In our years of plying the Mustang world in search of interesting, humorous, and inspirational stories, we've come across some pretty remarkable tales. None, however, tug at our heartstrings and instill in us the true sense of what this hobby means more than the reunion stories. Most of these stories center around former owners seeing their cars returned to like-new condition at the hands of a purchaser that lives within close proximity, or at the hands of a younger relative. The story of Jim and Lisa Chism's '67 hardtop involves neither of these scenarios. And that's what makes this story all the more fascinating.
Jim, a resident of Dickson, Tennessee, was searching for another project car to add to his already impressive list of Mustang acquisitions, including a '67 GT350 and a '67 K-code fast-back export car. In 1995 Jim was scrounging through Hemming's Motor News when he found this '67 hardtop (by now you've figured out that Jim has a thing for '67s). In Jim's words, the car was "very rough but restorable." That sort of assessment may make some folks balk, but when you consider what the car came with, you begin to understand Jim's roll-up-the-sleeves attitude toward the purchase.
For starters, sitting between the shock towers was a 289 Hi-Po engine. This was backed by a four-speed tranny and a 3.50:1 limited-slip rearend. Then there was the GT Equipment Group, augmented by Deluxe interior featuring Comfortweave upholstery, the Convenience Light Group, an overhead console, the Safety Convenience Light Group, an AM/eight-track tape player, a woodgrain steering wheel, an 8,000-rpm factory tachometer, body accent paint stripes, and Styled Steel wheels. No doubt, this had been one high-styling Pony in its heyday.
Already a veteran of the restoration arts, Jim began putting the worn Mustang back to its original condition, keeping everything stock-except for boring the V-8 0.030 over during the rebuild. Friends Vernon Elliott and Andy Corum helped Jim with the bodywork, while Jeff Underhill lent a hand during the application of a new coat of Frost Turquoise.
Like any serious Mustang restorer, Jim was quite interested in discovering the car's history. The requisite title searches pointed to Gus Fonseca of Providence as the original owner and that the car had been purchased through MacAdams Ford in Taunton, Massachusetts.
"There was no record of a Gus Fonseca in the Providence records," says Jim. "I tried to locate him, but to no avail. Then one day I did an Internet search for 'Gus Fonseca' and located about 18 across the country. I called and either talked with all of them or left a message. The following morning I got a call from Gus, the owner.
"Gus had been a successful businessman in Providence and had retired and moved to Beaufort, North Carolina. He was excited to hear from me and thought the car would have been scrap by now.
"Gus had purchased the car for his son, Michael, as a gift for his graduation. Later, his other son, Mark, inherited the car to drive during his four years in college. The car made several cross-country trips during Mark's first eight years in college. Then in 1975 the car was sold."
And that, figured the Fonsecas, was that.
Jim explains that a long-distance friendship developed between their two families, with Gus supplying old photographs "and other tidbits of information," which went a long way toward putting heart and soul into the restoration project.
"I really think that they are as excited about the car as we are," says Jim.
After nearly five years of hard work, the hardtop finally emerged from the restoration booth and was ready for presentation at the 2000 MCA Grand National in Raleigh-Durham, North Carolina. Jim informed the Fonsecas of the show, and given their close proximity to the event, Gus and his wife, Pat, penciled the Grand National into their Labor Day weekend. They arrived the first day.
"The followng morning," says Jim, "Michael and his family arrived at the show site and were reunited with his old car. Needless to say, it was a little touching. He really could not believe that he was sitting behind the wheel of his old '67 Hi-Po car. About an hour later his brother Mark and his family showed up, and it was like old home week: the two boys looking over the car and telling stories to their kids about their experiences with it. Gus and Pat were snapping pictures, and everyone was just enjoying the moment. It was fantastic. Mark sat in the car and said, 'This is really weird.' I can only imagine having not seen an old friend in years, then to see the car fully restored and on the show circuit."
The meeting of these two families and the reunion between the car and the original owners were interesting highlights of the 2000 MCA Grand National, both of which the Mustang Monthly crew had the pleasure of witnessing firsthand. Not only that, but Jim had entered the hardtop in the Concours-Trailered class, winning a Gold the first time out.
Jim summed up the entire exciting experience when he said, "This is what Mustanging is really all about."