Jim Smart
March 24, 2014

Retired United Airlines Captain Bob Fria is always charged up with his enthusiasm for the “pre-production” Mustangs produced in early 1964. Fria never anticipated such an interest in Mustangs; it just turned out that way when he took possession of 5F07U100002, one of these earliest of Mustangs.

There has long been speculation about how classic Mustang production began. Twenty years ago, historian Jim Haskell and I amassed a lot of data and published the two-volume Mustang Production Guide, which put it all into an easy-to-understand format, beginning with 5F08F100001, the white ’64½ convertible owned by Ford and usually on display at The Henry Ford.

For Fria, the quest for early Mustang production information was personal. With his purchase of 100002 in 1997, he became steward to one of the 150-180 pre-production Mustangs produced at the Dearborn Assembly Plant prior to the March 9 production start-up date, so his research began with his own hardtop. He carefully disassembled 100002, taking notes and pictures as he went. He then researched the car’s background before it came to Southern California.

“Two of the earliest Mustangs, 5F08F100001 and 5F07U100002, were built for delivery in Canada,” Fria tells us. “The next 12—100003 through 100014—were convertibles destined for use on Disney’s Magic Skyway at the Ford Pavilion during the 1964 New York World’s Fair.”

After that, a number of V-8 hardtops headed to Alan Mann Racing in England to be turned into rally cars.

Fria has been unable to determine why the first two Mustang orders were shipped to Canada, aside from the need to get display cars to the far-distant showrooms. Both were shipped to Ford dealers on opposite Canadian coasts with the understanding that they were not to be sold until a sufficient inventory of Mustangs reached dealers for sale. (Editor’s note: Of course, we know that 100001 was mistakenly sold to Captain Stanley Tucker; Ford got the car back in 1966). After their assembly at Dearborn, it is believed that 100001 and 100002 were delivered to Ford of Canada in Windsor for processing, then shipped by rail to their respective Canadian dealers—George Parsons Ford in Newfoundland for 100001 and Whitehorse Motors in the Yukon Territory for 100002.

Moe Grant, owner of Whitehorse Motors, told Fria that 100002 was actually shipped to his dealership in error, not arriving until May of 1964. According to salesman Wayne McKenna, who sold the car new, the Mustang hardtop was not ordered by Whitehorse Motors. There was a shipping error in British Columbia, so the car wound up at Whitehorse Motors instead of the much larger Brown Brothers Ford dealership in Vancouver. Because it would have been expensive to ship the car to Vancouver, the decision was made to leave it at Whitehorse.

Fria tells us that 100002 missed the Mustang’s April 17 introduction because no one seems to know where it was between March and May of 1964. The hardtop actually arrived in Vancouver via rail from Detroit, but then it was placed in a shipping container and loaded onto a ship for a four-day journey to the Port of Scagway in Alaska, then loaded on a train once again for the 120-mile trip through the mountains to Whitehorse Motors, the only Ford dealer in the Yukon Territory at the time. Although there was at least one offer to buy the brand-new Mustang, Whitehorse couldn’t sell it because they didn’t have an invoice from Ford.

There couldn’t have been a worse car to try to sell in the Yukon Territory than a base six-cylinder Mustang with a three-speed stick, 13-inch wheels and tires, and no options. Whitehorse Motors installed an engine block heater, then used 100002 as a demonstrator for a year, logging more than 2,000 miles. In the spring of 1965, salesman McKenna finally sold the Mustang, taking a rusted ’57 Plymouth in on trade.

The Mustang now recognized as the first production hardtop went through 14 owners between 1965 and 1983. Unlikely, none of them recognized the historical significance. With a blown engine, 100002 was eventually sold to California enthusiast and restorer Scott McMullen, who in turn sold the hardtop to Fria in 1997.

For Fria, the quest for early Mustang production information was personal.

Fria then became obsessed, not only with the car’s history but with how Mustang production began. He has spent the past 15 years researching pre-production Mustangs with the tenacity of a swarm of hornets. Virtually every living member of the original Team Mustang, including Lee Iacocca, knows Bob Fria. Over the years, Iacocca and Fria became friends.

Fria believes that 100002 was initially bucked at Ford’s Vehicle Operations facility in Allen Park, Michigan, known in 1964 as the Pilot Plant, where the first engineering units were produced to make sure everything fit properly. Eventually, 100002 was delivered to the Dearborn Assembly Plant, serialized, and completed in mid-February as a pre-production validation unit.

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As Fria disassembled the hardtop, he noticed dozens of oddities that make the car unique to the pre-production picture. It had prototype stampings and welding procedures not common to a mass production Mustang. Bob ultimately pieced the puzzle together based on information he received from other pre-production Mustang owners and from the Mustang Production Guide. He concluded that Ford produced 150-180 pre-production Mustangs, some of them starting as pilot plant bodies before being transferred to the assembly plant and fed into the line for completion.

All pre-production Mustangs have a date code of “05C,” which does not mean they were assembled on March 5, 1964. The 05C date code was an arbitrary “flag” date indicating a pre-production unit. During the pre-production and Pilot Plant phases, Ford engineers and assembly plant employees determined what needed to be worked out and corrected for assembly.

Fria has determined that the “05C” date code indicates a pre-production unit. An “09C” date code, for March 9, 1964, is a regular production Mustang scheduled for assembly on Day 1. Because information has not been discovered, the identity of the actual Job 1 is not known. And unless a photograph or factory paperwork surfaces authenticating that first mass production unit, it may never be known.

Fria’s extensive research led to a very informative book, Mustang Genesis, which chronicles Mustang development and production start-up along with the people who made it happen. As we learned during our photo shoot chat with Fria, his pursuit of the truth about the Mustang’s mass production start-up a half century ago will never be finished.

It took Bob two years to restore 100002, completing it in October 1999.