Car Restoration Projects

Restoration of the first Mustang ever sold

 

The year 2014 was the Chinese ‘Year of the Horse’ and coincidently or intentionally, was also the 50th anniversary of Ford’s Mustang. The story of this first-sold Mustang is a most unusual restoration story.

 

The Wise-family’s 1965 Mustang featured at the launch of the 2015 Mustang

 

Was the Ford Mustang named after the P-51 Mustang fighter that escorted Allied bombers during WW II? Or was the Mustang named after a horse? A football team perhaps? Did Ford designers pull the name out of thin air? 

Ever since its introduction to the public on April 17, 1964, people have disagreed over how the Ford Mustang got its name.  

According to Ford motor company historians, many different names were used on various design concepts, including Cougar, Torino,  Allegro, Turino, Avventura, T-5 and Thunderbird.    

In his book Mustang Genesis, author Bob Fria quotes designer John Najjar:   

Bob Maguire, my boss, and I were looking through a list of names for the car. 

“I had been reading about the P-51 Mustang airplane and suggested the name Mustang in remembrance of the P-51, but Bob thought the name was too ‘airplaney’ and rejected that idea.

‘I again suggested the name Mustang, but this time with a horse association because it seemed more romantic. 

‘He agreed and we together selected that name right on the spot… and that’s how it got its name.’

 

 

Another version of the Mustang-name story says that Ford Vice President, Lee Iacocca, chose Mustang as the name after the Southern University Mustangs football team played particularly well against the University of Michigan football team at Ann Arbor, Michigan. The Mustangs lost but Iacocca and other Ford execs were supposedly impressed by the team’s fighting spirit. 

However, Ford Motor Company archivists have located photos of a design mock-up with the Mustang name dated prior to the football game.

A third version of the story is that Ford’s advertising agency, J Walter Thompson did market research on animal names and suggested names like Mustang and Cougar.   

It’s unlikely anyone knows for sure who named the Mustang or how the name was chosen.    

It was almost named the ‘Cougar’. In August 1962, when Ford executives were reviewing the twelve styling proposals for what would become the Mustang, they gave each a different name. 

One design really stood out: a white prototype, designed under the guidance of Joe Oros, boss of the Ford styling studio. 

Gale Halderman had penned the actual shape and his proposal was called Cougar. The grille featured a stylised big cat, contained by a chrome surround.

As time went on there was considerable debate about which direction the Cougar should face. Should it be left or should it be right? Various design models during 1962-1964 can be found with logos pointing in both directions.    

Meanwhile, Ford had prepared two concept cars for the auto-show circuit, called Mustang I and Mustang II and they used a galloping pony logo. 

The designer was Phil Clarke and he had the pony running to the left, but just as with the Cougar logos, debate went on about which way the pony ought to face.

As the deadline for releasing the new car drew closer, some in Ford started to favour dropping the Cougar name, to replace it with Mustang. They asked Ford’s adverting agency to conduct research and the results were very clear: Mustang was top of the comparison list because, as agency personnel said, “ It had the excitement of the wide open spaces and was as American as all hell.” 

So it was back to the design studio, to create a new version of the pony for the grille of the production car. Should it go right or left? The right hand supporters claimed that was the way horses raced in the USA. The left-facing folk stressed that it represented a horse galloping out into the Wild West, corresponding to that direction on a typical north-oriented map, where west is left and east is right. 

Others suggested a compromise of a horse’s head and as late as January 1963, a mere eight weeks from the start of actual production, they even mocked up one on the grille of a pre-production car. 

However, Ford boss Lee Iacocca cut to the chase and made the decision in typical blunt fashion: “The Mustang is a wild horse, not a domesticated racer: it goes left”. 

 And so it has for 50 years.

 

 

The world’s first production Ford Mustang owner

 

 

​In 1964, Gail Brown was 22 years old and just starting out in the world. An elementary school teacher, then living with her parents and getting to work in her mother’s ’57 Ford Fairlane 500 convertible, Gail yearned for a car of her own. 

In the mid-1960s, car culture was in full swing, so whatever car Gail ended up with, had to be cool, and it had to be a convertible.

The first-time buyer went with her parents to Johnson Ford in Chicago; a dealer the Browns had been doing business with for years.

After touring the showroom floor, Gail confessed to the salesman that nothing was speaking to her. With a sly grin, he said: “I’ve got something in the back that’s really new.” 

In a storeroom, still under a cover, sat a brand-new, 1964 Ford Mustang Convertible in Skylight Blue, loaded with a 260-cubic-inch V8 engine and Rally Pac instrumentation.

