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For Marie, and Harry too: After theft of his late wife’s Mustang, volunteers and crowdfunders pitch in to restore it

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Photo courtesy Danielle Moran.

There wasn’t much left of Marie’s 1967 Mustang other than a shell when Harry Donovan retrieved it. The engine and transmission had gone missing, as had the hood and bumpers. Its promised restoration obviously never took place. But with the help of his family, a local shop, and a host of donors dismayed at Donovan’s plight, the once-stolen Mustang has now been returned to Harry complete and restored.

Donovan bought the Mustang hardtop, equipped with a C-code 200hp two-barrel V-8, a Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission, and a white vinyl top, for Marie in 1969. Forty years later, according to an Indianapolis Star story, the car still ran but was in need of a full restoration, so in December 2009 the retired real estate executive and World War II pilot trusted the car and its restoration to a mechanic acquaintance of his, Dennis Lee.

Then 88, Donovan intended to have the car restored so he could pass it down to his family. But as Donovan told the Star, Lee soon became difficult to pin down and offered only excuses to explain why he hadn’t started work on the car. Then in August 2011 Donovan, believing Lee capable of delivering the restored Mustang within a year, wrote a series of checks to Lee which totaled between $7,000 and $8,000, including his $1,500 deposit.

By August 2012 Lee had again disappeared, so Donovan filed a stolen car report with the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department. Lee surfaced again briefly in 2013 to tell Donovan he had finished the car, but Donovan said he never heard from Lee afterward. Sometime in 2014, after Donovan became frustrated with IMPD inaction on the case and had a retired police officer find the Mustang, he managed to retrieve it from Lee’s ex-girlfriend’s driveway in Cicero, Indiana, stripped and in worse condition than when he last saw it.

Photo courtesy The Finer Details.

While Donovan’s family started a GoFundMe crowdfunding campaign in July 2016, an initial Indianapolis Star story on Donovan and the Mustang inspired a number of area restoration companies to offer their services. The family selected The Finer Details in Danville, Indiana, and a month or so later sent the car off to be restored a second time.

This time, however, Ken Mosier, owner of The Finer Details, kept the updates on the Mustang’s restoration coming. According to the Star, Mosier also secured nearly $3,000 in donations from local American legion posts, convinced suppliers to donate or discount parts for the restoration, and put all of the donated money – including more than $23,000 from the GoFundMe campaign – toward parts and supplies. Mosier told the Star that neither he nor anyone else would profit from the restoration, estimated to normally cost about $50,000.

In addition, as the Star reported, Hamilton County prosecutors investigated the case and in October 2016 charged Lee with three counts of felony theft. Through a plea deal, Lee avoided all but two days of jail but is still required to pay Donovan more than $15,000, which covers Donovan’s payments to Lee and the value of the stolen parts.

The restoration at The Finer Details, which included new floorpans to repair extensive rust in the originals, a new vinyl top, new Candyapple Red paint, and a new drivetrain to replace the original, wrapped up this past weekend when Mosier and his staff handed the keys to the car over to Donovan.

Donovan, who no longer drives, said he’ll turn the wheel over to his grandson for the Mustang’s maiden voyage. The family said that any leftover money from the crowdfunding campaign – or any proceeds should the family sell the car – will go toward veterans charities.