The First Mustang Takes the Long Way Home
By: Brad Nevin | Ford Communications Network
Captain Stanley Tucker poses with Mustang #1, a car he bought from a Ford dealer in St. Johns, Canada.
DEARBORN, April 13, 2004 -- Ford introduced Mustang to the world for the first time on April 17, 1964 at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, New York. The day before the car's unveiling, Ford ran Mustang commercials on ABC, NBC and CBS at 9:30 p.m.
The buzz about the car was palpable.
As Henry Ford II officially unveiled the car and introduced Walt Disney's Magic Skyway ride (guests rode through history in Ford vehicles) at the Ford Pavilion, dealerships across the country were swamped with customers who wanted to be one of the first "Mustangers."
Stories abound about a man who slept in his Mustang at the dealership for a day or two until his check cleared. Or the man who drove his pickup truck through a dealership window, apparently in awe of the new Mustang he could not take his eyes off of. Ford sold nearly 22,000 the first day Mustang went on sale. In the first 12 months, Ford sold more than 400,000 models.
These first Mustangs came with one of four engines -- from the base 101-horsepower, 170-cubic-inch six-cylinder to the 4-barrel 289-cubic-inch High Performance V-8 with 271 horsepower -- and coupe or convertible body styles were available. A 200-cubic-inch inline V-6 and a 2-barrel version of the "289" were added later in the model year.
The original Mustang's chassis was based on the Ford Falcon; the overall length of 181.6, a wheelbase of 108 inches, and a width of 68 inches were all within fractions of an inch compared to the Falcon. The first Mustangs sold at an average retail price of $2812, including an average of $371 in options.
While the public first saw the car on April 17, the first production models rolled off the assembly line in early March since dealers needed to stock showrooms to capitalize on the upcoming national reveal. The vehicle identification number (VIN) for the first-ever Mustang was 5F08F100001, a Wimbledon White convertible with the 260 cubic-inch V-8. Shortly after it rolled off the assembly line, that car went on a Canadian publicity tour that took it to George Parson's Ford dealership in St. Johns, Newfoundland.
(Photo)Captain Tucker put almost 10,000 miles on Mustang #1 before Ford got the car back in 1966.
Enter Stanley Tucker, an airline captain who began flying when he was 19 years old. In the 1950s, Tucker flew small aircraft in eastern Canada, he flew Douglas DC-3s and Curtiss C-46s out of Montreal, and he later became a captain with Eastern Provincial Airlines based out of St. Johns.
One day, captain Tucker was driving his Pontiac around St. Johns and passed a crowd of people around Mustang VIN 5F08F100001. Tucker told Parsons he wanted to buy that Mustang, but Parson's originally hesitated wanting to hold on to the car to get a little more publicity out of it. When Tucker came with a check in hand the next day, Parson's sold the car to Captain Tucker.
Mustang Monthly Magazine quoted Tucker about his first few years with the car: "For a long time, I was the only Mustanger in Newfoundland. It was quite an experience. Many times, other motorists would force me to the side of the road and ask me about the car -- what it was, who made it, how did I like it and how much did it cost? The car has been a real joy to own and drive. Getting into it is something like slipping into the cockpit, and I feel as much a part of the machine as I do when I'm flying."
Not long after Tucker unknowingly purchased the now-historic car, representatives from Ford learned that their Canadian promotional vehicle, the first-ever Mustang, had been let loose. Ford wanted the car back, but Tucker wanted to drive it. In the two years he owned the car, he put over 10,000 miles on it.
Meanwhile, Mustang sales blossomed. Before Mustang, Falcon held the Ford record of building a million vehicles in two years, 16 days. Mustang broke that record by reaching the million mark in one year, 11 months, and 24 days.
As Ford prepared for the millionth Mustang celebration, a Ford official made Captain Tucker an offer. In exchange for the first Mustang, Ford would trade the millionth Mustang. At the millionth Mustang celebration in Dearborn on March 2, 1966, Tucker stood at the end of the assembly line with Ford executives.
(Photo)Tucker stands near the millionth Mustang in Dearborn on March 2, 1966.
While Tucker posed with the millionth Mustang, a white convertible, he didn't actually receive that car. Tucker had earlier placed an order with George Parson's Ford in St. Johns for a 1966 Silver Frost convertible with a black top.
His 1966 model came with a black interior, styled wheels, factory air, am-tape player, and disc brakes. Tucker drove his silver convertible for the next five years, repainted it gold, and eventually shipped it to Antigua in the British West Indies where he flew cargo planes. In 1971, Tucker moved back to Canada. With his Mustang suffering from rust caused by salty roads in Antigua and Newfoundland, Tucker sold his car to a St. John's mechanic.
Meanwhile, the white Mustang #1 with VIN 5F08F100001 once again became property of Ford Motor Company. In 1966, Donald Shelly, then executive director of Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village, wrote a letter to then vice president of Ford Division Donald Frey.
In a letter dated March 18, 1966, Shelly wrote:
"We understand the Ford Motor Company is in possession of Mustang No. 1, and we would like to express our deep interest in its acquisition by donation for the collection of the Henry Ford Museum.
"While it is extremely difficult at close range to forecast what may or may not be historically significant, we believe that the 1965 Mustang will indeed prove to be a milestone car in the automobile industry.
"Its acquisition would also bring up to date the chronological collection of milestone vehicles which we already possess beginning with the first Ford.
"As with all acquisitions of contemporary products, we could not plan to display this automobile until it becomes historically appropriate in our exhibit of the development of automobile transportation. Your kind assistance in this matter will be deeply appreciated."
When Ford delivered the Mustang to Henry Ford Museum (renamed The Henry Ford in 2003), the car went into storage. It was briefly displayed during the Mustang's 10th and 20th anniversary celebrations. In 1987, the car went on permanent display in the "Automobiles in American Life" exhibit.
In April 2003, Ford employee George Gunlock and The Henry Ford employee Malcolm Collum volunteered their time to restore Mustang #1. It took just a few weeks to restore the car, which had 10,633 miles on its odometer. The car was briefly driven by several automotive journalists during Ford Motor Company’s Centennial celebration June 12-16, 2003.
While Mustang #1's permanent home is at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, the car will make a rare road trip to Nashville for the 40th anniversary celebration April 15-18, 2004. Ford executives, including Edsel Ford, will kick off the event April 15 at the Opening Ceremonies featuring a dramatic 40-year Mustang retrospective and a P-51 Mustang fighter plane flyover by Jack Roush -- a tribute to the origin of the car’s name. This is just a taste of what will happen in Nashville.
And it all started with one car…