A Father's Rolling Tribute To His Son

A determined father honors his late son with a customized pony

By Donna Zucker

Frank Bell and his only child, Ryan, were automotive enthusiasts. They didn’t just like motorcycles and cars—they revered them. When Ryan was born in 1976, the family lived on the Jersey Shore. Car shows became a treasured pastime for father and son. Frank loved showing Ryan his favorite vehicle. “I’d say, Ry, look at this car!’ ” Frank says. “Ryan thought the Mustang was incredible.”

At home, Ryan watched his dad work meticulously on his cars. “I took tremendous pride in my vehicles,” notes Frank, who drove two Ford company cars—a Galaxy and a Taurus back then. “They were immaculate.” When Frank took Ryan to buy his first car, Ryan was proud to purchase it himself—and kept it in mint condition.

Ryan inherited not only his father’s passions but his work ethic and style. “My own father, a World War II veteran, would always say, ‘If you are going to do something, do it right,’ ” says Frank, who worked as a salesman for a pharmaceutical company. “So I dressed in a suit and tie every day.” Ryan continued the tradition—adamantly and joyfully, wearing a jacket and tie no matter the job. “He always looked sharp and professional.”

At 58, Frank retired, and he and his wife, Susan, moved to Florida. After graduating from the University of Delaware, Ryan moved down to Boca Raton. When he visited, Ryan would pick his mother up and twirl her around the room, Frank recalls. It was a blissful time—but far too brief. In 2005, Ryan suddenly passed away at the age of 28 from complications due to a cerebral aneurysm. Frank and Susan were devastated.

To honor Ryan’s life, Frank designed a special license plate: 2RYAN. He put it on his motorcycle and painted the bike olive green, Ryan’s favorite color. “The plate became a way of keeping Ryan’s memory alive,” Frank says.

A decade later, Frank survived a near-death motorcycle accident and stopped riding. He needed a new home for his license plate. He knew exactly what to get: the dream car of his youth, a Mustang.

He walked into a Ford dealership near his Tamarac home and fell in love with a white 2015 Premium Mustang with an EcoBoost® engine. It took three weeks to complete the stellar custom work—olive-green racing stripes and powder-coated wheels—and to get the signature plate: 2 RYAN.

Bell slideshow 2
Bell Slideshow 1

When people see Frank driving the striking Mustang along the southern Florida coast, they often ask about the plate. And Frank enjoys the opportunity to talk about his son. “The pain will never go away but it softens for me because of the car,” he says. “I crank up the music in the Mustang and take Ryan with me everywhere I go.”

Tags: Mustang

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