“That’s me,” said Gail. “That’s what I want!”

She traded in a friend’s rough ’58 Chevy for $400 and borrowed some money from her parents to cover the rest. All in, the total was $3419. 

This kind of story played out hundreds of thousands of times after the start of Ford Mustang sales on April 17, 1964. What makes Gail Brown’s purchase unique is that she bought her Mustang on April 15, two days before the car was set to go on sale.

By chance, Gail become the first known retail buyer of what would go on to become an American icon.

Some 50 years later, Gail recalled with a great deal of fondness those early days of Mustang ownership: 

“There was a ‘middle school’ attached to our elementary and the boys fawned over the Mustang. 

“I was the coolest teacher in the school that year,” she said. 

“Our custodian told me if he had a nickel for every time those boys stared at my Mustang, he could retire.”

Gail had to adjust to the new reality of everyone staring at her and the car: 

“I felt like a movie star everywhere I went, for the first few months,” said Gail. “I remember everyone waving, flagging me down and giving me high-fives.”

In 1966, Gail married long-time sweetheart Tom Wise, while he was home on leave from the Navy and no, she didn’t snag him with the Mustang. The following year, the two settled down in a Chicago suburb and started a family. The Mustang endured dutifully and by 1974 had become Tom’s daily drive, but it was starting to show its age.

   

The tired Mustang – Detroit Free Press

 

Nineteen years of Chicago winters and everything four kids could throw at it eventually started to catch up with the car, so by 1979 the fenders were rusting, the floors were giving way and mechanical gremlins were popping up. 

During a particularly vicious winter storm the Mustang had been parked in the street and when Tom went to head out for work he found the battery had been stolen, no doubt because the thief’s volt-box had died.

 

Out from under covers – Detroit Free Press

  

The car was pushed into the drive and then into the garage. A corroded throttle linkage led to difficulty starting and as successive small things started to add up, the Mustang got pushed to the side. 

Life can get in the way and raising four kids takes up a lot of time. The car spent the next 27 years in the garage. 

At times, Gail wanted to be rid of the car,  because it was taking up valuable space, but Tom dreamed of restoring the Mustang to its former glory, so it was allowed to slumber under piles of junk. 

 

Off to the panel shop – Detroit Free Press

 

The Mustang waited through the 1980s and 1990s. When the last of the children had flown the coup and Tom had retired, he began planning its restoration. In 2007, he set the plan into motion. 

Three years later, with the body excised of cancerous rust and repainted, a new top and all of the mechanicals repaired, the Wise family Mustang was back on the road.

“I’m a car guy, but not one of those resto-mod types,” said Tom Wise.

“This car is bone stock, exactly as it came from the factory.”

 

The restored Mustang and the Wises – Detroit Free Press

 

However, although Gail bought it all those years ago, she doesn’t drive the Mustang anymore. 

“Tom put so much work into it that I’d be scared to scratch it,” Gail said. 

“I’m happy to sit in the passenger’s seat these days.” 

The historic Mustang gets driven, just like a regular car. Since completing the restoration, the Wises have entered plenty of car shows and toured nearby cities, amazing everyone with the story and all the documents to back it up.

Now, their children have children and as one would imagine the car is very popular in the family. 

“The grandkids love it and so does everybody else,” said Gail. 

“We all go for rides around town, but of course we don’t go too far with the kids aboard, since it doesn’t have seat belts, but it’s great fun.”

Tom said one of their youngest granddaughters is already enamoured with the Mustang, asking: “Grandpa, can I have this car when I’m 16?”

 

2015 Mustang launch

After years of varying treatments of the ‘Mustang’ heritage, Ford certainly returned to the marque’s heritage and for that reason Ford invited Gail Wise and her husband, Tom, to the unveiling of the 2015 Mustang in Dearborn.

 

 

A really new Ford Mustang is a big deal for car buffs in any circumstance. Through its first 50 years, Mustang has started from a clean sheet of paper just five times. There’s enough appeal in its name and the basic notion that Mustang has thrived half a century, only occasionally straying from the original concept. 

The Mustang has lasted  31 years longer than the Model T and as long as the Porsche 911. Its imitators have come, gone and come again.

The 2015 Mustang competed in untested global markets, via the first right-hand-drive factory variant. For old-timers and loyalists, that was exciting news. It also appealed to a whole new generation of Mustang lovers.

 

Gail Wise with Ford’s then-COO Mark Fields.

 

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