Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
March 4, 2014
Photos By: Al Rogers

Bill Snyder's relationship with an unusual '65 Mustang goes back to the spring of 1965 when he spotted a photo of a shortened fastback in the May 1965 Motor Trend. The three-page story, titled "Village Car Show," covered a sports car display at the Henry Ford Museum. A photo of a fiberglass two-seater "Mustang III" caught Snyder's attention, especially when he read, "This shortened, lightened version is for sale."

"I was driving a '54 Corvette at the time and thought it would be a great idea to put the Corvette aside to drive a fiberglass two-seat Mustang," Snyder recalls.

Later when the Mustang III fastback visited a local Cleveland Ford dealer as part of Ford's Custom Car Caravan, Snyder swung by and chatted with a salesman. "The guy laughed," Snyder says. "He told me, ‘They aren't going to make these. This one is pre-production and can't be sold. It will be crushed.'"

His hopes shattered, Snyder put thoughts about owning the two-seat Mustang aside. Then, in 1969, a friend showed him a classified ad in Hemmings Motor News. The actual car that Snyder had seen in Motor Trend and tried to buy from his local Ford dealer four years earlier was for sale.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

The story of the Mustang "Shorty," as Snyder calls it, begins in early 1964 when a pre-production Mustang, VIN 5S08F100009, was pulled from the assembly line and sent to Dearborn Steel Tube, a contracted shop that handled special needs for Ford, including race car builds. At the time, designer Vince Gardner frequently partnered with DST and that's likely how he became involved with the two-seat Mustang fastback, although details about the car's original purpose remain sketchy.

By 1964, Gardner was a well-known designer. He had worked at the Auburn Automobile Company during the 1930s as part of the team that produced the Cord 810 and later worked under Raymond Loewy at Studebaker. After striking out on his own, Gardner won a Ford-sponsored design contest in 1950, then convinced Henry Ford II to finance the building of the car, which was called the Ford Vega (from his name, "Vince E. Gardner," and not related to the Chevrolet Vega of the 1970s). Often credited for planting the seed for the 1955 Thunderbird, Gardner's two-seat Vega roadster is now displayed at the Pack Automotive Museum in Texas.

For his two-seat Mustang project, Gardner instructed DST to shorten the wheelbase by 16 inches to remove the back seat. While the front-end remained factory sheetmetal, Gardner created a new fiberglass fastback body with a ducktail rear spoiler and racing fuel cap. The engine started out as a 260 but it was bored to 302 cubic-inches and topped by a trio of downdraft carburetors with a Shelby-style air cleaner.

Ford eventually recruited Gardner's creation for its Custom Car Caravan, where it was displayed around the country as the Mustang III to continue the lineage of the earlier Mustang I and Mustang II show cars. Fearing that Ford would crush his creation after its show duty ended, Gardner allegedly stole the car and stashed it on the second floor of a rented Michigan warehouse, building a brick wall to hide it. With the car missing, DST filed a stolen car claim with Aetna insurance to recover its costs for building the custom Mustang.

However, according to Snyder, Gardner failed to pay the warehouse rent and the Mustang was discovered. Because the insurance claim had already been settled, Aetna took possession of the car, then sold it to one of its executives in Connecticut who, in 1969, advertised it for sale in Hemmings.

Which brings us back to Snyder, who called immediately to purchase the Mustang. One of his employees drove the car from the northeast to Snyder's home in Ohio. "It was pretty shabby," says Snyder, "with cracking red paint and a cracked rear window caused by the police busting down Gardner's brick wall in the warehouse."

Snyder enjoyed driving his unique Mustang for a while, then pulled the engine as the start of a restoration. And in words that we've heard many times from other Mustang owners, "Then I got involved in something else." The Shorty Mustang's restoration was put on hold until a few years ago, thanks to Bill Warner from the Amelia Island Concours D'Elegance who convinced Snyder to finish the restoration so the car could appear in 2013's "What Were They Thinking" display.

Today, Snyder's Shorty Mustang is a piece of little-known early Mustang history—and still an unusual conversation piece whenever it's displayed.