In retrospect, the Mustangs that hit dealer showrooms in April 1964 were somewhat crude compared to the models that were soon to follow-a situation not unlike that experienced by other new car models, such as the long-lived Corvette. The '53 Vette was not only a bit rough around the edges, but also-unlike the introductory Mustang-initial sales of the glass-bodied wonder were off-way off.
A number of factors played into the Mustang's out-of-the-gate success. First and foremost, Dearborn's little darling was unlike anything that came before it. The carefully crafted exterior styling was so far removed from previous sheetmetal configurations, with its fresh and sporty lines, that the car appealed not only to young buyers of the time, but also captured the attention of veteran drivers who had grown up with the square-bodied behemoths of years past.
Of course, fresh styling can only take the popularity of any car just so far. Ford's planners realized early on that in order to overwhelm their intended market class, the new Mustang had to go beyond the traditional scope of standard equipment and regular production options-and the ponycar, which hit showrooms April 17, 1964, did just that. With its bevy of standard equipment, which in most other brands would have been extra-cost goodies, and a regular-production options list as long as both arms of even the most gangly customer, the Mustang lived up to its touted reputation as being a car "designed by you."
It worked. Ford brass was initially hoping to sell 150,000 Mustangs during its lengthy first model year (April 1964 to mid-August 1965). However, merely 12 months after the car's introduction, Mustang sales had blown early projections clean out of the water with sales toppling more than 400,000. That number would climb to an unprecedented 680,000-plus units before the '66 models came online.
Johnnie and Rachel Garner of Rock Hill, South Carolina, are fortunate to own one of the early Mustangs-a '64 1/2 Rangoon Red convertible. Although it's a '65 model-according to Ford's way of reckoning-the Garners' car, as with all Mustangs made before mid-August 1964, is given '64 1/2 status by the hobby to distinguish these first 121,538 units from the '65 models that followed. A number of minor and not-so-minor features help separate the two model years, including the Mustang fender badge, underdash air vent knob, absent gas cap retaining ring, plastic wheel center hub, beveled hood lip and headlight bucket corner lip, and perhaps most significantly, a generator being used instead of the later alternator.
Johnnie and Rachel purchased this convertible in June 1996 as a 26th wedding anniversary present to themselves. That seemed only natural, given that the couple has bought, sold, and restored numerous Mustangs during the last 2 1/2 decades.
The drop-top, sporting the spicy 289 4V engine and C4 automatic tranny, was already in the process of a concours restoration when they bought it. The couple spent the next several months completing the job and has since been hitting the show circuit. Understandably, many awards have been won at local and national meets.
Now, just as the first Mustangs set the pace for the later ponycar models to follow, Johnnie and Rachel's '64 1/2 drop-top is setting a brisk stride of its own. Once a pacesetter, always a pacesetter.