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.
Mustang II Specifics
The most noticeable feature is the nose with its grille-covered headlights and curved valance. Adam pointed out that the nose is integral to the two front fenders—they are all one piece. I commented that it was an amazing fiberglass creation, but Mark Haas set me straight—the nose is all steel. He added that the fenders are steel with generous amounts of body filler added to produce the final shape. Both the front and rear lack a bumper, but it’s not all that obvious. Another unique feature is the removable hard top. The car also sits four inches closer to the ground than a production ’65 Mustang.
The “II” came with an electric trunk release, an emergency brake concealed underneath the car, and 5-lug wheels. The frame was cut to fit certain items, and rubber was placed between each leaf spring to keep them from squeaking at the auto shows. The 4-speed transmission is original. The gas pedal is hinged at the base like the Falcon instead of free hanging as found in Mustangs. All four tires are original. The fiberglass-backed Naugahyde two-tone seat covers showed some cracking, but were still very attractive.
The Mustang emblem in the middle of the back seat rest, and originally found on the front fenders, is more graphically detailed than the ones on mass produced Mustangs, and the running horse is in more of in a bucking position. The original front shocks are stamped, and the chromed oil dip stick has a fancy handle and some nice engraving near the tip. Because the seats were farther back than the Falcon to give it a sportier look, the Mustang II got Mustang floor pans. The two bullet chromed side mirrors are a nice touch.
The original 289 Hi-Po engine is equipped with dual Holley four-barrels, a high-rise aluminum intake manifold, and vintage ’65 Shelby valve covers and air filter. Someone had crudely formed galvanized sheet metal to make the air filter cover. The Holley 4672 carbs were date stamped to indicate they were manufactured the fourth week of March 1966. According to former Ford carburetor department employee and Owls Head Museum volunteer Jim Westervelt, they were added to the Mustang II later. Westervelt recalls setting up the Mustang II’s original 4-barrel carburetor after DST returned the completed product; he was one of the few who drove the Mustang II on the Ford test track.
Peter Curtis, Automotive Conservator at Owls Head, befriended several DST employees over the years and learned that the Mustang II began life as a hardtop, was later set up as a convertible, and finally switched to a removable hardtop before being delivered to Ford. You can still see the convertible brackets and hinges.
Peter also learned from DST employees that the lifters on the 289 are unique; they contain a special wax that expands when hot. “When the engine is cold, it sounds like a normal 289,” Peter points out. “When hot, it sounds like a dragster.”
The passenger side inner front fender holds the car’s serial number, X 8902-SB-208, with “X” denoting it as an experimental model and “208” as the sequential number for prototypes. The radiator has a date tag of August 23, 1963, and the export brace behind the air filter has a long string of stampings that we could not decipher. The heater core hose has been disconnected, and the radiator hoses and clamps have been replaced.
The prototype appears longer than a production ’65 Mustang, and it is—by five inches, although the wheel base dimensions are the same. The gauges look “space age,” including the non-functioning 0-120 MPH speedometer. The white exterior paint and light blue stripes are like Cindy Crawford—beginning to show their age but still looking good.
We noticed that the original steering wheel has been replaced with one from a ’65-’66 Mustang and the pop-off Mustang II gas cap had also been substituted with a plain cap. The Mustang II Pony emblems on the front fenders had also been removed along with the “F O R D” letters on the hood. No one knows what happened to them. Adam and Mark discussed various methods of duplicating replacements to match what was original and have them installed in time for the next viewing.
Adam was planning to exhibit the Mustang II at the Detroit Historical Museum beginning in November and on through September 2013, just in time to celebrate its 50th Anniversary. He hopes to show it as it appeared in October 1963.
While inside the museum warehouse, I don’t think we ever noticed that we were surrounded by other rare and valuable automobiles until we began our exit. The museum collection totals 75, and all were stored in clear plastic pressurized cocoons. Afterwards while standing in the parking lot outside the warehouse, Mark and I could not believe what we’d just experienced. I think Adam had fun as well. And if the car battery had not been dead, I’m sure Mark and I would have tried to persuade Adam to let us take his prized concept car out for a spin.
A Second Mustang II?
Jim Westervelt mentioned that while working for Ford’s carburetor department he observed a second Mustang II across the street from the Tech Center. It was a complete car but without an engine or transmission. The exterior paint and the interior were identical to the one that exists today, but he never saw it operational. He remembers it having the wheels, but could not recall if it had a removable hardtop or not. Does this twin still exist? While there are reports of other Mustang IIs in existence, none have been positively confirmed as original Ford products.
While the Mustang II was on display at the 2012 Detroit Autorama, Gary Gumushian approached the museum staff with an interesting story. Gary’s father worked in the Ford marketing department that inherited the Mustang I and II prototypes. Mr. Gumushian drove both around town, and Gary fondly remembered being dropped off at grade school in the Mustang II.
When asked if duplicate cars were made, he recalled a pair of Mustang Is, one for show and another for testing. The test vehicle was in an accident and most likely scrapped, but Gary wasn’t sure. He didn’t remember a second Mustang II.
Gary returned to the show the following day to say he’d pondered this question all night and was certain there was only one Mustang II.