Jim Smart
June 5, 2012

Mike and Joyce Epperson are avid restorers and show judges who travel, make friends, teach others, and share their enthusiasm for America's most memorable automotive icon. They've built a huge "Garage Mahal" addition at their Salt Lake City home to house their sizable collection of classic Mustangs. If you ask them how they manage it all, they will tell you there's always room for one more.

In 1997, a yellow Post-It note on the morning newspaper led Mike and Joyce down the path to owning a '64-1/2 Mustang pace car. 'The note asked if we were interested in an Indy 500 pace car," Joyce says. "At the time, I'd never heard of a Mustang pace car."

She dialed the phone number to come face-to-face with the paperboy's father, who knew about a pace car for sale. Joyce and Mike researched the limited production dealer promotion pace cars and were ready to buy. However, in the end, the seller decided to keep the car. Intrigued, Mike and Joyce decided to search for another one.

Twelve years would pass before Joyce discovered a white '64-1/2 hardtop for sale on eBay. "A photo of the open driver's door showed the warranty plate," she says. "The car wasn't identified as a pace car, but when I enlarged the photo, I noticed the 'C' color code and 42 interior trim."

The pace car was located in San Jose, California, so they asked friend Ron Bramlett, owner of Mustangs Plus in nearby Stockton, if he could inspect it. Ron liked what he saw and even put down the deposit for the Eppersons to hold the car until they could pick it up.

"Now that we owned a Mustang pace car, what were we going to do with it?" Joyce asked. "We didn't need another driver, so Mike and I decided to restore it for the Mustang Club of America's Concours Trailered class."

As Mike tore the car apart, he was disappointed by the condition. It was worse than expected, with hidden rust dictating plenty of sheetmetal replacement. Alan Hamburg gave Mike advice about bodywork, while Steve Grant, who had restored his own pace car hardtop, provided the unique pace car details. Because authenticity was important, Joyce chased new-old-stock and good used parts.

When Mike and Joyce finally hit the MCA show circuit, it proved a valuable learning curve. "Judges are people just like the rest of us," Joyce points out. "They've restored concours cars and they want your Mustang to represent what Ford was building at the time. MCA guidelines are the highest standard for these cars, which comes from many combined years of experience and research, not just one restorer's opinion."

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When the Eppersons debuted their pace car in Las Vegas in 2006, they became determined to refine their restoration technique and help others do the same. They've trailered and shown their hardtop from the California coast to the Georgia peachland.

Mike and Joyce achieved their first MCA Gold in Mustang, Oklahoma, in 2007. Since then, they've taken numerous Gold awards in national and Grand National competition. Today, the Eppersons show proudly in the MCA Conservator class for retired concours show cars.

Joyce says the ultimate goal for their pace car is the Conservator D'Elegance Cup. "Someday, we might make it there," she adds. "For now, we are thrilled we have come so far."

Pace Car Facts

Choosing the Mustang to pace the 1964 Indianapolis 500 was an 11th hour decision. Ford's reskinned '64 Galaxie convertible had initially been selected to pace the "Greatest Spectacle in Racing," but because the Mustang hit the marketplace like a runaway train, Ford changed its strategy and had to quickly come up with 38 Wimbledon White Mustang convertibles, three to serve as actual pace cars and 35 for the dignitaries in the Indy 500 Festival Parade. Most of the Mustangs were pulled from dealer inventories or captured from the Dearborn assembly plant and shipped to Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

The three active pace cars were consecutively numbered Wimbledon White convertibles, originally F-code 260 cars but fitted with custom-built 289 High Performance engines. One was sidelined with mechanical problems. After the race, the three cars were distributed to three race tracks--Sebring, Florida; Watkins Glen, New York; and Road America in Wisconsin. Only one has surfaced--5F08F100241--the Sebring car, which was restored in the 1990s.

When the race was over, the 35 festival convertibles were auctioned in Louisville, Kentucky, with 12 going to Alderman Ford of Indianapolis. The rest went to other Ford dealers.

Early in 1964, Ford launched the Checkered Flag and Green Flag dealer contests to promote the Mustang and its selection as the 1964 Indianapolis 500 pace car. Designed to inspire dealers to sell more vehicles, the Checkered Flag winners would be presented with a Mustang pace car hardtop. (Unlike the Wimbledon White pace and festival cars, the hardtop replicas were painted Pace Car White, color code C, with blue "Rally" stripes over the top like the pace car convertibles). Green flag winners received a $500 discount. There were five Mustang pace cars per district for a total of 180 units (all assembled in mid-April) and divided between each contest. Some of the 37 districts had ties, which called for ordering roughly 20 additional Mustangs, which have "01E" (May 1, 1964) scheduled build dates and DSO 84 (Home Office Reserve) codes.