Tom Shaw
April 1, 2009

Every one of the millions of Mustangs out there started with an original owner. Some were sold and resold. Others were crashed, rodded, raced, or driven into the ground. But a small few still reside in the careful keep of their original owners. This '65 Vintage Burgundy coupe is one. Fittingly, Detroit is its home base. Through the years, through the ups and downs of the economy and life, Jerry Smith has kept his Mustang.

"I've had a lot of cars over the years, but this was the first new one," says Jerry. As he stands proudly beside his long-term Mustang, you can see that his smile still connects him to the pride he felt in July 1965, when he drove home in one of the 559,451 Mustangs sold that year. It wasn't a loaded convertible, Shelby, or K-code, just a 289/three-speed hardtop with a couple of options. But it was a Mustang at a time when Mustang was running at a fever pitch.

"Everybody liked them," Jerry recalls. "They were on every billboard and it was an affordable car."

Jerry had been kicking around the idea of buying a new Galaxie convertible, but it wouldn't work in the budget. "I'd been with the Detroit Fire Department since 1956. I was driving a '62 Galaxie and I had a '64 Chevy wagon. I sold the Galaxie." That opened up a spot in the driveway and put some cash toward the deal, so the numbers were starting to fall into place. It was time to go shopping.

"We went to Stark-Hickey West Ford on Grand River in Detroit," Jerry tells. "The salesman was a neighbor and friend. The dealership was very busy. They were selling a lot of Fords." Jerry knew what he wanted-a simple, inexpensive Mustang.

"I wanted Ivy Green, but all the green ones had automatics with a lot of options and I couldn't afford that. At the time, raising kids and working a couple of jobs, I couldn't get a convertible or a lot of accessories. This was in July, so I couldn't order one because production was switching to '66s."

That meant choosing from the area inventory. The salesman called around and found a Mustang that sounded like the car Jerry was looking for.

"They found this Vintage Burgundy coupe, and it was the right price. I saw that I could afford it, so I bought it. The only extras are the AM radio and the Visibility Group, which added the two-speed washer and wiper, and the day/night mirror. With tax, title, and everything, it was $2,450. We financed it through our bank. I don't remember what the payments were, but we had to squeeze them in."

Does he remember driving it off the lot? "Oh, yeah. The styling was so neat, and the new car smell was strong. I was impressed by the performance. I'd never had power steering and disc brakes, so I didn't miss it. You had to actually drive the car. Today, cars almost drive themselves."

Even in daily use, the Mustang proved to be not only a blast to drive, but also very reliable, with one exception. "We had trouble with the brakes when we first got it," Jerry remembers. "You never knew which way it was going to go when you stepped on the brakes." He wasn't too worried about it when he was driving, but it was more of a concern for his wife, so they went back to Stark-Hickey for repairs.

"They changed the master cylinder and lines but finally ended up putting new drums on it, and that straightened it out. Then the alternator went out. Those were the only problems I've had with the car, and they all happened in the first few months while it was under warranty."

With the bugs ironed out, Jerry drove the car carefully, settling into a comfortable routine. The shiny new Mustang was Jerry's daily driver, and being a hard-working guy, he concentrated on getting the loan paid off. "The original note was for three years, but I worked two jobs occasionally so I accelerated the payments and paid it off early."

Life rolled on, and Jerry progressed in his career as a Detroit firefighter. Six years later, a turning point had arrived for the Mustang. Around 1971, it ceased being a daily driver.

"I bought another car, so I started leaving the Mustang parked, thinking there's no sense driving it unless we have to. I thought I might keep it awhile, but keeping it this long was not my grand plan. It just worked out. I just always liked it and didn't want to sell it."

As the Mustang approached the end of its first decade, a bit of freshening up was in order. "In the mid-'70s we had a little bodywork done," said Jerry. "In 1973 or '74 we had it repainted." He stuck with Vintage Burgundy and got a quality job, with the exterior trim removed, not just masked off. With the original gleam renewed, Jerry's interest was renewed, too. "About that time we said, 'Well, we'll just keep it.'"

For the next 10 or so years, the hardtop remained in the garage, seeing occasional fair-weather use. It was well into the '80s when Jerry noticed people beginning to react to it at gas stations, in parking lots, or even in traffic. Jerry knew he liked it, but knowing that others admired it was a powerful influence. The Mustang had made it past the point where it could be sold merely as a used car.

Jerry watched as new-car prices climbed to staggering heights. "In the '80s we bought a new '84 Thunderbird and it really hit me. It was over $10,000. Holy cow. For a car? You could buy houses for that. What the Mustang cost wouldn't even be a down payment on a new car."

These days, the Mustang still enjoys a spot in the garage. "I get it out once a month, weather permitting. It hasn't seen rain or snow for 35 years or better," Jerry says. The Mustang has also participated in the huge Woodward Dream Cruise.

Mechanically, after sorting out the brakes in '65, the little 289 had been a jewel. "The motor's never been apart," Jerry says with satisfaction. "It starts easy, runs smooth, and doesn't tick," he says, but admits the carb could use a rebuild.

It's still on the original clutch. "In fact," adds Jerry, "the clutch has never been adjusted."

And this is a car that's seen its share of miles, having logged 82,000. "It's been driven," Jerry admits. "It's been to Florida a number of times and all over the Smokey Mountains. When I was younger it was fine to travel in, although the back seat is a little snug."

It's also been used to break in younger family members on how to drive a manual transmission, including granddaughter Tiffany, who learned in preparation for graduate school in Shanghai, China.

What's next? Possibly a leap across the generations. Original owner cars can only stay that way so long. "It's at a point where I'm thinking about passing it on to my son. He's got the ambition to work on it," Jerry concludes.

Finally, we asked, if you could go back and do anything different, would you?

"Yeah," Jerry offers. "I would have bought a convertible or stretched a little more for a fastback. Those two are worth more money now."

Okay, a loaded dreamboat Mustang would be great, but we do appreciate the genuine credentials of this real-deal survivor, even if the options are few. It's not very often that you get a glimpse of a day-one deal.