More than 8 million Ford Mustangs have been sold since the model's launch in 1964. Gail Wise is believed to be the very first person to buy one of the iconic sports cars.
The widely anticipated model officially went on sale on April 17 that year, but the Park Ridge woman managed to drive one home from her Chicago Ford dealer two days before, on April 15. Oddly enough, she wasn't even looking for a Mustang.
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"I had just graduated from the Chicago Teachers College and was starting a new job in the suburbs," Wise said. "I lived at home in Chicago and needed transportation."
Her parents had always owned convertibles and the 22-year-old wanted her new set of wheels to offer the wind-in-her-face experience she had grown to love. "I had my heart set on a Thunderbird, but with a teacher's salary it was out of the question. The Mustang was the next best thing."
Her dad accompanied her to Johnson Ford on Cicero Avenue, where an eager salesman greeted them. He excitedly asked if they wanted to see something "really special" in the back room. He pulled back a tarp and waiting underneath was a Skylight Blue Mustang convertible.
"I immediately said 'I'll take it!' I fell in love right there," Wise said. The extreme uniqueness of her ride didn't sink in right away. It became crystal clear the next day on her drive to work.
"Everyone stopped, stared and waved. I felt like a movie star. At school, all the middle school boys ran out to the parking lot and hovered over the car."
As the hype faded, the Mustang eventually became the daily driver of Gail's husband, Tom. The pony served the family faithfully until 1979 when problems with the carburetor linkage caused it to be parked. "I always said I'll get around to fixing it next week," Tom said. "Next week turned into 27 years."
While the car couldn't be used, the Mustang never left the couple's possession. "We built an addition to our garage just so we could store the car," Tom said. "The space became so cluttered with junk that at times we couldn't see the car."
If Gail had her way during that time, she'd have hung a "for sale" sign on it. "I loved my Mustang when it was new and young, but as time went on I saw it merely taking up valuable space in the garage. I was ready to part with it but Tom convinced me otherwise. I'm sure glad he did."
In 2006 the Ford received a full restoration, returning it to showroom condition. Greg's Autobody in Lake Bluff handled all the paint and bodywork. The crew added new floor pans, door skins and fenders; all victims of salty, slushy Midwest winters.
"It got so bad, you could see the pavement while sitting inside," Tom said. A new convertible top was installed and the 260-cubic-inch V-8 was tuned and thoroughly cleaned. "To see it as a total wreck and then back together in like-new condition is so rewarding," he said.
The couple bypassed the custom route during a 10-month overhaul, opting to leave everything just as Gail drove it home in 1964. These earliest Mustangs are considered 1964½ models, as Ford designated all of its first production-year cars as 1965 models.
All the factory equipment was retained and included such items as an automatic transmission, power steering, back up lights, rally pac and two-speed wipers.
With it complete, the couple has enjoyed showing off the special 'Stang, participating in such shows as this year's Barrington Concours D'Elegance and the Geneva Concours. Despite being the original owner, Gail usually opts to let Tom pilot the stunning show machine.
"With all his hard work, I don't want to mess anything up," she said. For her, joy comes from more than driving.
"Seeing it complete and riding in it takes me right back to that first day I drove it home."