Jim Smart
January 1, 2009
Ford dealers picked up their '64½ Indy Pace Car hardtops at a special "Checkered Flag Winners Day" in Dearborn on May 14, 1964.

Ford aimed for an even split between Checkered Flag and Green Flag winners, but it didn't work out that way. There were ties in some of the sales districts, making it necessary to produce an additional number of Pace Car hardtops with May 1, 1964 (01E) date codes and a DSO code of 84 (Ford Home Office Reserve). It is not known how many additional cars were built.

According to Haskell, 105 dealers won the Checkered Flag contest and were invited to Dearborn for a "Checkered Flag Winners Day" on May 14, 1964. Roughly 85 Green Flag winner cars were shipped to dealers who chose to buy them. Some dealers kept them, while others were promptly sold. Each dealer also received an Indy 500 Pace Car hardtop plastic promo car with the appropriate graphics.

In a sad footnote to the Checkered Flag contest, one of the dealers was killed in a head-on collision while driving his Pace Car home.

Southern California's Steve Grant has always had an interest in the Indy 500 Pace Car Mustangs due to their unique history and rarity. He was thumbing through Hemmings Motor News in June 1996 when he stumbled upon one for sale in Virginia. As luck would have it, he was planning a trip to see his parents in Delaware. He even managed to talk his father into the five-hour drive down to Virginia to check the car out. The Mustang was in pretty good shape for an East Coast car. When Steve checked out all the important details, such as the VIN, color and trim codes, build date, and DSO, he was convinced he'd found one of the hardtops.

Thus began a long journey leading up to a concours restoration. "I'm not mechanically inclined," Steve tells us. "So I had a friend help me get the car running." With a new fuel tank and sending unit, the 260 fired up and ran. A big moment for Steve was when he found "PACE CAR" in the radiator support. He tells us he believes it was put there in grease pencil over bare steel before the paint was applied.

When the restoration process began to outdistance Steve's abilities, he hauled the car to Mustangs & American Classics in Mission Viejo, California, where Monroe Weathers concluded the car needed floors, doors, quarter-panels, and fenders. Although the car had 150,000 miles on its original 260-2V V-8, it had never been apart, making it a solid foundation for rebuilding.

Monroe located new-old-stock sheetmetal and good used doors for Steve's project. John Hesford at Vintage Auto Body in Brea, California, performed all of the bodywork and paint, although Steve had a tough time tracking down Pace Car White, which was ultimately found as DDL-8321 on a Ford color chart.

Steve's Pace Car was one of the Green Flag contest cars. Assembled on April 20, 1964 at the Dearborn assembly plant, it was delivered to Thompson Auto Company in Thomasville, North Carolina. When Steve contacted the dealer in 2002, he was stunned to discover that the car's original salesman, Bennie Link, still worked for the dealership. Bennie remembered the car, telling Steve that it sat in the showroom until November. It was ultimately sold to the owner of a local minor league baseball team for $2,926. Bennie told Steve the buyer did not care for the Indy 500 graphics, asking the dealer to remove them and paint the car Skylight Blue. The car would pass through many owners in North Carolina and Virginia before Steve's purchase in 1996.

Steve's efforts on this car cannot be underestimated, especially considering he is not a mechanic or restorer by nature. So far, the pinnacle for Steve was winning Best of Show at the Fabulous Fords Forever at Knott's Berry Farm in 2003, where he was up against 1,800 other competitors. Steve's success could be written off as beginner's luck, but we don't think so. Steve believes you must be faithful to a car's history and authenticity. And that takes more commitment than luck.