Mustang MonthlyFeatured Vehicles
Al and Gary Schweitzer’s 1965 Ford Mustang World’s Fair Convertible
A Fair to Remember…
It began as an announcement in the Mustang Club of America’s Mustang Times 37 years ago. On page 10 of the Dec. ’78 issue of the Mustang Times, “A Rare Find” written by Gary Schweitzer, who lived just outside of Detroit in Grosse Pointe Woods at the time. Gary’s father, Al, was a recently retired Chrysler executive, and they had just purchased 5F08T383386, one of the 12 Walt Disney Magic Skyway Mustang convertibles ordered and built for the 1965 portion of the World’s Fair in New York.
Al and Gary’s rare find also had a DSO code of 842011, meaning a special order for Ford’s Home Office Reserve, along with a scheduled build date code of “15B” meaning 15 February 1965. It was assembled at Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan, assembly plant along with 11 other convertibles and shipped to Carron & Company in nearby Inkster for preparation for use on the Magic Skyway.
In order to understand the historical significance of the Schweitzer’s convertible, you have to know the history. For those of you just tuning in we look to World’s Fair Walt Disney Magic Skyway historians, Gary Schweitzer and Kevin Carsh, who know more about Ford’s involvement in Walt Disney’s Magic Skyway than anyone. Ford Motor Company used Walt Disney’s Magic Skyway exhibit to showcase new Fords, Lincolns, and Mercurys, and there couldn’t have been a better place to introduce the unexpected Ford Mustang on April 17, 1964.
The 1964-1965 New York World’s Fair was divided into two segments—April 22 to October 18, 1964 and April 21 to October 17, 1965. Ford built 12 Mustang convertibles for 1964, and then replaced them with 12 more for 1965. The first group of 12 convertibles featured F-code 260 2V V-8 automatic drivetrains equally divided with three of each color (Raven Black, Wimbledon White, Guardsman Blue, and Rangoon Red). Their VINs were from 5F08F100003 through 5F08F100014, all date coded “05C” as pre-production units with DSO codes of 840027—special-order Home Office Reserve units. Each was given show car treatment with leaded seams.
The Mustangs for 1964 were prepped and shipped to New York in four groups in a two-week period according to Kevin and Gary. First to ship was 5F08F100009 on March 19, 1964. It was followed by 5F08F100006, 5F08F100010, 5F08F100011, and 5F08F100014 on March 24. Next were 5F08F100005, 5F08F100012, and 5F08F100013 on March 26. And finally 5F08F100003, 5F08F100004, 5F08F100007, and 5F08F100008 on April 1. The Mustangs were the last to be placed on the Magic Skyway, primarily because the original plan did not include the Mustang; the Mustang was an eleventh hour decision for Ford and the Walt Disney Company.
When it was time to replace the first 12 Mustang convertibles on the Magic Skyway in the winter of 1964-1965, Ford ordered 12 T-code 200ci six-cylinder automatic convertibles in December 1964 numbered 5F08T383375 through 5F08T383386, again equally split with three of each among the colors (Caspian Blue, Poppy Red, Raven Black, and Wimbledon White). Though 12 were built at Dearborn and shipped to Carron & Company for Magic Skyway prep, one of them, 5F08T383383 in Caspian Blue, was never prepped nor shipped to New York. All had DSO codes of 842011—again special order units for Home Office Reserve with show car treatment and leaded seams. Only two of the 12 have been found to date—5F08T383378 (Date Code 18A) and 5F08T383386 (Date Code 15B). Build date codes of the rest remain unknown at press time.
It is known that 5F08T383378 left Carron & Company for New York on March 9, 1965. Ironically 5F08T383386 was shipped earlier on February 4, 1965—two weeks ahead of its scheduled build date—again proof the warranty plate date code is nothing more than a scheduled date, not always an actual build date. It is also interesting to note that 5F08T383383, the Caspian Blue convertible that never made it to New York, was never touched by Carron & Company. In fact, according to Kevin and Gary it sat on Carron’s lot for more than a year and never even made it inside the building!
The Walt Disney Magic Skyway at the New York World’s Fair was your traditional Disney attraction where man’s great accomplishments through time were showcased—language, fire, the invention of the wheel, prehistoric and modern history, and a vision of what Disney thought the future would be. Visitors to the Disney Magic Skyway were greeted by new 1964 and 1965 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury division convertibles, which were placed on two tracks that took them through glass tunnels with a spectacular view of the Fair, then into the Disney exhibit. Kevin and Gary tell Mustang Monthly that visitors had to wait as long as three hours to get into the Magic Skyway exhibit; sore feet to be sure, but well worth the wait.
