Dale Amy
December 18, 2015

In the rich and diverse history of movie Mustangs, the highly unusual, widebody, off-road, ersatz-Shelby ragtop appearing in 1999’s remake of The Thomas Crown Affair is likely one of the shorter—and more bizarre—chapters. Its on-screen performance was tantalizingly brief. We can’t help but wonder if the original concept of a fender-flared and knobby-tired G.T. 350 sporting a trunk-mounted spare and a roll bar festooned with a quartet of safari-style off-road lights was born in a Hollyweird production meeting fueled by more than a small quantity of booze. Or nose-candy. Still, this Highland Green screen gem has its share of fans, and okay, I just might be one of them.

So, apparently, is a Michigan gentleman who was sufficiently smitten by the cinematic convertible he was determined to have this impressive Crown clone built for himself. But first he had to find someone willing to take on the build challenge. Through a mutual friend, he eventually connected with George Huisman at Classic Design Concepts (CDC) on Detroit’s west side. The scheme really got rolling when George located a suitable 1968 Mustang drop-top as the project’s starting point (yes, we know the original was based on a 1967, but let’s not split historical hairs here).

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CDC’s client, who prefers to remain anonymous, was quite practical in his wish list for the assignment: Rather than an exact duplicate, he simply wanted a visual and functional facsimile of the on-screen original. It had to look the part, yet be mechanically modern and capable of navigating the two-track lanes and trails on his northern Michigan farm. Seriously.

Frankly, a precise reproduction would have been impossible anyway, since so few details of the movie car were known (at least at that time—see sidebar). That said, George did have to talk the client out of having the convertible’s doors welded shut like the original’s—recall the climb-aboard situation facing Renee Russo’s character upon her initial Martinique airport encounter with the car in the film. Instead, the client agreed to having the doors merely pinned shut in non-permanent fashion, probably a good thing, as he fully intends to drive and enjoy the car, rather than make it a garage or show queen.

With such regular use in mind, and prioritizing drivability along with ease of maintenance, CDC chose to go with a healthy small-block for motivation (after all, this is labeled a “GT350”). Specifically, power comes from a Ford Performance M-6007-Z50Z crate engine, rated at 390hp by way of its “Z” aluminum heads (M-6049-Z304DA) and lumpy M-6250-Z303 hydraulic roller cam. Through its Pypes exhaust, this thing cackles like a cartoon witch.

Seeing as it was shipped without intake or carb, CDC opted to top the crate engine with Edelbrock’s latest Pro-Flo 2 full-sequential fuel-injection system, hidden beneath an OEM-style tri-power filter assembly. In fact, despite having a modern A/C system and serpentine front-dress setup from Vintage Air, the small-block combo offers up a definite 1960s vibe when the reproduction Shelby hood goes up. And, combined with a Tremec five-speed manual, this makes for a very highway-friendly package.

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Aside from rounding up the legion of necessary parts, perhaps the most time-consuming aspects of the build were the fabrication of its distinctive roll cage, and the enlarging and flaring of all four fender openings to clear those crazy-tall tires. It should be noted the suspension sits at stock ride height; the up-on-stilts look comes solely from the truck-ish rubber (P235/75R15 front; P265/75R15 rear) and those gargantuan wheelwell openings. On that note, George shunned any thought of using fiberglass fenders, instead having his crew perform the fender/wheelwell trimming and re-contouring completely in steel.

As for the roll bar, its fabrication was done by “eyeball engineering,” having reference to nothing more than available photos and videos of the movie car. Swapping on the various body components necessary to morph what began life as a Mustang GT into a 1968 Shelby G.T. 350 lookalike was relatively routine for the CDC crew, yet perfecting the fiberglass body panels for proper fit and panel gaps was nonetheless labor-intensive, as was stripping the convertible down to basically a bare shell for paint and proper routing of a complete 1967 wiring harness from American Auto Wire.

Of course, part of what made the original movie car unique was its combination of those 1968 Shelby exterior touches with the clearly 1967 Deluxe interior of its donor car—a pairing that CDC also followed in this build, though to a much, much higher standard of finish. For example, to provide more ergonomically supportive seating, CDC took a pair of 2014 Mustang buckets and cut them down to low-back height, then had TMI Products stitch together a full interior upholstery package of a style and quality no factory 1967 Pony could ever have dreamed of.

