Jim Smart
January 1, 2009

No other car introduction can equal the Mustang's debut on April 17, 1964. Ford rolled out its new ponycar at Walt Disney's Magic Skyway exhibit during the 1964 World's Fair in New York after teasing the public on all three television networks the night before. An extensive Walter Middy-style advertising campaign in the months to follow pulled consumers into Ford dealer showrooms everywhere. Ford's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, created such a successful ad campaign that the Walter Middy theme continued through 1968.

Shortly after its introduction, the Mustang was chosen as the official pace car of the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Unlike subsequent '79 and '04 pace car models that were produced in the thousands, Ford assembled scarcely more than 230 Pace Car replicas for 1964: 35 dignitary convertibles for the Indy 500 Festival Parade, and approximately 200 hardtops for a pair of sales contests.

Three specially prepared pace car convertibles were also built to pace the Indy 500: 5F08F100240, 5F08F100241, and 5F08F100242, all with 09C (March 9, 1964) date codes. One was the primary pace car and the other two were designated as backups. All three came from the factory with 260 V-8s and three-speed manual transmissions, but their original drivetrains were replaced with Holman-Moody-built 289 High Performance V-8s and four-speeds. As we understand it, the primary pace car experienced mechanical problems and one of the backup cars actually paced the race, a fact that remains unconfirmed by a reliable source. One of the cars, 5F08F100241, has been restored. The other two are unaccounted for. Although it has been widely rumored that race winner A.J. Foyt got one of the three pace cars and gave it to his maid, this is not true. Ford actually gave Foyt a highly optioned Wimbledon White D-code convertible with blue interior. It is unknown where this car is today.

The 35 festival convertibles were not specially ordered or prepared. Because they were plucked from regional dealer inventories or from the Dearborn Assembly Plant and shuttled to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they vary greatly, which also makes documentation difficult. We do know that all were Wimbledon White with a V-8, either 260 or 289, and had a variety of options, ranging from stick to automatic, with and without air conditioning, and so on. Clad in Indianapolis 500 graphics, they were auctioned to dealers after the race.

This leads us to the approximately 200 Indy 500 Pace Car replica hardtops produced for Ford's Checkered Flag and Green Flag sales competitions. These contests were run simultaneously during April 1964, with every Ford dealer having the opportunity to participate in at least one of the contests. According to Jim Haskell, who has done a tremendous amount of research on the Pace Car hardtops, each Ford sales district (36 at the time) arranged dealers into groups based on sales volume for the preceding 12 months. Both Checkered and Green Flag groupings were developed in each of the districts. A sales objective (number of units sold) for April was established for each dealership in each group. Dealers that exceeded their sales objective by the greatest percentage qualified to compete against other winning dealers in that sales district.

Ford figured out in advance how many winning dealers there would be and scheduled 180 Pace Car White (color code C, '64½ only) hardtops for production in mid-April. That's five pace cars per sales district. The top dealers were declared Checkered Flag winners while runner-ups were Green Flag winners. Checkered Flag winners won their pace cars outright, with Ford Division General Manager Lee Iacocca presenting the keys at a ceremony in Dearborn. Green Flag winners had the option of buying the cars.