TBT: Mustang’s Other Big Reveal Came at the 1964 Indy 500

May 30, 2024

While Mustang has a long association with NASCAR and other motorsports, the Pony car has actually served as the pace car for the hallowed Indy 500 on three occasions, including the year it debuted, 1964.

The year 1964 was a whirlwind for Mustang, which had been introduced at the World’s Fair just weeks prior to the Indy 500 Memorial Day weekend event. Dealers were struggling to keep up with demand as Ford diverted production of other models to beef up Mustang stock. Production had reached more than 1,300 each day at Dearborn Assembly Plant with plans to expand to San Jose (California) Assembly. 

The pace car outing served as a public debut of Mustang for many Americans and would go on to greatly exceed its initial sales forecast. The Mustang pace car was powered by a special “Hi-Pro” 289-cubic-inch V8 capable of 271 horsepower. It was driven by Benson Ford, Ford vice president and chairman of the Dealer Policy Board, who was accompanied by Speedway President Tony Hulman, Jr. and Lotus-Ford driver Jim Clark, who would go on to claim Ford’s first win at Indy in 1965, sat on the pole for the 1964 running after setting a four-lap qualifying record. 

To commemorate the occasion, Ford Dealers around the country displayed replicas of the Mustang pace setter, while Ford Dealers sold identical white Mustangs with blue racing stripes, which bore the words “Official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car – Ford Mustang” on the side. 

Mustang again paced the field at Indy in 1979 and again in 1994. Several other Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles, driven by members of the Ford family and others, have led the pack at “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing,” including the Ford Thunderbird and Lincoln V12. More recently, Executive Chair Bill Ford, nephew of Benson Ford, recently appeared with the 1964 Mustang pace car on “Jay Leno’s Garage,” where the show’s namesake host celebrated the car’s 60th anniversary. 

While its place at the Indy 500 was just for show, Mustang has gone on to have its own celebrated run in racing over the past 60 years. That tradition continues this weekend as the Mustang GT3 competes in the Detroit Grand Prix, as well as next month’s 24 Hours of Le Mans.

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