On This Ranch, Old Mustangs Get New Life On a junky car lot in north Indianapolis, Delonzo Rhynes is living his dream of restoring rusted-out Mustangs. But his specialty is a creation all his own — the Mustang Thunder Hawk — a yellow and black custom beauty that he lovingly creates from old Mustang shells.
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On This Ranch, Old Mustangs Get New Life

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On This Ranch, Old Mustangs Get New Life

On This Ranch, Old Mustangs Get New Life

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Tucked near a highway overpass on the corner of MLK and 30th Street in north Indianapolis, there is what appears to be an old, junky car lot. Hulking wrecks line the chain-linked fence, busted rusting old shells, dozens of them.

A garage sits on the lot, the metal door is down. An old man is picking up trash along the sidewalk. But wait a second. Walk up to the fence, peek through the link, and you might notice something about the cars. Look at the straight line darting down the side of the body, the clean swoop of the top, the cocky tail.

Yes, every single one of those wrecks is the skeleton of a classic sports car. Mustangs, all of them. And the man picking up trash? Sixty-eight-year-old Delonzo Rhyne.

Mr. DELONZO RHYNE (Owner and Operator, RRR Mustang Ranch): I've always loved the shape. Like somebody took a dream out of my mind and produced it.

SEABROOK: This is the RRR Mustang Ranch. It's Delonzo Rhyne's dream - a junkyard and shop that deals only in Mustangs. Rhyne walks me into the garage. Right there in the middle are two sleek Mustang convertibles. Not the new kind; the classic style.

This car is such a beauty.

Mr. RHYNE: Yes, yes.

SEABROOK: It's jet, shiny black…

Mr. RHYNE: Mm-hmm.

SEABROOK: …gold stripes up the center of the car, up the hood and over the back.

Mr. RHYNE: Mm-hmm.

SEABROOK: What do you see when you look at it?

Mr. RHYNE: You know, I see a hawk. You know, when he spread his wings, and attacking, as you can see by my emblem. When he raises, underneath his feathers are gold.

SEABROOK: It's called the Thunder Hawk. It's Delonzo Rhyne's own version of a classic Mustang.

So, you take Mustangs, old Mustangs…

Mr. RHYNE: Old Mustang.

SEABROOK: …and you convert them into…

Mr. RHYNE: Well, I take the body and I fully restore it back to its original form. I don't change a thing on it on the sheet metal. The big change is under the hood.


(Soundbite of hood opening)

Mr. RHYNE: Now, here's your big change. It has a specially-built Jasper engine with electronic ignition. This particular one has a Edelbrock 650 carburetor, which will flat run. I mean, it will go. We tried it out and we stomped on it and it went from zero to 90 in six seconds. Now, that's pretty quick.

SEABROOK: Can you start it up for us?

Mr. RHYNE: Yes, I will. So, you ready?

SEABROOK: I'm ready.

Mr. RHYNE: All right. Here we go.

(Soundbite of car starting)

Mr. RHYNE: That sound, that's the sound of a (unintelligible).

(Soundbite of engine running)

SEABROOK: I want to know a little bit about your life.

Mr. RHYNE: Wow, gee, where do you want to start in my life?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RHYNE: I'm a farmer. I was born in Tennessee, in the hills of Tennessee, Benton County. And there was nothing there but cotton and corn and sod and beans. The road was a gravel road, the highway was way over there, you know.

SEABROOK: At 18, handsome, single, Delonzo Rhyne left home. He traveled around the Midwest in a succession of cars to drool over - a '49 Chevy, '53 Plymouth, and then his first Ford - a 1955 Crown Victoria, black with pink trim. After that, nothing but Fords.

In Columbus, Ohio, he was cruising around in his '57 convertible when he spotted the car of his dreams sitting on a used rental car lot.

Mr. RHYNE: 1965 Mustang, red. The latest in transportation. I thought I had arrived, boy. That was it. I was a ladies car. I drove that car until '68. I started having trouble with my transmission. I traded the Mustang for the '68 GTX 440, old fast car, old bad (unintelligible). But I missed my Mustang like crazy. For some reason I missed it, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Delonzo Rhyne ended up in Indianapolis. He opened his own garage and body shop, and he parked two Mustangs out no the corner of his lot. People driving past spotted them and stopped to offer Rhyne their old wrecks. Tow it out of my yard, and that was it.

Mr. RHYNE: And the next thing you know I had 40 or 50 Mustangs. I thought, wow, you know. So after that they was practically giving them to me. I was a dumping ground for the Mustangs. And…

SEABROOK: Did you mind that?

Mr. RHYNE: I didn't mind it a bit. You know, I think unconsciously I was looking for mine because every one I got I looked for signs. I didn't save the serial number but I knew I would've recognized it if I saw it, because there were certain things about it, you know.

SEABROOK: That first one?

Mr. RHYNE: Yes. And I never found it. It never showed up. But, you know, a lot (unintelligible).

SEABROOK: Rhyne leads me out the side door of the garage and around the back where the lot is. This is the graveyard, the place where Mustangs come to die. Dozens of them are heaped in rows. This is also the birthplace of the Thunder Hawk, and everyone knows birth is messy.

These cars are in seriously bad shape. Where do you get these things? This one has a tree growing through it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RHYNE: Yeah, well, you know, you get a lot of that. This one I probably won't redo. And this, this is the next car. The next, fifth Thunder Hawk.

SEABROOK: This is Thunder Hawk, right now I have to tell people, looks pretty sad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: It looks like it's been burnt out, rusted out, old shell of two pieces of car here.

Mr. RHYNE: What we're going to do is take both pieces, have them acid dipped. When they come back, they'll be clean. All the rust is gone, sealing, everything is gone. It's just raw metal.

SEABROOK: It's rusted out in some places.

Mr. RHYNE: But see, this one is not rusted where the other is rusted. So, these two will go together.


Mr. RHYNE: And so when I'm done, not even Henry Ford would know the difference.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SEABROOK: Rhyne pieces the cars together like a dress - a dress stitched together with 1,500 nuts, bolts and screws. That's how many he fits and tightens by hand on each car. He counted. The first Thunder Hawk sold for $125,000. The second and third are going for more like 150,000. And Rhyne's dream is to build ten.

Mr. RHYNE: Every time you drive it, you're going to have so much fun that you're not going to want to get out of it but you're going to think of me too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RHYNE: So, when I'm building these cars I want everybody to know what kind of fun I had. I had a good product to start with. So, it's like the Mona Lisa sitting there. I just have to copy it.

SEABROOK: And put some of you into it.

Mr. RHYNE: Yes. Put a little bit of me into it.

SEABROOK: Delonzo Rhyne…

Mr. RHYNE: Mm-hmm.

SEABROOK: …thank you so much.

Mr. RHYNE: And I thank you very much. I'm honored. I thank you.

SEABROOK: You've got to see Delonzo Rhyne's Thunder Hawk and the RRR Mustang Ranch. You can find them at npr.org. Oh, and, of course, I got a ride.

Mr. RHYNE: Here we go.

(Soundbite of car starting)

Mr. RHYNE: Okay. We won't get any tickets, but I'll just let you feel a little bit of the power.

SEABROOK: All right.

Mr. RHYNE: It's (unintelligible) a little bit.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. RHYNE: But this is the fun, this is the fun. I mean, there's just nothing better than - no more fun than this.

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