There were 178 Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury convertibles on the Magic Skyway in 1964, replaced by 165 in 1965. We’re told 176 had been ordered. All Magic Skyway vehicles were identically keyed for easy access by personnel. Each of these vehicles had to be modified for the conveyor by Carron & Company in Inkster, Michigan. Carron & Company had a long and successful history working with Ford on every project imaginable, including prototype work.
Larger heavier cars had their engines and transmissions removed for weight reduction on the conveyor. Because smaller vehicles like the Mustang didn’t suffer a weight penalty, engines and transmissions remained, according to Kevin and Gary. Suspensions had to be tied down to get a ride height consistent with the Skyway conveyor. Fuel tanks were removed on all vehicles in order to meet strict New York City fire codes.
Carron & Company preparation also included the installation of a 4-Track tape player in the trunk with selector controls incorporated into the vehicle’s AM radio push buttons, which were pressed to select specific languages—English, German, French, or Spanish. These rather sophisticated audio systems were powered by a 12V battery in the trunk, which was kept charged by a friction generator driven by the right rear wheel, much like those old bicycle light generators baby boomer peeps remember from the ’60s. Steering and braking systems were disconnected. Brackets were welded to the underbody for connection to the Disney engineered conveyor. And this is what makes these cars identifiable today in addition to their VINs.
If all this wasn’t enough, Gary and Kevin tell us a large plywood “platen” was attached to the front and rear framerails and rear axle of each vehicle to reduce ground clearance down to a squeaky 2 5/16 inches. This was the only way to keep new Ford vehicles on the motorized track. Of course there were plenty of conveyor maintenance issues that popped up from time to time that kept people waiting and nerves on edge.
Because Ford and Disney suffered so much vandalism and theft during the 1964 portion of the New York World’s Fair, the cars had to be approached differently for 1965. Platens had to be modified as well as the conveyor system in order to offer the public a better Magic Skyway experience. Ford had to remove anything that could be stolen from these vehicles including shifters, sunvisors, turn signal levers, accelerator pedals, emergency brake handles, light switch knobs, heater controls and the like. Bumpers had to routinely be replaced because the cars bumped into one another.
Although the Magic Skyway in retrospect looked like a grand experience for new Fords, Lincolns, and Mercurys inside out of the weather, it was still abusive for new cars. Thousands of people climbed in and out of these vehicles causing excessive wear. Ford tells Mustang Monthly some 15 million people visited the Ford Pavilion during the Fair’s two-year run. The Magic Skyway track was some 2,300 feet long or nearly half a mile. But the Ford Pavilion did what Ford and Disney had hoped. It drew attention to both brands, contributing to their great success.
When each segment of the Fair was over, all Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury vehicles used on the Magic Skyway were shipped back to Inkster, Michigan, and prepped for resale by Carron & Company. All vehicles were shipped over to Ford’s employee resale lot in Dearborn. Gary tells us there was some local Ford dealer involvement in the sales.
We know Ford ordered and built a total of 24 Mustang convertibles for Disney’s Magic Skyway. Four of them have been accounted for. A fifth from the 1965 Magic Skyway surfaced years back in the hands of a Mustang Monthly reader in Kentucky but has never been heard from since. Dr. John Mansell’s 5F08F100004 Raven Black convertible appeared in Mustang Monthly and remains in Pennsylvania. Another 1964½ Fair car, 5F08F100006, belongs to Alan Shepley of Mustang Central in Byron, Georgia, who began a restoration in earnest many years ago. We haven’t seen a progress report on 100006 in a long time. Any update on this historic ride would be appreciated.
This leads us to Al and Gary Schweitzer of Northern Michigan and an unbelievable turn of events involving not one, but two Magic Skyway Mustang convertibles from the 1965 New York World’s Fair. The Schweitzers bought 5F08T383386 from the original owner in August of 1978 and hauled it home to Grosse Pointe Woods outside Detroit. When Al and Gary arrived home with the car, it still had the original BFGoodrich Silvertown tires and convertible top. The original owner, a Ford employee, purchased the car off the Ford Employee Resale lot on December 23, 1965 as a Christmas present for his wife. He brought the car home and parked it in his neighbor’s driveway until Christmas Day. He knew of the car’s history on the Magic Skyway and also had the knowledge that three white convertibles would be available. What’s more, he also knew someone on the inside at Carron & Company who was able to score the AM/8-Track, bench seat, Thunderbird courtesy lights, and 1966 Mustang spinner wheel covers. This makes 5F08T383386 a stand-alone Magic Skyway car equipped like no other. It was also the last one ordered.
