Mike Bear’s 1967 Mustang is a labor of love; wins top honors at National Car Show

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Mike Bear of near Jacksonville still remembers his first car.

“It was a 1959 Chevy convertible,” he said while relaxing in the barber chair of his shop on Main Street in Vevay. “It had those big old bat wings on the back. I was 16 and had $300 and that’s what it cost. The tires were bald and I didn’t have any extra money, so I brought it home and parked it and went to work with some farmers until I saved up enough money for tires.”

That first car sparked a love of vehicles and engines, and it led Mike Bear to restore and fix up vehicles for car shows several years ago. It also led to him acquiring a 1967 Ford Mustang, which led to him earning one of the highest honors available at a recent national car show held in Louisville.

“I had mainly taken the car to local, ‘street shows’,” Mike Bear said. “I had a couple of judges tell me that I needed to take the car to some bigger shows, so I thought I’d give it a try.”

Mike Bear’s journey with the Mustang began several years ago when he became friends with a man from Cincinnati named Ollie Dobsa, who had a weekend home on Parks Ridge. The two got to know each other in Mike Bear’s barber show, and their shared love of automobiles led to hours of discussions.

Ollie Dobsa was the original owner of the 1967 Mustang, and the vehicle had been sitting in his garage for about 20 years when the two friends struck a deal.

“I got the car about 11 years ago,” Mike Bear said. “It had 58,000 original miles on it; and I’ve been working on it ever since. The thing I regret is that my friend passed away before I got the car completely done.”

The vehicle is unique in that it is not customized in anyway. In fact, it’s as close to original as it was when it rolled off of the assembly line.

“It was built on July 6th, 1967, six days ahead of schedule,” Mike Bear smiles. “That’s right around my birthday, so maybe I’m supposed to have this car.”

Although the car is ‘original’, that doesn’t mean that there isn’t work to do.

Mike Bear said that all of the mechanical aspects of the car have to be updated because the Mustang had sat for so long, and that all of the parts used as replacements had to be exactly the right ones for that particular vehicle.

“It’s hard to put a 40-year old car on the interstate today,” Mike Bear said. “When I got it I had to replace the hoses and nearly everything else. It took a lot of time.”

And, yes, Mike Bear drives his Mustang.

“I always said, no matter how good it was, if I couldn’t drive it, I didn’t want it,” Mike Bear says. “A lot of the people who show at these bigger car shows bring their cars in on trailers. I drove mine to Louisville.”

When asked how long it took him to finish, Mike Bear laughs and says that he’s still not done with the vehicle. He says that as long as you drive a car and show a car, you’re never done working to make it better. The real joy, he says, is in driving it and meeting all of the people at the shows who share his passion for their cars.

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After moving up from street shows to regional shows, Mike Bear said that he was encouraged by judges to take his Mustang to the National Show in Louisville, Kentucky, to see how he’d fare. So, over Memorial Day weekend, he and his wife, Sue, drove the Mustang down the interstate to Louisville for the “Mustangs Unbridled!” National Car Show.

Held on the grounds of the Kentucky Masonic Home, the 100-acre complex provided a beautiful, shaded setting for the more than 600 Mustangs that came to be judged. There were multiple classes, but the “top of the line” is the Concourse Division, where 120 of the finest Mustangs in the country were judged by an expert panel of three judges.

That number included Mike Bear’s 1967 Mustang, which was a part of the class for 1967 and 1968 models, excluding the Shelby models.

“The judges are very strict on everything,” Mike Bear said. “We got there at 8 a.m. and the car wasn’t judged until 4 p.m., so you’re cleaning and wiping all day long.”

Arriving at the show, the vehicles first go through an evaluation stage to make sure that they are entered in the proper class. Then the three-judge panel, along with a “clipboard judge” whose job it is to keep the scores, begins the process of going over each vehicle.

The judging teams spends one hour on each car, including all of them being under the vehicle for 15 minutes.

What are they looking for?

Everything.

“They check every bolt to make sure it’s where it’s supposed to be,” Mike Bear said. “They check the numbers on the windshield glass. They check the VIN number to make sure it’s the right color and the right things are on it. Even the bolts on the engine have numbers on them, and the judges know when they see a certain number where that bolt is supposed to be, and it better be there.”

Mike Bear said that each vehicle starts out with 700 points possible, and the judging team can subtract points from that total as needed, anywhere from one point for something very minor to 20 or more points for major differences from how the car was originally.

Judging is done on five areas: originality, correctness, workmanship, and items four and five are both cleanliness.

“It’s got to be clean, no question about it,” Mike Bear said.

Once the judges are finished, no one knows the outcome until the awards ceremony is held the following day. In the Concourse Class there are three levels: Gold, Silver, and Bronze. Each vehicle receives a judging sheet that is 13 pages long.

“Of the 120 cars in Concourse, 99 of those were trailered in,” Mike Bear said. “Many of those guys have restoration shops where they work on cars. The judges asked me where my shop was, and I told them, ‘I don’t have a shop, I’m a barber.”

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When it came time to announce the results, Mike Bear’s Mustang earned Gold status from the judges. It was one of just three vehicles to reach that lofty level at the Louisville show, and is one of only about a dozen Mustangs that will reach that level from all three of the national shows.

Out of 700 points possible, the judges only deducted 35.

“Some of that I knew was coming off, because of things that I did to the car because that’s how I wanted them,” he said.

The national competitions are big on documentation, wanting to know information such as where the car came from and when it was made.

Mike Bear said that he has checked with Ford Motor Company, and there were 450,000 1967 Mustangs produced – outselling the Chevrolet Camaro that year. Today, Ford estimates that there are only about 800 Mustangs like Mike Bear’s still around – and that number probably shrinks when the different options are figured in.

He still takes his Mustang to street shows and other events, recently earning the top prize at the Rising Sun Car Show out of 360 cars entered. He was also one of the five cars selected as “Best of Show” out of 340 cars at the Carrollton, Kentucky, Car Show; and he still enjoys going to shows and seeing others with restored vehicles that have now become old friends.

“It’s been good to me,” Mike Bear said.