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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.
Once Randy started working on the car, communication between France and Delaware happened on a daily basis. The six-month deadline that was agreed to required a second set of hands, so Ron Falkner jumped in to assist with the workload. It's worth pointing out that the build of this car occurred without a single phone call ever taking place. It all happened in the virtual world via email, and messaging on Facebook. Ron or Pam would upload photos in the evening of the work performed on the car. With a six-hour difference, Olivier was able to view the progress of the build the following morning.
The crew at Iron Hill handled all of the bodywork; the '67 had a fairly solid body, yet it still needed floors, quarters, and a number of other sheetmetal pieces. Part of the plan was to also add some fiberglass reproduction Shelby trim. This was achieved with a set of Tony D. Branda upper and lower sidescoops, fastback trunk lid, endcaps, and a louvered hood. Olivier opted to keep the '67 front end, instead of adding the Shelby panels up front. Once the body was together, and the bodywork completed, Randy applied numerous coats of primer, which were then topped off with a number of layers of Acapulco Blue Valspar paint and clear. The end result is a car that is visually very similar to the previous '67 that he owned.
On the mechanical end, Olivier did extensive research online to see what combination of parts would best suit his needs. With the daily exchange of Trans-Atlantic communication, he conveyed his ideas to the crew at Iron Hill. Based on his experience building Fords, Randy also made suggestions as to what he felt would work best. In the end, he had Ed Thomas Performance Engines in St. Georges, Delaware, build up the mill for the '67. They started with a 302 block stroked to 331 cubic inches.
In his research, he also determined that a Tremec five-speed would be the ideal gearbox for his needs. Hanlon Motorsports in St. Peters, Pennsylvania, handled that part of the puzzle. This potent combination transmits its power to an Eaton Truetrac-equipped, 3.70-geared, 9-inch rearend. Because of the issue with the French government, they settled on the use of a TCP coilover front suspension and rack-and-pinion, along with VariShock coilover shocks at the front. At the back, TCP mid-eye leaf springs and Monroe shocks sort out the handling issues. American Racing Torq-Thrust II wheels wrapped in BFGoodrich G-Force T/A Radials, are the last piece of the handling package, while Wilwood four-piston brakes at all four corners bring it all to a stop.
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The interior also received a complete makeover. Most noticeable is the addition of the Scat Enterprises Procar seats. The Auto Meter Comp II instruments, Lecarra Steering wheel, Auto Custom carpet, and custom center console all combine to add the final touch to an already stunning interior. However, while those were added, the radio was deleted because of an incompatibility with U.S. and European radio frequencies. Olivier also had Randy install retractable seatbelts at the rear, along with a booster seat. Plans were for the entire family to enjoy the '67 when it arrived.
The project was completed within budget, and the six months that were agreed upon. Without a doubt, the most intriguing aspect of this was the use of Facebook and email, instead of the phone, to get the job done. This was actually a positive experience for both parties. Randy points out that, "It's a big move to contact somebody that you don't know, trust them to take your money every month to fund the project as it goes along, and trust that they aren't going to work you over. Olivier did! It was a really pleasant experience."
Completion of the Mustang wasn't the final chapter in this story, however. After a few weeks, the car was picked up in Delaware, and shipped to Miami, where it was placed on a ship destined for France. When it arrived, it was directly impounded until it could be legalized. That process was supposed to take a month or two; however, it dragged out for six problematic months. Olivier points out, "She suffered from six months of sitting with surface rust issues underneath the vehicle. I worked hard to clean the mess, and I succeeded. I do have roof paint damage as a result of some spilled oil or coolant that occurred during the sea travel. No one cleaned it for six months!"
Biggest question is, of course, if the car lives up to expectations, which Olivier is comfortable in stating that, "She has quite enough power with the 331 and the sound is incredible! All in all, it is a very balanced car, safe and powerful. She corners flat, stops fast, and handles way better than stock. I found myself cornering just a little slower than with my Lotus Exige on the open road." The next step will be some tracks days where it will be put to a more rigorous test.
Olivier wanted a Mustang that was suitable to do track days with, so outright horsepower wasn't as important as maximum handling
Olivier Legrand's 1967 Ford Mustang
331 Ford small block, 4.030 bore, 3.250 stroke built by Ed Thomas Performance Engines (St. Georges, Delaware)
Trick Flow Specialties aluminum cylinder heads, 2.02-inch intake valves, 1.60-inch exhaust valves
Edelbrock aluminum intake manifold
Scat steel crankshaft
Scat steel connecting rods
Probe Industries forged aluminum pistons
Comp Cams roller camshaft, 0.555 lift, 295/300 duration at 0.050
Demon 650-cfm carburetor
10.6:1 compression ratio
Patriot headers with 15⁄8-inch primaries, 2½-inch collectors
Flowtech 2½-inch mufflers
2.5-inch aluminized steel pipes
Tremec five-speed built by Hanlon Motorsports (St. Peters, Pennsylvania)
Pro 5.0 shifter with custom billet shift handle
Ford 9-inch housing
Eaton Truetrac differential
Front: TCP coilover front suspension and rack-and-pinion, VariShock coilover shocks
Rear: TCP mid-eye leaf springs, Monroe shocks
Front: Wilwood disc, 12-inch rotors, four-piston calipers
Rear: Wilwood disc, 12-inch rotors, four-piston calipers
Front: American Racing Torq-Thrust II, 17x8-inch, chrome finish
Rear: American Racing Torq-Thrust II, 17x9-inch, chrome finish
Front: BFGoodrich G-Force T/A P225/45ZR17
Rear: BFGoodrich G-Force T/A P275/40ZR17
Scat Enterprises Procar seats, Auto Custom carpet, Auto Meter Comp II instruments, Lecarra Steering wheel, custom center console, rear retractable seatbelts, rear booster seat
Valspar Acapulco Blue applied by Iron Hill Auto Body; Tony D. Branda fiberglass hood, decklid, scoops, and quarter extensions