WWII vet's Mustang gets makeover after restorer rip off

INDIANAPOLIS — Harry Donovan stood by his mailbox and waved as a pickup pulling a shiny black trailer drove away from his home.

It was a day that Donovan, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, wasn't sure would come — at least during his lifetime.

Inside the trailer was Donovan's 1967 Mustang. More accurately, the trailer was carting away what is left of the car after he was ripped off by a scammer he had paid nearly $10,000 for a restoration project that never materialized.

Instead of fixing up the car as agreed, the man Donovan hired spent his money — then stole key components, including the engine, transmission, bumper, hood and other parts from the car Donovan purchased nearly 50 years ago for his wife.

"I had almost lost hope," Donovan said as he watched the truck and trailer leaving his Indianapolis home.

This time, his car is going to be restored — and the right way.

The do-over is coming courtesy of a group of "car guys," veterans' organizations and others who offered to help after an IndyStar story in July detailed Donovan's plight. Even better, the restoration pros will be donating much of the costly labor, while raising money and securing donations of parts they'll need to do the job. The goal is to get the car restored without Donovan having to pay twice.

Donovan, an Air Force pilot who flew more than 20 missions over Germany during World War II, said he's been touched by the generosity of strangers stepping up to help.

He's also excited that the Hamilton County prosecutor has asked a detective to look into the guy who spent Donovan's money, stripped the Mustang of valuable parts and then dumped the car. Donovan had not had any luck getting police to investigate the case before his family reached out to IndyStar Call for Action seeking help.

The investigation remains ongoing, reported chief deputy prosecutor Andre Miksha, but is nearing completion.

IndyStar Call for Action, the free consumer assistance hotline, was unable to contact the man who took Donovan's money or get Donovan any immediate remedy. But Donovan's plight prompted the July article that started a groundswell of support.

Last week, two days after Donovan's 95th birthday,  the shell of Donovan's car was hauled away from his garage to the shop where it will be restored. He called the moment "a great, late birthday gift."

If all goes as planned, Donovan will get the car back — fully restored — in about six months, said Ken Mosier, owner of the The Finer Details restoration shop in Danville, who is spearheading the project.

While Donovan still has a driver's license, he no longer drives and admitted he probably won't drive the car when it is finished. He said, however, it will be a Harry Donovan IV, his grandson, who climbs behind the wheel to take him for the maiden voyage in the restored Mustang.

Mosier was one of several automotive restorers who offered to help Donovan after reading The IndyStar story. Donovan and his family settled on Mosier after a visit to his Hendricks County shop.

"First class," Donovan beamed as he recalled visiting Mosier's shop.

Mosier has been restoring magazine- and show-quality cars for 30 years. He used his veteran connections to secure $2,400  in donations from Danville American Legion Post 118 and the post's Sons of the Legion group. American Legion Post 79 in Zionsville, and its Legion Riders and Sons of the Legion group, have donated $500.

During a car show at the Danville legion Sunday, Mosier put Donovan's car on display in the "rough" and visitors stuffed more than $190 into a donation jar.

Donovan's family has established a Go Fund Me page to accept online donations and an account at Citizens State Bank in Carmel where people can contribute to the estimated $10,000 needed to restore the car. To donate to the bank account, checks can be sent to "Friends of Harry Donovan" at Citizens State Bank, 902 S. Rangeline Road, Carmel, Ind., 46032.

The family will give any donated money that is left over to organizations that serve veterans. They also have signed an agreement that, in the event the car is sold, the family will give the amount donated for the work back to veterans groups.

Mosier said neither he nor anyone else involved stands to profit from the project, which he estimated would normally cost Donovan $50,000 or more. Several of his workers also have volunteered to donate their services after hour and on weekends.

Mosier has started reaching out to suppliers and others he knows from 30-plus years in the restoration and car show world to see if they will donate materials or sell them at a reduced cost.

The project is expected to get another boost from car publications — including Ford Performance, Mustang Monthly and Old Cars Weekly — that have expressed interest in interviewing Donovan and Mosier during the Mustang Club of America's 40th anniversary celebration this weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Donovan gets emotional when he reflects on how so many strangers are coming forward to help after learning of his plight.

"I'm just so grateful," he said. "I can't wait to see it when they get done."


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