DEARBORN - In 1964, Gail Brown was 22 years old and just starting out in the world. The elementary school teacher, then living with her parents and getting to work with her mother’s ’57 Ford Fairlane 500 convertible, yearned for a car of her own. It was the mid-1960s and car culture was in full swing. Whatever car Gail ended up with, it had to be cool, and it had to be a convertible.
The first-time buyer went with her parents to Johnson Ford in Chicago, the dealer the Browns had been doing business with for years.
After touring the showroom floor, Gail confessed to the salesman: Nothing was speaking to her. With a sly grin, he said, “I’ve got something in the back that’s really new.” In a storeroom, still under a cover, sat a brand-new 1965 Ford Mustang Convertible in Skylight Blue, loaded with a 260-cubic-inch V8 engine and Rally Pac instrumentation.
“That’s me,” said Gail. “That’s what I want!”
She traded in a friend’s rough ’58 Chevy for $400 and borrowed some money from her parents to cover the rest. All in, the total was $3,419. This kind of story played out hundreds of thousands of times after the start of Ford Mustang sales on April 17, 1964. What makes Gail Brown unique is that she bought her Mustang on April 15, two days before the car was set to go on sale, by chance becoming the first known retail buyer of what would go on to become an American icon.
Today, Gail recalls with a great deal of fondness those early days of Mustang ownership: “There was a middle school attached to our elementary, and the boys fawned over the Mustang.
“I was the coolest teacher in the school that year,” she said. “Our custodian told me if he had a nickel for every time those boys stared at my Mustang, he could retire.”
“From the first days it went on sale in 1964, Mustang has appealed to a broad range of customers, including both women and men of all ages, thanks to its blend of style, performance and affordability,” said Melanie Banker, Ford Mustang marketing manager. “Those attributes remain a part of the Mustang formula to this day.”
Gail had to adjust to this new reality of everyone staring at her and the car. “I felt like a movie star everywhere I went for the first few months,” said Gail. “I remember everyone waving and flagging me down and giving me high-fives.”
In 1966, Gail married longtime sweetheart Tom Wise while he was home on leave from the Navy – and no, she didn’t snag him with the Mustang. The following year, the two settled down in a Chicago suburb and started a family. The Mustang endured dutifully, and by ’74 it became Tom’s daily driver. But it was starting to show its age.
Fifteen years of Chicago winters and everything four kids could throw at it eventually started to catch up with the car, and by ’79 the fenders were rusting, the floors were giving way, small mechanical gremlins were popping up. During a particularly vicious winter storm the Mustang had been parked in the street, and when Tom went to head out for work he found the battery had been stolen, no doubt because the thief’s had died.
The car was pushed into the drive, then into the garage. A corroded throttle linkage led to difficulty starting; as these small things started to add up, the Mustang got pushed to the side. Life can get in the way, and raising four kids takes up a lot of time. The car spent the next 27 years in the garage.
At times, Gail wanted to be rid of the car, it was taking up valuable space, after all. But Tom always dreamed of restoring the Mustang to her former glory, so it was allowed to slumber under piles of junk. It waited through the ’80s and ’90s, and when the last of the children had flown the coup and Tom retired, he began scheming on restoration again. In 2007, he set the plan into motion.
Three years later, with the body excised of cancerous rust and repainted, a new top and all of the mechanicals repaired, the Wise family Mustang was back on the road.
“I’m a car guy, but not one of those restomod types. This car is bone stock, exactly as it came from the factory,” says Tom.
The funny thing is that even though Gail bought it, she doesn’t really drive the Mustang anymore. “Tom put so much work into it that I’d be scared to scratch it. I’m happy to sit in the passenger’s seat these days,” Gail says.
And they do drive it, treating the historic Mustang just like a regular car. Since completing the restoration, the Wises have entered plenty of car shows and toured nearby cities, amazing everyone with the story and all the documents to back it up.
Now, their children have children, and as one would imagine the car is very popular in the family. “The grandkids love it, everybody loves it,” says Gail. “We all go for rides around town, but of course we don’t go too far with them in tow since it doesn’t have seat belts, but it’s great fun.”
Tom mentions in passing that one of his youngest granddaughters is already enamored with the Mustang, asking, “Grandpa, can I have this car when I’m 16?”