Wes Duenkel
April 16, 2018

When Chris Slee left his New Zealand home for the States in 2008, he brought his family…and his love of American cars. But just as his family’s genealogy traces back across the Pacific, so does Slee’s passion for American car culture.

Growing up in New Zealand, Slee recalls that is his father, Ron, owned vintage American cars. He says, “We couldn’t afford anything ‘exotic’ like a Mustang, but I remember cars like ’60s Impalas.” Ron Slee always had a soft spot for American cars, and his son, Chris, inherited it.

When Chris Slee wanted to build his 80-year-old father an American car to drive in New Zealand, the obvious choice was a classic Mustang convertible.

The junior Slee now runs Kiwi Classics and Customs in Franklin, Tennessee. Even though he resides 8,000 miles from his father, their love of automotive Americana ties them together. During a visit to the United States when younger Slee came across a 1965 Mustang in Michigan, father and son decided to take a road trip to pick up the car and tour Detroit’s heritage. Once back in Tennessee, Chris planned to rebuild the car and send it to New Zealand for his father to enjoy.

After driving the car back to Tennessee, Chris and his crew at Kiwi Classics and Customs got to work. The project snowballed from a basic restoration to a larger project because of a common reason: rust. Once disassembled, Slee found more of the metal cancer than he anticipated. However, Slee remained pragmatic. “The floors were really rusty. But, if a panel is ‘a little’ rusty or ‘a lot’ rusty, the work is the same to replace it.”

Subtle body modifications are a hallmark of Chris Slee’s work. Note the raised front wheel arches, tight panel gaps, tucked-in bumpers, and smoothed rockers.

One of the hallmarks of Slee’s work is performing subtle sheetmetal modifications to his customers’ cars—and his dad’s ’65 convertible is no exception. None of the features stand out, but rather update and enhance his subject’s classic shape. Astute enthusiasts will notice the raised front wheel arch (1 inch higher than stock), tucked-in bumpers, and precise fender gaps. Slee also extended the rocker panel sheetmetal to fill in the gap to the pinch weld. The result is a smooth rocker panel that tucks up cleanly under the car. Slee also reworked the rear fender pinch welds to match the tidiness of the rocker treatment.

One of the most noteworthy coachwork customizations is incorporating 1967 Mustang hoodscoops and turn signal indicators into the 1965 hood. Slee is proud of the result, and adds, “It’s one of the first things Mustang people notice about the car.”

A luxurious TMI Products interior complements the bright blue paint on this 1965 Mustang. Full door panels and complete seats update the look.

Interestingly, Slee had to restrain himself from making more extensive sheetmetal and powertrain alterations. In New Zealand, modified vehicles are subject to a strict “compliancing” process. All collision repairs and other modifications are subject to inspection by a certified automotive engineer, who vouches for the safety of every vehicle that’s modified beyond its original equipment. Slee explains, “A lot of what some people do here in the States would never fly over in New Zealand. So, I couldn’t really cut up the body and add a big-horsepower engine without running afoul of a New Zealand compliance inspector.”

With the metalwork done, Slee turned his attention to the paint. “We had a blue color in mind, but not the typical dark blue often seen on these cars. We took some Matrix paint colors and started mixing, and added pearls and metal flakes of various sizes. It took thirteen tries, but we found something we liked.” Kiwi Classics and Customs’ in-house painter, Barry Bannister, fogged the custom color over the Mustang’s smoothed panels. Bannister even painted the underbody with a tinted Raptor coating to protect the floors from rock chips.

Slee incorporated the Vintage Air vents into the metal dashboard and relocated the controls to the center for a subtle, integrated look.

Suspension modifications were also kept simple to please New Zealand’s compliance inspectors. The front was treated to a “Shelby drop” kit, while Summit Racing 1-inch drop rear springs were installed to level the ride. An upgraded Borgeson steering box tightened up the steering feel, while Slee painted a set of stock-style four-piston front calipers in body color to brighten up the braking equipment.

The front discs and rear drums were installed behind US Mags measuring 17x7 and 17x8 front and rear, respectively. Slee ordered the wheels with textured gray centers and diamond-cut lips, and then wrapped them in Hankook P235/45R17 rubber up front and P245/45R17 rubber in the rear.

Slee incorporated 1967 hoodscoops and turn signal indicators into the 1965 hood.

The custom touches continued with the interior, and specifically to the dashboard. “I didn’t like how the bezels for the Vintage Air conditioning system hung below the dash, so I incorporated them into the dashboard.” Slee also relocated the controls to the center of the dash in a space formerly occupied by the ash tray. “Most people don’t notice that I moved it unless I point it out.”

Slee turned to TMI Products for their interior expertise, including complete low-back bucket seats, a full console, dashpad, and full-length door panels. The rich, tan leather contrasts nicely with the bright blue paint and matching TMI cloth convertible top.

Slee painted the bumpers and tucked them closely to the body.

The Mustang’s original straight-six engine and three-speed transmission were chucked in favor of a 5.0-liter/five-speed combination snatched from a 1995 Mustang GT. When asked about any engine work, Slee replies, “We weren’t planning on it, but when swapping to a proper oil pan for the ’65, I made the mistake of checking the main bearings.” The inspection resulted in a complete rebuild from Grooms Engines in Nashville, Tennessee. Slee topped the freshened short-block with a set of Flo-Tek aluminum heads, a Summit Racing Stage 1 intake, and a Quick Fuel 600-cfm carburetor. A CFR front engine accessory drive kit, valve covers, and air cleaner complete the under-hood aesthetics.

To clean up the engine bay, Slee filled a lot of the holes, hid the air conditioning hoses and wiring harnesses, and fabricated a custom radiator cover panel emblazoned with the Māori warrior—a symbol of New Zealand culture, and used in the Kiwi Classics and Customs logo.

The smooth lower body look continues from the extended rocker panels to the rear fender seam behind the wheels.

Slee always keeps the needs of his customers in the forefront of his mind, and as such this Mustang retains three pedals. “Even though my father is 80 years old, he insisted on driving a stick shift.” The aforementioned 1995 Mustang five-speed gearbox received a new countershaft cluster, fresh clutch, and stock shifter to make his dad’s driving chores as easy as possible. Torque from the Tremec box is sent to an 8-inch rearend with 2.80:1 gears and an open differential. “The one-tire fryer is actually a safety measure. If my dad spins the tires, the differential keeps it from going sideways.” Flowtech headers and a Summit Racing exhaust kit make sure Ron Slee’s neighbors in New Zealand know when he’s coming or going.

Ron Slee’s Mustang is a perfect example that one doesn’t need to go overboard to build a fabulous car. It’s the little things that complete the package. By the time you read this, the blue beauty you see before you will be on an 8,000-mile journey to Auckland, New Zealand, where Slee’s father will ignite genealogy and gasoline every time he turns the key.

A 5.0L/five-speed sourced from a 1995 Mustang GT fills the engine bay. A Quick Fuel carburetor, Flo-Tek aluminum heads, and a Summit Racing intake manifold enhance motivation.
Kiwi Classics and Customs’ Barry Bannister sprayed the tinted Raptor liner on the underside of the Mustang to make sure this Mustang survives any surface it drives in New Zealand.
Ron Slee (left) and his son and car builder, Chris Slee (right), take a selfie during their Michigan-to-Tennessee road trip in front of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Hall of Fame.