U.S. Pony Car Progenitor,Mustang No. 1 returns to kick up its hooves
By ROGER HART
(All photos by Roger Hart)
The story, like the car, is legend. In 1961 Lee Iacocca, vice president and general manager of the Ford division, wanted to build an American interpretation of a European sports car. He asked engineers for a lightweight car (less than 2500 pounds) that could seat four and be fitted with bucket seats and a floor-mounted shifter. He wanted a powerful engine and a sticker price of less than $2,500. Iacocca’s dream became the Mustang, and the car is credited with creating a generation of American fun machines known as pony cars.
The first production Mustangs began rolling off the Rouge Plant assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan, in March 1964 to build up supply to North American dealerships for simultaneous sale on April 17 of that year. To make sure all dealers had at least one Mustang on the show floor by mid-April, the first production cars were shipped to dealers furthest away from Michigan. Ford sold more than 22,000 Mustangs that first day, and 263,434 went out of showroom doors that year. By Mustang’s first anniversary Ford had sold 418,812 units. All the 1964 Mustangs are technically 1965 models, but those built before September are referred to as 1964˝ models. Of first-year totals, 121,538 Mustangs are 1964˝ models.
Serial No. 1 Mustang—the first car off the assembly line on March 9, 1964—was trucked to Nova Scotia (serial No. 2, a blue hardtop, went to Alaska), where Stanley Tucker, an airline pilot, saw the Wimbledon White convertible at the dealer and said, “I want it.” Not realizing it was the first of a legendary line of cars, and doing what it was supposed to do, the dealership sold the car to Tucker.
That’s when Ford Motor Co. wanted it back.
Leading up to the car’s launch, Ford officials had hoped the Mustang would be a success. But perhaps only someone with Iacocca’s ego could have imagined what Mustang would ultimately mean to Ford, and to the car world as well.
After two years of negotiations Ford officials convinced Tucker of his Mustang’s importance to the company. Tucker took in trade a 1966 model with serial No. 1000001. (Imagine: In just two model years Ford sold 1,293,557 Mustangs!) Tucker received a new car for a two-year-old model, but all agree Ford got the better of the deal.
Mustang No. 1, with little more than 10,000 miles on the clock, returned home to Dearborn. Ford stored the car for some time and then donated it to The Henry Ford Museum, which had a policy of not displaying anything in the museum unless it was at least 20 years old.
So that famous little convertible was locked away in a warehouse for nearly 20 years.
In 1987 The Henry Ford Museum debuted a new exhibit, The Automobile in American Life, and Mustang No. 1 took its place on the static (read: not running) display stand among other significant cars from the past, including several other Ford firsts.
As Mustang nears its 40th birthday, and in the midst of celebrating the company’s centennial, museum officials set about putting things right and getting No. 1 into running condition.
Malcolm Collum, a conservator at the museum, was charged with bringing the car to life.
“When the car was stored, they took time to blow out all the fuel lines, but they left water in the block and the water pump had seized,” Collum said. A new water pump was install-ed, hoses were replaced, fresh coolant was added, a new battery was put in and fresh fuel was put in the tank. Collum cranked the ignition.
“Started right up,” he said.
We drove Mustang No. 1 around the roads and parking lots near the museum, and it is easy to see why the car became so popular. The smooth-running 260-cid, 164-horsepower V8, borrowed from the company’s successful Falcon line, purrs beneath that long hood, giving a low rumble when excited a bit. The company asked that we not take it over 35 mph, but a dip into the throttle reveals there’s a lot of life in this nearly 40-year-old stallion.
Sitting in the driver’s seat you grab onto a thin, three-spoke steering wheel, large in diameter. The car’s heavily boosted steering makes turning easy, and the power-assisted brakes still work well.
The black interior is in good condition, considering its age (“Shows you what keeping a car out of sunlight will do,” Collum said), as is the rest of the car, which has not been restored. The Mustang seems quite roomy, due partly to its open-top driving; it is fitted with an automatic folding top, but the top has been down for longer than anyone at the museum can remember, and they don’t want to raise it lest something should break. A fitted boot covers the top.
“We’ve talked to lots of people about restoring the car and everyone tells us to just leave it like it is,” Collum said, though they will be taking a look at making sure the roof is back up to original specs.
Base price for the convertible in 1964 was $2,614, a tad higher than the $2,368 base price for the hardtop. Mustang No. 1 is equipped with the V8 engine ($75) and three-speed automatic transmission ($190).
“The options list was enormous,” says Bob Casey, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford Museum. “There were three versions of a V8, there was a six, different transmissions, all sorts of options available for people to personalize their cars. The long options list was a big part of the appeal.”
Ponying-up: Ford sold 418,812 Mustangs in the first year of production, more than double the 171,262 Mustangs sold in 2002. a convertible sold for $2,614 in 1964; the base price for a Mustang premium convertible today IS $23,965.
The car was scheduled to take part in the Greenfield Village Motor Muster on the grounds of The Henry Ford Museum on June 14, joining more than 600 race cars, motorcycles and bicycles from 1933 to 1973. Mustang No. 1 will be one of the featured participants in the Muster’s “From A to T and Beyond, Greenfield Village Celebrates the Ford Motor Company Centennial.”
The car will also take part in next year’s 40th anniversary Mustang celebrations, and in between its stints as a Ford Motor Co. celebrity, it will return to its post in the museum’s static display.
“It will be mothballed a little bit better this time around,” Casey promises.
(Photo) The first production Mustang to roll off the assembly line has been one of the featured attractions at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, since 1987.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....