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More than a car
Fallen soldiers family to receive restored Mustang
Hill car pic1
Rod Hill and his students at Los Banos High School have restored a 1965 Mustang back to its pristine condition. The car belonged to the late Capt. Raymond Hill II. - photo by SABRA STAFFORD / The Journal
Today, a family and a host of strangers will get to honor a fallen soldier and make one of his dream’s come true.
It was a dream one Turlock man had of restoring a decrepit 1965 Mustang back to its pristine condition. It was a dream that seemed all but lost when that man, Capt. Raymond Hill II, died on an Iraqi road in 2005 in the service of his country.
Today, the keys to the restored American classic will be handed over to Ray Hill’s two daughters — BreeAnna, 18, and Alyssa 15 —thanks to the dedication of Hill’s bereaved brothers, a group of Los Banos High School students, and a whole group of strangers who opened their hearts and wallets for a man they would never know.
“It’s just a joyous feeling to see it finally finished and to think of all the people that came together to make this happen,” said Rod Hill, Raymond’s brother and the one who spearheaded the efforts to restore the car.
The story of the Hill Mustang begins in 1994 with another Mustang entirely.
Ray Hill had purchased and restored a 1965 Mustang and was having his brother Rod Hill — an automotive student at Modesto Junior College — take a look at a mechanical issue. In a Murphy’s Law worthy moment, Rod Hill loaned the car to a friend, who proceeded to wreck it just minutes later.
Rod Hill felt pretty bad about the loss of the car and when in 1999 Ray Hill had found another 1965 Mustang to restore, Rod Hill conspired with Ray’s wife Dena Hill and his father, to buy the car surreptitiously and present it to Ray as a gift.
The car was stripped down to nothing more than a shell, but to Ray Hill, it was a beautiful site. He was a mustang enthusiast and couldn’t wait to get to work on the car’s restoration. As a captain in the National Guard, Hill often had to leave for trainings and deployments, but when he was home, he would get back to work on the car. He had managed to collect some of the needed parts and started taking the car apart when he and his unit were sent off to Iraq. Sadly, that was the last bit of work Ray Hill would get to complete on his dream car.
On Oct. 29, 2005, Ray Hill was killed by an improvised explosive device that pierced through his armored vehicle. In the midst of a family’s grief, the car sat idle, but not forgotten.
As Dena Hill prepared to move herself and her two daughters to Iowa, she handed the keys to the Mustang back to Rod Hill, with the hope he would be able to finish his brother’s project.
It didn’t take long for Rod Hill to roll up his sleeves and get to work and it took even less time to figure out what he would do with the car once it was completed. He knew immediately that one day he would hand the keys back over to his nieces, because that is what his brother would have expected of him.
Rod Hill brought the car into his auto shop at Los Banos High School, where he works as an automotive, drafting, and architecture teacher. As the students got to work, Rod Hill started a blog on a Mustang forum and pretty soon the donations both near and far started coming in.
Brothers Ron and Russ Hill helped track down parts and pay for some of the work. Bob’s Transmission, Wiley’s Custom Fabrication and Design and Paradiso Motors and countless others donated or discounted their services to help with the project. Scott Drake Enterprises, a Mustang parts restoration specialist company signed on as the sponsor of the project and helped obtain the needed parts.
“It was a huge response,” Rod Hill said. “If it hadn’t of been for these companies and people helping out, we would not have been able to get this done. This is a $50,000 project at the minimum.”
While the donations were coming in, the Los Banos students were busy with the hands-on work.
“We were getting to honor someone who gave up his life for our country,” said Miguel Guzman, one of the students who worked on the project. “And what better way to honor him than by giving it back to his daughters.”
The big reveal is being made around 11 a.m. today at a car show in Modesto in Ray Hill’s honor. The girls, who have been kept in the dark about the restoration, will be handed the key’s to their father’s dream car and will take it back to Iowa with them.
“There will definitely be some tears and some laughing,” Rod Hill said. “I think they are going to be very surprised and happy.”
The car show is at the National Guard armory at 933 Kansas Ave., in Modesto. a $10 donation is asked for car entries. The donations will go towards the expense of getting the car to Iowa and establish a scholarship in Ray Hill’s name.
To contact Sabra Stafford, e-mail or call 634-9141 ext. 2002.