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1968 GT 390 Fastback - Horse Of The King Of The Night
Who knew that a blue collar American Mustang big-block could become European royalty
The Royal Maroon '68 GT 390 was sharp but I didn't know its heritage beyond the export status. I didn't know this fastback was originally "The Horse of the King of Night." Nor did I know that a blue collar American Mustang big-block could become European royalty. Georges Rodenbourg apologized for his English, but managed to convey his car's mystique.
First, I dealt with technical issues. The aluminum tag pop-riveted under the hood attested to the export status. I could read both "Antwerpen" (for Antwerp) and "Belgium."
The restorer, Phil Schultz of Vintage Mustang Restorations in Hartford, Wisconsin, had discovered the tag during the car's restoration. "I was tearing the car apart and noticed two holes on the inner fender," Phil says. "It almost looked like a Shelby tag had been there at one time. Then I found the original tag sitting behind the steering box."
Georges explained, "Actually, it's a plate issued for the Registry of Commerce in Antwerp, the Belgian commercial port where the car entered Europe. The abbreviation N.V. stands for Naamloze Vennootsschap, the Dutch term for public limited liability company. This car went to Luxembourg through Ford of Belgium because of the Benelux agreement, and in Belgium there are two main languages spoken, French and Dutch. That's why on this plate the inscriptions are in both languages."
Schultz also found the build sheet taped to the wiring harness behind the dash. This paperwork reveals the delete status for the smog system as well as the seat belts and shoulder harnesses. Apparently, Luxembourg did not mandate these items for '68.
At first glance, Schultz figured the '67-style air cleaner was incorrect. Later, he spied the "C7ZZ" part number on the build sheet for the air cleaner. Ford did not have to add smog for the export Mustang, so they installed the older, less restrictive air cleaner.
I was also intrigued by the fact that Rodenbourg sent his fastback from Luxembourg to Wisconsin for its restoration. Schultz spoke of an emotional attachment the owner had with the car. While crossing the Atlantic, the car got loose in the shipping container, which damaged the already damaged front and rear ends of the '68 fastback. For the return trip, Rodenbourg chose air freight at a cost of $9,500.
Rodenbourg spent the first week in Wisconsin helping Schultz with disassembly. Finding the build sheet in its original place from 40 years ago gave him the feeling "archeologists must have when they got into the pyramids." He also found a clue to the car's past under the rear seat—an old matchbox with the inscription of a nightclub, the one for the "King of the Night." Was this famous man the Mustang's original owner in 1968?
Rodenbourg's personal bond with 8T02S189212 goes back to the late 1970s. "I had the chance to see it back then," he says. "It was parked on the street. I saw the owner get in, fire up the 390, and burn rubber halfway down the road."
Needless to say, burnouts and high-speed driving impressed a 10-year-old boy. Georges also credits the car's third owner, family friend René Dubois, for "driving the Mustang like it was supposed to be driven" and letting him, as a youngster, "drive the car for a few miles."
Dubois ran a tire shop where the Mustang frequently sat on a lift. Between customers, he cleaned his prized Ford. Georges recalls the smell of fresh wax filling the air and the sparkle of gold stripes on Royal Maroon paint. These sights and sounds made more lasting impressions on the pre-adolescent Rodenbourg.
Rodenbourg, today a successful clinical psychologist/psychotherapist, has researched the '68 390 GT's provenance. He figured the man nicknamed the "King of the Night" was likely the buyer of such an expensive car in 1968. He made a phone call to this man, still in business, and found out the '68 GT 390 had belonged to one of his sons, who "forever regretted selling the big-block fastback."
The second owner, name unknown, took possession around 1978. "All we know is he was a young and inexperienced driver who crashed the car, causing front and rear end damage. The third owner was Georges' friend, René Dubois. "He repaired the car and drove it hard on the streets for two years." The fourth owner was François Schickes, who ran out of money and sold the car to its fifth owner, Pascal Warnier, in 1983. Georges had turned down a chance to buy the car from Dubois for a "rather modest sum." "I didn't have a dry storage facility, which would have led to the destruction of the car because of the humid climate. But I swore to myself that one day I would get the car and restore like it came out of the factory." That day came in 2003. Georges had the resources and the opportunity to buy the 390 GT. After spending years reading Mustang magazines, he knew about Bob Perkins Restoration in Juneau, Wisconsin. Bob was flattered, but his shop was full. He referred Georges to Schultz, 30 miles away in Hartford. After the restoration, Schultz brought the Mustang to Bob's shop, where these pictures were taken. The melancholy of the story is René Dubois passed away September 16, 2010. Georges said, "I will always refer to it as René's Mustang."