DEARBORN - As customers, designers, race car drivers, engineers, marketers and journalists, women have been an integral part of the Ford Mustang story for 50 years. The spirit of freedom and independence Mustang inspires has been embraced globally among women and men, the young and not so young, for half a century.
Mustang has built a dedicated audience thanks to its authenticity. From the first retail customer to a successful race car driver to a journalist with a lifelong love for the pony car, these aficionada are but a tiny sample of the millions of women around the world whose stories have contributed to the iconic status of Ford Mustang.
Gail Wise, first-ever Mustang owner
In 1964, Gail Brown was a freshly graduated Chicago schoolteacher who made history when she became the first Mustang owner in America. She still owns the car today. What makes this example unique is that Wise bought her Mustang on April 15, two days before the car was set to go on sale. A mix-up at the dealer resulted in her making the very first retail purchase of a Mustang.
Today Wise recalls with a great deal of fondness those early days of Mustang ownership when she was a young teacher. “There was a middle school attached to our elementary, and the boys fawned over the Mustang,” she remembers.
Mary Jean Wesche, editor, Mustang Times for Mustang Club of America
Mustang had its public debut at the World’s Fair in New York in 1964. A class field trip to that event was life changing for another woman who has played a key role in the Mustang story. Mary Jean Wesche, editor of the Mustang Times for Mustang Club of America, was a visitor to the World’s Fair and still remembers seeing the Mustang debut display for the first time.
“I absolutely fell in love with the car, right then and there,” recalls Wesche, who had recently begun working on cars with her father. She continues to work on cars today in her spare time at home in Florida.
Wesche also served as managing editor of Mustang Monthly and then 5.0, before spending the last decade of her career as the editor for Mustang Times. She is constantly on the road, visiting shows and meeting with Mustang enthusiasts.
“Everyone has a Mustang story, and they are all really neat,” says Wesche. “Mustang has been an integral part of my life. I met my husband because of the Mustang. I enjoy writing about them, I enjoy driving them, and I’ve always had a passion for the car.”
“It is a big deal if you are at a car show and Mary Jean Wesche stops by to take a look at your Mustang,” said John Clor, Ford Racing marketing manager. “It means your vehicle is something special.”
Lyn St. James, professional race driver
Mustang’s competition history is ingrained in its performance DNA as the car achieved a class victory in the 1964 Tour de France Automobile soon after its debut. While racing continues to be male-dominated today, Lyn St. James is one of several prominent women competitors over the last 50 years who have been an important part of the Mustang story.
After coming up through the Sports Car Club of America amateur ranks in the 1970s, St. James captured attention wielding Mustangs in the Trans Am and IMSA GT classes, posting numerous victories and top-10 finishes. In the 1985 race at Watkins Glen, St. James became the first woman to win an IMSA GT race driving solo, a mark that still stands. She later went on to race in the Indianapolis 500 seven times, winning rookie of the year in 1992 and setting a closed-course world record of 225.722 mph in 1995.
Since retiring from the top ranks of American racing, St. James has been an advocate, mentor and coach for women in all sports, particularly racing, and still competes in vintage racing today.
“I’m a product of the muscle car era, and when I think about the muscle cars of the 1960s, like the Cutlass and the GTO, they aren’t around anymore,” said St. James. “Mustang has survived, flourishing with the same culture and heritage in the sense that it’s still a muscle car, but upgraded to today’s technology, and it’s still hot.”
For 50 years, women have helped to establish the iconic status of Ford Mustang, and they will continue to be a part of the story for future generations, including with the all-new 2015 Mustang that goes on sale later this year.