Modified Mustangs & FordsFeatured Vehicles
1967 Ford Mustang - French Connection
This 1967 Mustang Fastback flies under the French radar
Americans are quite proud of the freedom we have in this country. Freedom is arguably, in many instances, a very subjective thing. Consider that every month when you open up an issue of Modified Mustangs & Fords, you're opening up an expression of creative freedom. While that notion may seem like a bit of a stretch, imagine living in a place where the simple addition of a rollbar to your car would be deemed illegal unless it came installed from the factory. Far fetched you might think? Thankfully, we haven't reached that point in the United States, however, this is the reality that Mustang diehard, Olivier Legrand, lives with in France.
Undaunted by strict French vehicular laws, Olivier's path to Mustang ownership started at the age of 25, when he viewed Gone in 60 Seconds. Captivated by Eleanor, his goal was to one day own such a muscle car. He explains, "You have to know why I wanted a Mustang. It's all about a certain American dream, way of life, liberty, style, and power. In France, you can see a lot of fast cars, mostly Ferraris or Porsches. I wanted to drive something different." At that age, he wasn't financially ready to commit to such a purchase. By 2008, with a growing family and a successful career in place, pulling the trigger on his desire was feasible.
Harnessing the power of the Internet, Olivier spent countless hours looking for a shop in France that either had, or could help him find, what he was looking for. That ordeal would end up becoming a two-year educational process.
"I wanted a car that looked like Eleanor," he adds. "My further self-education, and the interest I had for Mustangs, refined my taste for something more classical that would stand the test time." After an exhaustive search, he found his first Mustang. Not quite the Eleanor that he had lusted after, it was only a mildly customized '67 Acapulco Blue fastback that had been imported into France in 2006. Sporting a 351 Windsor mill, a Borg Warner five-speed, discs at all four corners, and some Shelby body trim, the Mustang gave him his first taste of Detroit iron.
The Mustang kept him amused, and he enjoyed driving the car. It was, however, for the most part, a stock Mustang, and he wanted more. Olivier explains, "What I want is to drive! I don't mind a weekend driver! I love the factory-looking Mustang restomods because they retain their spirit, but give you a much more pleasurable driving experience."
Influenced by the vibrant restomod movement in the U.S., Olivier decided to replace the '67 with another Mustang that more closely embodied what was happening on this side of the Atlantic. For that, he decided on a different approach. Instead of looking in France, he opted to search in the U.S.
Keeping in mind that the car would need to be transported to France once completed, he limited his choices to East Coast shops on the list. He sent emails to numerous shops, and surprisingly, only Randy Space, the owner of Iron Hill Auto Body in Newark, Delaware, took the time to answer his email without throwing out a ludicrous estimate. Olivier points out that, "Randy and Pam Space were the only one's who agreed to have a detailed look at my project by studying the build that I wanted. They put together an estimate that was within my budget and window of time, and wrote up a detailed contract prior to asking for any money. That way I could be comfortable with the fact that my needs were understood, and I wouldn't be a gullible fish on a hook for some dishonest person. Also by establishing the contract, I was assured that my car would be built within my budget, in a fixed time, and I would know exactly what I was getting. They also provided me with lots of details about their past projects, and gave me lots of advice. The key here was the very clean, smooth, precise, and honest communication Pam and Randy had with me."
From that initial email, the six-month "French Connection" project came to life. Both men went back and forth for about three weeks to sort out all of the details on the car. Working with a fixed budget, Olivier was very specific on what work he wanted done to the car, plus also needing an actual car.
Olivier wanted a Mustang that was suitable to do track days with, so outright horsepower wasn't as important as maximum handling.
"Considering the car will not see a dragstrip, I wanted to keep the power moderate and increase the ride as much as possible using the shock towers and the leaf springs. Eaton and TCP would do the rest, along with the Panhard bar instead of traction bars," he adds.
Dictated by French law, there were a number of things that needed to be adhered to. Randy recalls that, "I wanted to put a Mustang II front end underneath it, but Olivier said that we're not allowed to chop the car up. They won't allow it over there. He also said that it has to be an original V-8 car. I couldn't build him a '67 that started out as a six-cylinder car. It also had to have a clean title, not a salvage certificate." Randy had exactly what he was looking for, a '67 V-8 Mustang fastback with a clean title. In fact, the car was his personal ongoing project, which he agreed to cut loose.
This is where we go back to the issue of freedom. Due to French laws, having a heavily modified restomod built was not in the cards.
"The problem is that my country is very conservative about cars," Olivier explains. "Virtually no mods are allowed! If you modify a car, you must pass a test given by the authorities (called DRIRE) to get the title (called a Grey Card). They are not friendly." He further clarifies that, "the second problem is with insurance. They insure you for a collectible car, not for a heavily modified roaring monster! Well, what if the car looks near stock? For a French insurance expert who doesn't know much about U.S. cars, especially one that old, that may be OK." How strict are the laws? Even something as harmless as a wheel change is technically against the law. Furthermore, this isn't a situation that is exclusive to France. Throughout the European Union, member countries all have nearly identical laws and attitudes with regards to vehicular modifications. As a result, the build of the '67 would need to push the limits of French law, yet be able to fly under the radar to get the desired government approval and insurance.