. Donovan at The Finer Details. They reached out to people within the automotive community for parts and materials to aid the restoration project. Suppliers and private donors answered with an outpouring of support.
One cannot discount the facts: This project would not have happened without the help of many individuals and companies who donated their skilled labor, parts and materials. The American Legion and Tony Katz from WIBC, a local radio station, stepped up and offered their support with the project. With help from committed people, the Donovan ’67 Mustang became a mission for them to see through to completion.
On that chilly Saturday morning in Danville, in the showroom of The Finer Details, a humble and proud ’67 Mustang owner stood at attention, taking in the results. As Mr. Donovan examined his wife’s beloved Mustang, which now looked new again, he quietly said, “This is for Marie.”
In September 2016, Mr. Donovan mentioned that he and his late wife Marie had talked about how they’d regretted not buying a V-8-powered Mustang. The inline straight six-cylinder was good enough to take their kids and grandkids to the beach, but it lacked the sound and horsepower each of them liked. In the background of the conversation, taking it all in, were Jay Webb, David Engel and Justin Bliss from The Finer Details. Mr. Donovan also talked about his favorite country singer, Patsy Cline, and his favorite song, “Marie.”
During the unveiling of the ’67 Mustang, a starry-eyed Mr. Donovan stood at the driver-side door opening with his right arm resting on the car’s white vinyl roof. Ken Mosier from The Finer Details broke the silence when he declared, “Harry, we have something special for you to hear.” Then Jay Webb, also from The Finer Details, turned on the radio to play Harry Donovan’s all-time-favorite song, “Marie,” playing on the restored Mustang’s radio.
To say this was an emotional experience is an understatement. Speaking for everyone in the showroom at this special moment, we all felt honored to share this once-in-a-lifetime moment with Mr. Donovan and his family. There was also a sense of pride and a sense of accomplishment for The Finer Details Team. The look on Harry Donovan’s face when “Marie” started playing on the radio told them they’d successfully completed their mission for this World War II veteran.
A few minutes later, the hood was raised on the ’67 Mustang and Harry Donovan looked into the engine bay to see a freshly rebuilt 302-cid V-8 engine staring up at him.
“I want to hear the V-8 engine run!” Mr. Donovan said with eagerness in his voice. He slowly made his way to the driver-side door opening again and, with some help, slid into the driver seat and turned to motion for his grandson, Harry “Hobs” Donovan IV, to get into the passenger seat. Mr. Donovan then turned the key in the ignition and the engine started right up. He revved it up a bit and listened to the sweet sound coming from the dual exhaust. Both of his hands went up in approval -- and there was a look of pleasure on each of their faces as both nodded their heads in approval while taking it all in.
“My grandfather is on cloud-nine,” said Hobs. “He’s elated! This man has done so much for his family during his lifetime. We’re so grateful to all the people who made this possible for him. We can’t put into words how much this means to the Donovan family.”
Plans are under way to have Mr. Donovan and Hobs drive the ’67 Mustang to a private location. It will be the first time in decades that Mr. Donovan has driven the Mustang. Hobs told his grandfather that the last time he recalls riding in the ’67 Mustang was 13 years ago when his grandmother, Marie, took him and her other grandchildren for one of their road trips to the local Dairy Queen for some ice cream.
“We set out on this project with a plan to do the right thing,” said The Finer Details team. “Each of us felt compelled to do our part to make this ’67 Mustang special for Mr. Harry Donovan. We’re proud of our country and we support the military. It’s an honor to give back to World War II veteran Harry Donovan. We learned a great deal about ourselves and the team at The Finer Details from this project.”
Dave Engle from The Finer Details might have said it best:
“It was nearly two years of hard work,” he said. “We wanted to do the right thing. We’re glad Harry Donovan is here to see his dream car. We want him to have fun, make memories and enjoy it!
“Others who have the talent, resources and drive should step up and do the right thing when an opportunity like this happens,” he continued. “This whole process has been truly amazing!”
FORD PEFORMANCE PHOTOS COURTESY AL ROGERS / FREEZE FRAME IMAGE