Basically, that quality approach was followed from interior, to running gear, brakes, steering, suspension, and all other components. CDC’s Thomas Crown remake bristles with vintage looks and panache, backed and bettered by modern technology. Detail touches abound, as evidenced in our photos and in the accompanying sidebar setting out most of the hardware used in the custom build.

Perhaps best of all, though, is the finished product’s successful translation of an off-the-wall movie prop into a fully functional, fast, reliable, air-conditioned, fuel-injected, and attention-seeking Pony car completely and comfortably at home on the roads—and farm lanes—of 2015. Hollywood fantasy meets the 21st century.

Props for a Modern Movie Mustang

-Flaming River rack-and-pinion cradle kit with tilt column and long-tube headers
-New Vintage USA 1967 Mustang gauge package
-Vintage Air Front Runner engine drive system
-Baer SS4 front 11-inch discs and Iron Sport rear systems with cross-drilled and slotted rotors
-Lokar emergency brake cable system
-Edelbrock Pro-Flo 2 electronic fuel injection
-Ford Performance 302ci 390hp crate engine (M-6007-Z50Z), 10.0:1 compression, hydraulic roller camshaft, .569-inch lift intake and exhaust, duration at .050-inch is 228 degrees intake and exhaust
-Ford Performance aluminum Z cylinder heads with 2.02-inch intake and 1.60-inch exhaust valves
-RAM clutch assembly
-Bruce Couture’s Modern Driveline 1967 Mustang hydraulic clutch master cylinder
-Tilton hydraulic throw-out bearing assembly
-Tremec five-speed manual transmission
-Dynotech aluminum driveshaft
-Flex-a-lite Black Magic S-Blade electric fan
-American Auto Wire 1967 Mustang complete wiring harness
-Interior and exterior reproduction components by CJ Pony Parts, Tony Branda, and NPD
-Classic Design Concepts Flashback power mirror assembly
-Shelby-specific body components by Tony Branda
-15-inch American Racing Torq Thrust II rims
-Pypes performance exhaust
-P265/75R15 and P235/75R15 Cooper Tires

How the Original Came About

It was only after his CDC craftsmen had finished this classy clone that George learned, quite by accident, that another of his customers, Gino Lucci, had actually built the original movie car. Gino is a genuine Mustang enthusiast, and his Brooklyn, New York, company, Picture Cars East, has supplied vehicles to the movie industry since 1974. We had a couple phone conversations with Gino, who was kind enough to tell us how the original came about.

Thomas Crown Affair’s director, John McTiernan, approached Gino about building a unique Mustang for the project. McTiernan (who has directed many a Hollywood blockbuster, including two of the Die Hard series, along with Predator and The Hunt for Red October) shipped to Gino’s company a rough, partially modified small-block 1967 Mustang GTA convertible wearing miscellaneous Shelby bits as a starting point. That car had originally been intended to go in the 1993 film Last Action Hero (also directed by McTiernan). However, Gino tells us that film’s star, Arnold Schwarzenegger, was simply too big and overwhelmed the Mustang’s cockpit and so Arnold’s character got a Bonneville convertible instead. So the Mustang remained sitting in McTiernan’s own Wyoming barn for a few years until the TCA project got underway. As evidence of this rustic storage, Gino’s guys found the remains of a squirrel in the GTA’s dash when work began.

McTiernan—who Gino says is a genuine gearhead—had a clear mental image of how the car should look, and gave Gino a sketch of an off-road-style Mustang to work from. As is typically the case with movie cars, Gino and his crew had a very compressed time frame in which to finish the conversion, after which it was air-freighted to Martinique for filming.

As part of the prep, the car’s 289 (not a Hi-Po) was checked, but mainly for reliability rather than muscling it up. With the high cost of location filming, reliability is absolutely paramount. Likewise, the chassis/suspension was beefed slightly for duty on Martinique’s dirt roads. And, unlike CDC’s clone, the original’s flared fenders were made of fiberglass.

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