Jerry Heasley
November 11, 2014
Photos By: Brian Nicklas

I've heard of mice in old cars. I've heard of rats and spiders, insects, and even the occasional cat. A flying squirrel is a first for me. Brian Nicklas attended my Rare Finds seminar at the Carlisle Ford Nationals this past June. I asked people in the audience if they had a Rare Finds story. Brian told me about a '64½ Mustang convertible he and his brother, Steve, found "squirreled away" in their uncle's barn in northwest Alabama. Brian is part of the reference team in the Archives Department of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington D.C.

"I like to tell people I'm both a detective and an answer man. People call us when they are looking for blueprints to restore their P-51 Mustang," Brian told me. He's a Mustang car enthusiast, as well as a museum specialist in the field of aeronautics. He has authored a book titled American Missiles: The Complete Smithsonian Field Guide.

On a drive to a family reunion, Brian and Steve noticed a '37 Ford pickup for sale at the local feed and grain store in Cherokee, Alabama. Although they had no luck purchasing this antique, their interest in old cars stirred the attention of their Uncle Jerry. "I didn't know you city boys liked cars," Uncle Jerry said. Uncle Jerry restores cars—mainly Chevys—as a hobby. One of the cars in his big long barn was a '66 Mustang coupe that was all done.

In his barn in Alabama Uncle Jerry stored this ’64½ convertible between a backhoe and a dump truck.
Steve found the grille, hood latch, and bumper supports in the trunk and a squirrel’s nest where the spare tire would normally be.

"We looked at the coupe, but it wasn't until we got back to Maryland that he offered it to us. I think that's because he had already offered the car to a neighbor lady," Brian says. The lady hadn't yet bought the car, so Brian and Steve called their uncle back later when they decided to buy the coupe. "He said, ‘Hey, you won't believe this. She came last night with the money so I sold it to her because I promised it to her first.'"

Brian and Steve were a little disappointed. Then, over the telephone they could hear their Aunt Janis shouting in the background, "Well, sell them the convertible. You're not going to do anything with it."

"I'd rather be fishing and besides it's a Ford," Jerry said.

Brian said, "OK, we'll take the convertible."

Most of the frontend was missing, including all sheetmetal forward of the radiator support and the left fender. Here the rotted right fender has already been removed as well.

The brothers had noticed an early Mustang convertible covered with stuff in the barn. The '64½ was a 289, so the brothers decided, "What the heck, let's get it." Jerry had stored the car in his barn for about 10 years. The previous owner stored the car for about the same length of time in his barn. Brian and Steve bought the car jointly. They mailed a check to Uncle Jerry.

Steve was about two months away from going to graduate school in Alabama. Once Steve got down to Alabama and settled in school, he went over to see the car. On Thanksgiving, Steve drove to Uncle Jerry's barn for holiday dinner and to see the Mustang convertible. He found a pretty sad sight. Many of the frontend parts were missing, including the bumper, valance, grille, and even the driver-side fender. The passenger-side fender wasn't gone, but was pretty much rusted away. The top was tattered, torn, and faded. The floorpan behind the driver seat was rusted out, but the front floorpans were OK. The hood suffered damage from serving as a platform for storing things and was corroded beyond repair.

The good news was this early Mustang convertible was a '64½ with a June 2 build date. The 289 was a D-code four-barrel backed by a four-speed transmission. Steve popped open the trunk to check out the spare tire and jack. He hoped to find some extra parts, too. Instead, a flying squirrel shot out of the trunk and sailed over his shoulder and across the lawn to the woods. Shaken, but unhurt, Steve gathered himself to see a squirrel's nest where the spare tire normally rests.

The brothers have had no squabbles sharing the restored ’64½ convertible. Brian is more into showing the car. Steve is more into driving.

Brian and Steve sent the car to a body shop to begin the restoration. They tore down the car on a rotisserie. "They had to replace one framerail, the rear floorpan, and the hood—which wasn't a '64½ hood, anyway." Brian and Steve took turns writing checks for the bodyshop work. Along the way they bought parts to complete the restoration. In the final analysis they said the cost was worth the joy of owning a '64½ Mustang convertible.

Brian and Steve have entered their '64½ in shows and cruises, weekend drives, and multiple parades in the Washington, D.C., area. There have been many dignitaries, heroes, beauty queens, and even cartoon characters riding in the back of "Mustang, The Flying Squirrel." They have also farmed out the '64½ convertible to several movies. It was the "Star Car" driven by Oscar nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor in the movie Talk to Me.