Michael Johnson
Associate Editor, 5.0 Mustangs & Super Fords
June 24, 2014
Photos By: Jerry Heasley

Outside of a Shelby GT350, it is pretty impossible to have a super rare early Mustang. Sure, people like to play up their Mustang's rarity by telling everyone it was the only Caspian blue hardtop built on June 5th, 1964, and that's fine, but in actuality, not many can truly say they have a super rare '64½-'66 Mustang. Ford was in the business of stamping out every last Mustang they could, and nobody had time for rarities.

The Mustang was so popular it also had to be built in Mexico to keep up with demand for buyers south of the border. According to Fernando Mangino, Director General for Gimsa Automotriz S. A. de C.V., Mustangs were "assembled at Ford of Mexico's ‘La Villa Assembly Plant' from 1965 until the late '70s." Fernando goes on by saying Mustangs made in Mexico have differences from those made in the USA, and that, in and of itself, makes them a "rare breed produced in much smaller quantities." To say the Mustang on these pages is rare is like saying Texas is a pretty big state.

Lonnie Shelton knows both that he has a very rare Mustang, and that Texas is a big state since that is where he resides. Before your author was able to speak to Lonnie about his Mustang we searched the interwebs for information on the car. There was very little. The only thing that came up was this exact car, and a listing for a Mecum Auctions link. That's pretty much it. Even the link wasn't much help, except to say the car was used as a show car in Mexico. The link's description went on to say the car featured a metric speedometer, a VIN plate in Spanish, and that it was built in Mexico. Those were the bullet points standing out for us. The rest read like standard Mustang stuff with a V-8 engine backed by a four-speed transmission, and featuring power steering and brakes, and the obligatory "great future investment" tagline.

The big thing that stuck out was the part saying, "hardtop with factory sliding ragtop." By now, if you've looked at Jerry Heasley's photos, you have no doubt spied the ragtop. We've never seen one of these, and you probably haven't either. Truth is, we don't know too much about the car. The only information we have is mostly based on what Lonnie has heard, other information gathered by your author, and through Fernando. Truthfully, a lot of the information is pretty confusing, and a lot of it doesn't make any sense. There are more questions than answers when it comes to this car.

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For example, from what we were able to gather from Fernando and various research, all '65-'66 Mustangs built in Mexico had three-speeds. Fernando says an automatic was available, but at a higher cost to the buyer. Fernando adds that the "La Villa" assembly plant had the capability to build 289s from scratch at their factory's foundry. According to the data plate, the rear gear ratio is supposed to be a 3.00:1, which most of us know would most likely make it an 8-inch rear axle assembly.

In talking to Lonnie, this car definitely has a four-speed Top Loader transmission, and he thinks it also has a Hi-Po 289, but exterior evidence doesn't support that notion. There isn't anything on the exterior of the engine to tell us for sure about the engine. The data plate shows the car should have a 289 4V, but to what exact spec no one knows. All we know is that Fernando says the engine was most likely built at the Mexico plant.

Though Lonnie believes the engine is a Hi-Po 289, the exterior is void of any tell-tale clues of that being so. The non-Hi-Po engine damper, alternator pulley, and the lack of any stamped engine numbers on the hump by the driver side head points to it not being a Hi-Po 289. However, the engine, according to the data plate should be a 289 four-barrel, which that is what it appears to be, with a Holley carburetor. It is believed the Mexico plant had the capabilities to build its own 289 engines.

This car's rear end also throws a wrench in everything we know about U.S.A.-built Mustangs of that vintage. We know Mustangs built in the states either had 8- or 9-inch rear ends. Lonnie says this car has a Dana rear end. Lonnie has a large amount of Mopars in his collection so he knows what a Dana rear looks like. The reasoning goes that a stronger rear end was needed for the car, but it would've taken a while to get a 9-inch from Dearborn, and Dana had a Mexico City factory at that time. Therefore, the Dana rear was called into service instead of waiting for a 9-inch rear. The gear ratio has yet to be science'd out.

Then there's the elephant in the room, the car's ragtop. The fact this car was built in Mexico already makes it rare. Lonnie says the figure he's heard is around 2,600 cars for '65-'66. Therefore, it's already reasonably rare, but that ragtop throws the car's rarity into high gear. Lonnie tells us there's a metal tag on the ragtop saying it was manufactured in Manchester, England. Lonnie says the ragtop appears to be original to the car. It's weathered to the point where it leads Lonnie to believe it has some years on it. The wind deflector appears to be quite old, and needed some repair, but Lonnie believes it also is original to the car. With the ragtop, the headliner looks to be a custom addition, as well, and looks to be original. As far as production numbers for ragtop Mustangs from the Mexico plant, Lonnie has only heard of three of them being built—a white one, a red one, and this black one.

According to Director General for Gimsa Automotriz S.A. de C.V. Fernando Mangino, there were no Pony interiors in ’65-’67. However, he also says the local factory did work with local vendors capable of providing more luxurious interior appointments so they could market the Mustang to more wealthy Mexican upper middle class people. This car, as you can see, features a Pony interior, but with odd-looking door panels. Lonnie says he’s had the door panels off the car, and that “the back of the door panels don’t look like anything I’ve ever seen.” There’s nothing on the back of the panels, no stampings, nothing.

Lonnie believes the car was pulled off the assembly line and outfitted accordingly to showcase what was available from Ford of Mexico. Evidently, Ford of Mexico was trying to entice European buyers, not just those from Mexico. He believes the car was built to be a performance car, and that's what buyers wanted—performance, along with traditional Mustang styling cues.

Lonnie has some really rare cars, including Babe Ruth's '48 Lincoln, and when asked about where the Mustang ranks in his collection, he says, "In terms of a novelty, I've never seen a car like this, so it's unique in that respect." Every show he's taken the Mustang to it wins, which is no surprise.

Lonnie remarks the paint on the hood and decklid appear to be a product of a lacquer repaint at some point in the car’s life. However, the paint on the sides could be original. The paint on the sides of the car doesn’t appear to have been redone. One of the car’s aspects he most worries about is the headlights. The headlight bulbs are flat, inscribed with Hecho En Mexico. The headlights have a low beam, a high beam, and a turn signal within the headlight. Lonnie is sure these would be very hard to replace.

Lonnie heard about the car around the time it was offered at Mecum at the beginning of 2013. His friends Greg and Heather Brown were looking for a unique car, and the Mustang certainly fit the bill. Apparently, a gentleman from Florida bought the car at Mecum, and that is who Greg and Heather purchased the car from. Lonnie told Greg and Heather if they ever wanted to sell the ragtop Mustang, he had first dibs. That day came when the couple looked to build a home. Selling the Mustang to Lonnie helped make that happen.

We don't know how many people have owned this rare Mustang. Just like the top of Lonnie's '66, there's a gaping hole in the car's story from 1966 to 2013. The tags on the car are from Mexico, and dated back to 2009. "So much stuff on the dang thing doesn't match what it should be," Lonnie says in his Texas drawl. "Nothing makes any sense," he adds. People look at the car and start using terms like chop job and such, until Lonnie starts showing them other features on the car. That's when people realize this ragtop is one rare Mustang. If you have any information to help shed light on Lonnie's ragtop '66, drop us an email at mustang.monthly@sorc.com.