Perhaps the most humorous remark came from Bill Dillard, former president of the Mustang Club of America, "Looks like a street rod ran into a Mustang!" The Ring brothers from Wisconsin were showing their latest creation at the MCA Nationals in Springfield, Illinois. Bill and a host of other Mustang Club of America members, many of whom are strict restorers, had never seen anything like it.
Jim Ring told us, "Modified cannot be bolted on. Modified is what comes out of your mind." The closer you look at Jim's work, the more you see what he means. This car came right out of his mind. Modified it is, but a combination of aftermarket bolt-on parts it is not. A bolt-on project car is called restomod. When you are dealing with a modified, so much is created and fabricated from imagination. So much is both unique and trick, such as the custom aluminum molding wedged in the open space between the Shelby R-model rear window and the trailing edge of the roof.
Mike and Jim Ring's base of operations is Classic Auto Body in Spring Green, Wisconsin, where their business is repairing late-model collision damage. That's the norm at Classic Auto Body. What isn't the norm is extraordinary modified Mustangs like this one. They don't come along often, but when they do, they alter the course of the classic Mustang's evolution.
Last year, the Ring brothers came out of nowhere with a modified '66 GT-R Mustang convertible, voted one of the top five street machines of the year at Good Guys. That car was on our October 2003 cover. This time, they did a fastback. Finally, after thousands of hours, their masterpiece was finished, and magazines were coming out of the woodwork to snap pictures. We were there first.
Mike told us, "Jim gets bored. He gets tired of the everyday routine of collision repair." It's only natural for car enthusiasts who work with grocery-getter late-models to want to work with sportier cars they really like. Jim told us he had owned two dozen '65-'66 fastbacks and convertibles, and a couple of '69 and '70 Drag Pack cars and Boss 302s.
Prior to the GT-R, the Ring brothers' Mustangs were fine restorations. They entered them in Mustang shows, but Jim became frustrated and bored. "No matter how nice you did them, there was always somebody doubting or telling you what wasn't exactly right on them. I guess that's what drove me crazy." Both Mike and Jim still wanted to build Mustangs. They just wanted to build Mustangs that stood apart. "We built them to have fun and be different," Jim said.
Being different is not the bailiwick of the restorer. To Jim Ring, your basic modified is not what he would consider a modified. "I've seen thousands of Mustangs, and you can't call a Mustang with wheels, tires, and a chromed-out motor modified. That's not modified to me."
The Ring Brothers decided to choose the path least traveled. Modifying Mustangs with custom fabricated parts was "like walking a tight rope. You take one step in the wrong direction, you don't come back." Jim continued, "I do the fabrication, and Mike makes everything look pretty." Mike said essentially the same thing, "Jim is the inventor and fabricator. I actually do all the finish work."
Jim doesn't use drawings. He visualizes and then fabricates. He told us, "It's in my head. I had one of the judges at the MCA show tell me you can't do this without drawing a car first. I said, 'yes, we can.' And we've done it a couple times.
"when the winter weather is frigid in Wisconsin, and the snow flies, the Ring brothers Mustang fabrication work is in full bloom. Jim said, "Maybe a few nights in there, you wake up at three in the morning and think about ideas. You lay in bed, dead quiet, listening to the snow fall. And the next day is a great day . . . right after you're done shoveling."