The launch of an iconic sports car in today's world often comes with a bidding war to be first in line; witness NASCAR team owner and car dealer Rick Hendrick paying $1 million last year for the rights to own the first 2014 Chevy Corvette Stingray. But when the Ford Mustang was launched in 1964, Ford went to great lengths to keep the car under wraps as part of its launch. It was just a 22-year-old teacher's good luck that let her become the first Ford Mustang owner — a car that's still in her garage nearly five decades later.
The way Gail Wise tells it, she was just looking for a car to get her to her first job out of college, and was growing tired of her parents' '57 Ford Fairlane, when she went to Johnson Ford in Chicago. After a tour of the showroom turned up nothing of interest, the salesman said “I’ve got something in the back that's really new" — a light blue Mustang convertible, fully loaded with a 260 V-8 and a power top.
After some family wheeling-dealing that included the trade-in of a '58 Chevy for $400, Wise drove the Mustang home on April 15, 1964 — two days before Ford president Lee Iacocca would officially unveil the car to a crowd at the World's Fair in New York.
"I just wanted a new car, and was tickled pink to have it," Wise told Yahoo Autos. "I didn't know everyone was waiting for that car."
She soon found out just how popular the Mustang was, especially with a young woman behind the wheel; she was often flagged down by curious onlookers: "Everyone was staring at me and waving at me."
Life otherwise went on; Gail married Tom Wise in 1966, the couple raised four children, but held onto the Mustang, which later became Tom's daily driver. Chicago winters burned some rust through the fenders; mechanical problems added up and eventually the Wises parked the Mustang, with Tom Wise expecting to tackle the repairs at some point, just as soon as he found the time.
That was 1979. The Mustang would sit for the next 27 years.
"I was always under the impression I would use it as a retirement project," said Tom Wise.
"He built an addition onto the two-car garage so we could keep the Mustang in there," said Gail Wise.
It wasn't until their children were grown and retirement was close in hand, around 2006, that Tom Wise oversaw the Mustang's restoration. Sheltered neglect meant most of time's damage was limited to the body panels; the engine and interior needed relatively minor work. All of which still took four years.
But the project took on a new urgency when Tom Wise heard another Chicago resident claim to have bought the very first Mustang sold to the public, with a bill of sale from April 16, 1964.
"We dug up the old papers, and I found the one with April 15th on it," Wise told Yahoo. "We drove up there and showed it to him, and he kind of did a double take."
After further consulting with Ford and Mustang owner groups, the Wises' convertible has been deemed the first Mustang sold to the public. After 49 years of ownership and just 68,000 miles, Gail and Tom Wise have no plans to part with it, and while it's not driven much, they're not keeping it under glass — giving rides to their grandchildren, or letting strangers get close at car shows.
"We'll have to sit down one day and get input from the kids and get an up to date appraisal," Tom Wise said. "If I was really concerned about the car, I'd never take it out of the garage."
Photos: Gail and Tom Wise