At 70 years of age, Richard Gies certainly remembers the Mustangs of the 1960s—perhaps more than most because during the era he was working as a bodyman at Hagen Ford in Bay City, Michigan. But when the time came to restore his first show car, he skipped over the always-popular vintage Mustangs and went straight for something a little less prominent at local cruises and shows.
"I didn't want a 1960s Mustang because there are so many around," Gies says. "I wanted something different."
Shortly after retiring ("40 years to the day") from Hagen Ford, and after much experience with rebuilding late-model cars for his family's transportation over the past decades, Gies decided to tackle his first "show car" restoration with a '79 Mustang Indy Pace Car replica. Taking "different" to the next level, his Pace Car is not powered by the venerable 5.0-liter V-8; instead, it was originally equipped with the turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder. Although more than half of the '79 Pace Cars came with the 131-horsepower four-banger, it seems that most of today's surviving cars are V-8 versions.
Through a Marti Report, Gies learned that his Pace Car had been purchased new at Cliff & Ders Ford in Edmore, Michigan, on May 26, 1979, the day before the actual running of the 1979 Indianapolis 500. Gies describes his 2002 purchase as, "Not a wreck but a project car. The engine compartment was stripped of all emissions components, the paint was faded, the dash was broken, the seats needed new upholstery, and the carpet needed replacement. Fortunately, the only rust was in the roof." As an experienced bodyman, Gies simply located a rust-free southern roof and welded it in place of the rusted original.
For 2½ years, Gies repaired and restored his Pace Car project, tackling all of the chores himself (including paint, of course) except for reupholstering the seats, noting that "the material was difficult to find at the time because reproduction material was not available." He also located all of the missing underhood parts to make the engine compartment factory original.
After 2½ years of "retirement restoration," the Pace Car emerged as Gies' first "show car," although he admits that it wasn't built for concours competition. "It's driven to local shows," Gies says, noting that the car has appeared at the past two Mustang Memories shows at the Henry Ford II World Center in Dearborn. "I would rate it just under a trailer queen."
'79 Pace Car Specifics
Ford offered the '79 Mustang Indy Pace Car as a replica to the trio of specially-prepared Mustangs that served pace car duty at the 1979 Indianapolis 500. It sold well; 10,478 were built, 4,508 with the 5.0L V-8 and 5,970 with the new-for-'79 turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder.
302 cubic-inch V-8 or turbo- charged 2.3-liter
Pewter paint with black trim and orange-red-black striping
"Official Pace Car" decals in box for owner/dealer installation
Front air dam with Marchal fog lights
Rear facing, non-functional hoodscoop
Metric wheels with Michelin radial tires
Leather-wrapped steering wheel
Engine-turned instrument panel appliqués
Sunroof, interval wipers AM/FM with Premium Sound