When Al and Gary brought 383386 home plans were to get started on a complete restoration and have the car ready for the MCA’s Grand National Show in 1979. Like a lot of us, life and circumstances got in the way and 383386 sat in storage until 2007. “Shortly after purchasing this car, it was disassembled and ultimately sat in various garages and storage locations,” Gary reflects, “It made the long trip up to Traverse City in the early ’90s, then sat garaged for 15 years.” The Schweitzers call Northern Michigan home now with a spectacular view of Grand Traverse Bay. The raw beauty of Traverse City, Michigan, cannot be measured. It was the perfect setting for a photo shoot and a terrific reunion with the Schweitzers whom I hadn’t seen since in more than three decades.
Al, Gary, and I last met in Detroit’s old Packard plant in 1983 where they had 5F08T383386 stored for many years. It was my first ever visit to Detroit. There were a lot of unanswered questions we all had about 383386. It had a bench seat when none of the others did. On top of its fuel tank were the markings “MUST 383-376” indicating Carron & Company did in fact remove fuel tanks for the Magic Skyway. The tank reinstalled in 5F08T383386 was originally installed in 5F08T383376, which has never been found. We looked the car over in great detail at the time, came to a lot of conclusions, and didn’t see each other again until mid-August of this year.
In 2007, Gary’s wife, Dena, asked him what he intended to do with that old Mustang convertible sitting in his father’s garage, “And that’s what got the ball rolling,” Gary tells Mustang Monthly. “Scott Halseth of National Parts Depot was gracious enough to offer parts and support, including shipping the engine, transmission, and rear axle out to Los Angeles for the Mustang Monthly rebuilds,” Gary adds, “Over the next several years, each part was carefully restored and put away for later.” When Gary announced the restoration back in 2007, we decided to get on board and help him here at Mustang Monthly. With help from JGM Performance Engineering, TRC Transmissions, and Mustangs Etc. in Los Angeles, the 200ci six, C4 Cruise-O-Matic, and 3.20:1 rear axle were all rebuilt and shipped back to Northern Michigan.
The bodywork and paint were painstakingly handled by Joel Shooks of Traverse City who takes on one car at a time and is a genuine metal craftsman who eliminated the rust and performed sheetmetal repair. Gary had the unfortunate experience of having 383386 fall off the jacks, which did extensive damage to both front fenders. Most people would have replaced the fenders, but Joel was able to repair both of them. Matt Snyr of Harrison, Michigan, did final prep and painted the car for Gary. Matt, who is retired from Ford, did plenty of prototype and show car work during his career and his talents, as demonstrated here, are incredible.
Seeing 5F08T383386 and the Schweitzers again for the first time in 32 years was a religious experience for this writer and historian: together again with a terrific car and extraordinary stewards to the breed. Gary has chosen to make the car trailered and non-operational in order to keep it preserved. “Now that the car is finally finished, the plan is to haul it to MCA shows in 2016 and have it judged to see how many hours of research and toil actually paid off,” Gary comments. Gary adds with a lot of emotion, “I really need to thank my mom and dad for buying this car back in 1978 and my wife, Dena, for asking me about the car in 2007. Dave Tuttle, my father-in-law, deserves abundant thanks for helping me restore this car. My mother-in-law, Donna, is to be thanked for being patient enough to let me store the car in their garage all this time.” Gary also acknowledges his good friend, Kevin Carsh, who is a proven expert on all things Magic Skyway. Were it not for Kevin’s due diligence, along with Gary’s, there is much we would have never known about these cars and Disney’s fabulous undertaking a half-century ago.
Craigslist.com = Magic Skyway
When we received the email from Gary it was a moment that gave us pause. It began with a classified ad on craigslist.com; a Raven Black 1965 Mustang convertible located in Inkster, Michigan, not far from where Carron & Company stood for decades. The VIN was 5F08T383378 with a DSO code of 842011 and build date code of “18A.” It had been sitting in an Inkster garage since 1979 and was originally purchased off the Ford Employee Resale Lot by a Ford employee who drove the car to Ford’s Research & Engineering Center in Dearborn for many years. It is unknown why this car was tucked away and forgotten for so long. The original owned died before anything could be done with the car. Gary responded to the ad and promptly bought the car sight unseen. The car suffers from substantial rust and promises to be a significant restoration project.
Because so many Fords, Lincolns, and Mercurys (354) cruised the Magic Skyway in 1964-1965, chances are good some of them survive today. Three Thunderbirds and a Mercury Park Lane have been found. There are untold Falcons, Comets, Galaxies, and Lincolns that were also Magic Skyway cars. Because virtually all of them were sold in the Detroit area chances are most of them are gone due to harsh Michigan winters.