Whereabouts of the first Mustang remain a mystery

Ford says Gail Wise was the first retail customer. She bought her car on April 15, 1964 -- two days before the official on-sale date.
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Since the Ford Mustang became one of America's favorite classic cars, collectors, vintage car dealers and historians have tried to find the first one made.

But because precise production records were not kept at the time and the early cars were not built in sequential order, no one knows the serial number of the first Mustang built.

Was the Mustang bearing serial No. 100001 -- a white 1965 convertible on display at The Henry Ford museum in Dearborn, Mich. -- the first to roll off the production line in March 1964?

Probably not, an automotive historian said.

"The owner of Mustang serial No. 2 has done exhaustive research on this subject," Bob Casey, then curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum, told Autoweek in 2008. "And he makes a strong case that his car, a coupe, might actually have been the first car to come down the line. It would make sense; a coupe is easier to build, less complex than a convertible. So what I like to say is that the first production Mustang may be different from the first Mustang produced."

Numerous claims to the first Mustang have been made over the years.

For instance, five years ago, an Illinois used-car dealer attracted attention -- and scorn -- by asking $5.5 million for a 1965 Mustang convertible he claimed was the first production unit off the line and the first to be sold through a dealer to the public. Both of those claims have been contested.

The Illinois used-car dealer's Mustang had the serial No. 100212, and although the dealer claimed that Mustangs built earlier were preproduction cars, Casey, the historian, told Autoweek, "If this guy can prove his car is first, more power to him. But I would think that if that is the case, his car's serial number would be closer to No. 1 than No. 212."

As for the first retail customer, Ford said during the December introduction of the 2015 Mustang that the title goes to Gail Wise, a Chicago resident who bought her Mustang on April 15, 1964 -- two days before the car officially went on sale.

The Illinois used-car dealer's car with serial No. 100212 was first sold in Florida on April 16, 1964.

The Mustang with serial No. 100001 on display at The Henry Ford museum has been in Ford Motor's collection since 1966.

The car was built for display only, but a dealer in Newfoundland accepted a check from an airline pilot on April 17, 1964, and sold the car. Ford found out about the sale a few days later and tried to buy back the car, but the pilot, Stanley Tucker, refused. He enjoyed driving the hottest car on the road.

"For a long time I was the only Mustang owner in Newfoundland," Tucker told Ford in 1966. "It was quite an experience. Many times other motorists would force me to the side of the road and ask me about the car -- what it was, who made it, how did I like it and how much did it cost?"

Two years later, Ford again approached Tucker about the car, this time offering to trade him the 1 millionth Mustang off the line for his car. He accepted.

Auctioneers, collectors and Ford historians widely consider Tucker's original Mustang as the closest to the first Mustang that has been discovered. Even though it may not have been the first car off the line when production started on March 9, 1964, it likely was not far behind.

You can reach Richard Truett at rtruett@autonews.com