A Love Story: A Woman, Her Mustang, and Her Man
Carroll Shelby rather famously derided the original Ford Falcon-based first generation Mustang as a “secretary’s car”, and he wasn’t far from the mark. Young, single working women were one of the original target markets for the original pony car and you can see that from period advertisements for the Mustang. In 1964, as the Mustang approached its official sales date of April 17th of that year, Gail Brown was 22 years old, just graduated from the Chicago Teachers College, still living with her parents, and exactly the kind of young woman Ford wanted as their customer. In today’s hindsight, her mom’s ’57 Ford Fairlane that Gail drove to work every day was a pretty cool car, but she wanted her own wheels. She wasn’t entirely sure what she wanted, but it had to be cool and it had to be a convertible. Since the Browns were a Ford family, on April 15th, 1964 Gail went to Johnson Ford in Chicago.
Nothing in the showroom excited her, but the salesman decided to bend a couple of rules and took her to a storage area in the back lot where a car was hidden under a cover. Pulling back the cover, the salesman showed Gail a loaded powder blue 1965 Mustang, complete with Rally Pac instruments, a 260 V8 (the 260 was the first version of what in time would become the 289), and most important, a convertible top. Though the Mustang wasn’t supposed to officially go on sale until two days later on the 17th on the month, Gail loved the car so much that she persuaded the dealer to sell it to her, making her the first known retail owner of a Mustang.
Gail may have been single, but she had a college sweetheart, Tom Wise, who was serving on board a nuclear powered missile submarine during the height of the cold war. He was the envy of many of his shipmates, having a pretty girlfriend with a convertible that he could drive when he visited her on leave. He did eventually buy his own car, a base Chevy Biscayne that he ordered before his ship left on assignment and was ready when he next got shore leave.
They married in 1966 and started their family in the suburbs of Chicago. Now if you had your choice of driving a stripper full size Chevy or a well equipped Mustang convertible with a V8, you’d understand why Tom used the Mustang as his daily driver in nice weather. Besides, they had a growing family and Gail had an easier time fitting their kids in the back seat of the the Chevy. After years of fun and faithful service, a recalcitrant carburetor put the Mustang in their garage, where it sat for 27 years. After they retired, in 2007, Tom started what became a three year full restoration of the car. Though they paid someone to do the body and paint work, Tom did most of the assembly work, done to a very high standard, himself.
As you might expect, the Wises have a cordial relationship with Ford Motor Company. I first met them a couple of months ago when Ford revealed the all-new 2015 Mustang. The lobby of Ford’s conference center in Dearborn was filled with historic Mustangs including the Wise’s ’64 1/2 convertible. Not far away from their car was Mustang VIN also a convertible, in Wimbledon white. That white Mustang was part of Ford’s display for the new Mustang at the Detroit auto show. As mentioned, the Wises live in the Chicago area, so for the vintage part of the Mustang display at the Chicago Auto Show, Ford put their blue pony car in a place of honor in Ford’s exhibit at McCormick Place.
That’s where I met them for the second time, with what they describe as a family member, their now 50 year old car. Mr. Wise told me that the car is in great demand by organizers of Mustang and Ford car shows and they take it to a lot events. It’s pretty obvious that the Wises have a lot of affection for their car and the company that made it. Tom’s current daily driver is a Ford Escape and he told me that he’s very happy with the little SUV. Even more obvious is the affection that the Wises have for each other. A fifty year old, one family car is a rarity, but these days, a marriage that has spanned five decades may be even rarer.
Ronnie Schreiber edits Cars In Depth, a realistic perspective on cars & car culture and the original 3D car site. If you found this post worthwhile, you can get a parallax view at Cars In Depth. If the 3D thing freaks you out, don’t worry, all the photo and video players in use at the site have mono options. Thanks for reading – RJS
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- Tassos I know some would want to own a collectible Mustang. (sure as hell not me. This crappy 'secretary's car' (that was exactly its intended buying demo) was as sophisticated (transl. : CRUDE) as the FLintstone's mobile. Solid Real Axle? Are you effing kidding me?There is a huge number of these around, so they are neither expensive nor valuable.WHen it came out, it was $2,000 or so new. A colleague bought a recent one with the stupid Ecoboost which also promised good fuel economy. He drives a hard bargain and spends time shopping and I remember he paid $37k ( the fool only bought domestic crap, but luckily he is good with his hands and can fix lots of stuff on them).He told me that the alleged fuel economy is obtained only if you drive it like a VERY old lady. WHich defeats the purpose, of course, you might as well buy a used Toyota Yaris (not even a Corolla).
- MRF 95 T-Bird Back when the Corolla consisted of a wide range of body styles. This wagon, both four door and two door sedans, a shooting brake like three door hatch as well as a sports coupe hatchback. All of which were on the popular cars on the road where I resided.
- Wjtinfwb Jeez... I've got 3 Ford's and have been a defender due to my overall good experiences but this is getting hard to defend. Thinking the product durability testing that used to take months to rack up 100k miles or more is being replaced with computer simulations that just aren't causing these real-world issues to pop up. More time at the proving ground please...
- Wjtinfwb Looks like Mazda put more effort into sprucing up a moribund product than Chevy did with the soon to be euthanized '24 Camaro.
- Wjtinfwb I've seen worse on the highways around Atlanta, usually with a refrigerator or washer wedged into the trunk and secured with recycled twine...
"a 260 V8 (the 260 was the first version of what in time would become the 289" Correction, Ford's light-weight small block started out with a displacement of 221cid. A couple years later, the bore was increased to produce the 260. Two years later the bore was increased again to give 289. In 1968, the small block added stroke to bring it up to 302cid. Eventually the deck height of the 302 was increased to create the 351 Windsor, not to be confused with the 351 Cleveland which was a "small" big block.
Nice story...and can anyone imagine what that car would bring at Barrett-Jackson? I mean, FIRST MUSTANG SOLD, EVER? Wow. The mind boggles.