We would venture to say you’ve probably never seen one like this. These days, Mustang Fastbacks and Dodge Daytonas are rare finds in and of themselves. Put them together, however, and you’ve got a whole other animal.
For 38 years, creative mastermind Dan Dhondt has been the owner of the ’66 1/2 Fastback that lies underneath this Daytona facade. We got the chance to speak with Dan, and he told us all about his ‘rare bird’.
Initially, it had never occurred to Dan that his Mustang would be transformed into the bohemian it is today. According to him, his desire for the car was piqued simply by a straightforward interest in the Fastback. He said, “I fell in love with this car on a family outing to Long Beach California, where I noticed it as we drove by an automotive shop.”
“A few days later,” he continued, “a good friend and I took a bus ride back out to the shop where the Mustang was located and I spoke with the owner of the vehicle. He agreed to sell the car for $500, and I then went home and spoke about the vehicle non-stop for several weeks (with confidence, since this was several weeks prior to my 15th birthday). Ultimately, my mom agreed to purchase it for my 15th birthday.”
For $500, Dan definitely got what he paid for. He told us, “It was non-running and had to be towed to my home in Torrance, California. But within a few days, I had the old straight-6 up and running, and I managed to drive this car in its ‘factory condition’ all over Southern California without ever getting a ticket (which, of course, changed once I turned 16 and got my drivers license).”
Dan still resides in California today. Since the Hemi-Stang’s paint job, receipt of its distinguishing Daytona wing, and its long-awaited release from storage, he takes the car out for a spin at least once a month to attend car shows or liven up an otherwise mundane trip to the grocery store.
Among the car meets its attended so far, Dan’s shown the car at Hot August Nights in Reno, California, and several Cars & Coffee events in Las Vegas. Rather plainly (and humorously), however, he admits that the car hasn’t ever won any awards – stating, “There is no category for it”.
But if there were a category for ‘most unique bodywork’, the Hemi-Stang would be taking home the gold left and right. About the body, Dan told us, “The one-piece fiberglass front end is one of only 50 that were produced by the company Fiberfab. Fiberfab was famous for many of the early ‘kit cars’ back in the ’60s and ’70s, and they made an initial run of 50 of these front ends. They were never well received due to the popularity of the ’65-’66 Mustang in its factory configuration.”
Dan continued to tell us that he owns three of these highly-rare front ends (including the one worn by the Hemi-Stang), and has plans to use them. He explained that he has ideas to put together another, convertible Fiberfab front-end Mustang.
Regardless of what other crazy concoctions he throws together, the Hemi-Stang will reign supreme – primarily thanks to the ‘Hemi-‘ part of the equation. Dan told us that underneath the hood lies a 1956 354-inch Hemi. Behind it is a two-speed, push-button Chrysler PowerFlite transmission, and the factory 8″-Ford rear end, clutch, and driveshaft.
Dan said, “The Hemi engine has pretty much always been considered the quintessential hot rod or race motor. As a result of this knowledge – at about the age of 17 or 18 – I decided that I ‘needed’ a Hemi motor for my Mustang. That, of course, was the start of a project that was a bit bigger than your average 17 year-old kid can afford. Once I got the crazy idea to chop up the car and put a Chrlsyer Hemi motor in it, it was a couple of years before it was up and running.”
Dan said that over those few years he did a substantial amount of the work himself – such as all the work involved with the installation of the motor, transmission, and the “tube style” frame-work that has now replaced the inner fender wells and suspension. He also credits his good friend Mark Otting for helping with the project.
Beyond the Chrysler powertrain, Dan told us that the Hemi-Stang still utilizes its factory leaf springs in the rear. In the front, however, all of the factory suspension, inner fender wells, shocks and other obstructive components were cut out in order to make room for the Hemi. Dan says, “I then installed a set of parallel leaf springs in front along with a 6-inch dropped axle. The car still has the factory drum brakes at all four corners, but I have plans to upgrade to disc brakes all the way around.”
While much of his focus has been on the Hemi-Stang, Dan is far from a one-trick Pony. He told us that he has a tendency of hanging on to his vehicles, and has developed quite a collection over the years. He said, “I have been into IHC (International Harvester Company) trucks since I was 18 years old, and owned a ’69 Scout for 30 years. I also had a ‘set’ of crew-cab IHC trucks that took awards at the AG Show in Tulare, California about 15 years ago. To top it off, I also have two vintage street bikes: a 1979 Honda CBX (6 cylinders – straight across) and a 1975 Kawasaki H2 – three cylinder, two stroke.”
But above all, Dan treats the Hemi-Stang as his magnum opus. In his words, “It’s a ‘one-of-one’ – a completely custom car; that’s what makes it so cool. This really hit home when I brought it to Hot August Nights last summer, and to almost an even greater extent when I brought the car to the various Halloween events in Las Vegas. I was quite taken aback by the amount of attention, and number of small kids that wanted to have their picture taken with the car (and with me as well – admittedly, I was dressed up to look like ‘Doc’ from Back to the Future).”
Dan confessed, “My only regret about the car is the fact that I have kept it in the garage for so much of it’s more than 30-year life.” But he continued, “This is due to the fact that I got married, had kids, went through a divorce, got re-married, had more kids… It’s amazing how time goes by.” And bittersweet though it is, such is our lot in life as gearheads – too often do we have dreams and aspirations for our cars that never (or only after half a life-time) come to fruition.
Dan, however, is one of the lucky ones. At long last, his Hemi-Stang has reached it’s final stages of creation; and unorthodox though it is, a lot of craftsmanship and creativity has gone into it. The purists may have their qualms, but the car is in the hands of a happy owner – and that, after all, is the end of goal of our automotive passion.