Gail Wise didn’t know she was making history nearly 50 years ago. In 1964, the 22-year-old elementary school teacher knew that nothing in the Johnson Ford dealership on Cicero Avenue in Chicago would make her commute to the suburbs any more fun.
Until the salesman said he had a brand new model just delivered that hadn’t officially gone on sale yet.
“The salesman said this was a special car,” says Wise, who lives in Park Ridge. Coming from a family of Ford convertibles, Wise was looking for something like her parents’ 1963 Thunderbird or 1957 Ford Fairlane.
“Under the tarp was this baby blue Mustang convertible,” Wise recalls. “This is for me, I said, I love it.”
She remembers the date like the birth of a child. “It was April 15, 1964, two days before Lee Iacocca unveiled it at the New York World’s Fair.”
Ford has celebrated the 50th birthday of the Mustang with the much anticipated unveiling of the all-new 2015 Ford Mustang. Gail Wise and her husband Tom have been invited to show off their Mustang, the world’s first "known" production Ford Mustang sold, at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.
Gail can’t help but feel things have come full circle from 50 years ago.
“When I drove it out of the showroom everyone was staring at me and waving and giving me high fives,” she says. “I felt like a movie star.”
The response was doubled at Sunnyside School in the near-west suburb of Berkeley, where the new car made the new teacher very popular. Yet it wasn’t until Tom, who married Gail in 1966, began using the car as a daily commuter to his job as an electrical engineer that the life of the Mustang would grow to something bigger than just being a car.
By 1979, with minor problems to the carburetor and 15 years of Chicago winters eating through the floor, the Mustang stopped running. It got pushed into the garage, a problem to be solved later.
“I kept telling myself I would fix it next week, next month, next year,” Tom says.
Instead, the baby blue elephant remained in the garage. As their four kids grew and space became a precious commodity, Gail encouraged Tom to get rid of it. Instead, he built an addition to their two car garage and made it his retirement project in the early 2000s.
The rusted-out shell was restored, the interior was remade all to the original factory settings, and 20 months later, in late 2007, the Mustang appeared the same as it did when it left the factory. “I’m the type of guy that puts everything back the way it was,” says Tom, who has always been a car guy.
The 1964½ Mustang, as midyear releases were called then, had (and still has) the latest features such as an automatic transmission, backup lights, Rally-Pac instrument cluster, power steering, two-speed wipers, a power top, everything powered except power brakes. And its baby blue luster has been restored.
Even after the restoration was complete, the Wises had no idea the Mustang was anything more than a cool restored car. They began driving it to local shows, since it would never again be something stored in a garage.
In 2008, when someone else claimed they had the first Mustang, Tom found the original handwritten bill of sale, dated two days prior to the premature claim, and won title to the world’s first production Mustang.
It cost $3,400 in 1964, a big chunk of Gail’s first year salary of $5,100. Now it’s valued anywhere between $100,000 and a quarter of a million dollars.
But after nearly 50 years, it may never leave the Wise family. “Our 11-year-old granddaughter, the oldest of 5, asked if she can have it when she turns 16,” Tom says. “I haven’t given her an answer.”
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