Up Close: 1963 Mustang II Prototype
A Pair of Mustang Sleuths Get a Rare Look at the Original Prototype
Ford’s Mustang II concept car provided America with its first glimpse at what every male over the age of 16 would fall in love with—the Mustang. Yet if we had to choose one word to describe this special Mustang, “rare” would be the obvious choice as it has rarely been seen. So when Mustang historian Mark Haas and I received an invite to view and photograph this epic car, you can imagine our response.
The Mustang II “concept” came out of the need to bridge the public’s perception of the Mustang I two-seater from 1962 and the production Mustang to come in April 1964. In the summer of 1963, the Ford Styling department handed design details to Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) to build the Mustang II prototype. What began as a ’63 Falcon Sprint chassis evolved into a completed vehicle in September 1963, minus the final top coat of paint. On October 6, 1963, just six months prior to the introduction of the mass produced Mustang on April 17, 1964, Ford unveiled the Mustang II at Watkins Glen Raceway in Watkins Glen, New York. On hand to make the introduction was Lee Iacocca, the man who had staked his reputation—and his job—on this car.
After Watkins Glen, the Mustang II was placed on the auto show circuit until early 1964, then it was retired to a Ford warehouse in Dearborn. Following 11 years of mostly storage, Ford donated its valuable piece of history to the Detroit Historical Museum in 1975. With the exception of a handful of car shows, the 1963 Mustang II resided for the following 21 years, from 1975 to 1996, in a WW II era warehouse owned by the museum.
The Mustang II was occasionally driven around the Fort Wayne (Detroit) grounds by the museum staff to “blow out the cobwebs.” This was typical for any vehicle in working order. But by the mid 1980s, it fell into disrepair and was no longer running.
In 1996, the car was loaned to the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Head, Maine, where Peter Curtis and other volunteers got it back in running order. The Mustang II remained there until its return to the Detroit Historical Museum’s warehouse in 2011.
As the Curator of Collections for the Detroit Historical Society, it was Adam Lovell’s responsibility to escort Mustang historian Mark Haas and me into the back of the warehouse where we performed our Mustang II inspection. After carefully rolling the car from its resting place and into an open area, we began to examine and photograph its unique features. Adam kept an eye on us as if he were in a museum with two eight year olds.