The Mustang II factory show car from 1963 has finally come out of "hiding." Actually, those who cared to look hard enough could find the car. Since 1996, the Mustang II has been on display at the Owls Head Transportation Museum in Owls Heads, Maine. They got it on loan from the Detroit Historical Society, which received the car as a donation in 1975 from Ford.
We made contact with the Mustang II at the Carlisle All-Ford Nationals last June. For Carlisle's Mustang 40th anniversary celebration, Building T provided a display spot for this piece of Mustang history.
The museum's Peter Curtis, who put the Mustang II in roadworthy shape and also watched over the car at Carlisle, provided us with the understatement of the year. "The historical society had it in a storage building. We thought it would look better on display."
The thought of such a historic Mustang hidden for years in a storage building, as if nobody cared, radiates a feeling of lost opportunity. Even harder to accept is the fate the car suffered after its show-car days were past, sometime during the 1964-1965 timeframe.
Curtis explained, "Ford used it as a testbed for a while, so the engine is not the original. Or at least the top of the engine is not original. It might be the original block, but it's got the Cobra setup they were trying out."
According to Curtis, the original engine was a 289 Hi-Po. Also, the car's usefulness for testing is what saved it from the company crusher. He has inside information from a part-time volunteer at the museum who tuned it in 1963. "It was on a truck ready for the crusher, and the R&D guys said they needed a test mule, so they grabbed it. If it weren't for that, it would have been crushed. That also explains why she's kind of beat up."
Although far from show condition today, the car appears mostly complete. The locking gas cap certainly is not original and neither is the simulated-wood steering wheel, which Curtis pegs from 1967. The running-horse medallions are also missing from the front fenders, compared to vintage pictures.
Under the hood, we spied the Cobra setup. Fairly common are the Cobra finned-aluminum valve covers (black crackle finish, not the earlier unpainted style), a cobbled-up Cobra-style air-cleaner assembly (minus Cobra logo), and a pair of Holley four-barrels on top of a dual-quad aluminum intake.
We looked for a VIN and spied "X 8902-SB-208" on the inner fender apron. Curtis called it the "project number." The X might stand for experimental, but the rest of the code remains a mystery.
Despite the car's missing parts and rough history, it has been preserved since at least 1975, when the Detroit Historical Society took possession. So it remains a treasure trove to investigate and pore over.
The Mustang II show car, second from bottom, in this vintage Ford photograph with the Must
Basically, the Mustang II was a Ford show car, built prior to the production Mustang. It was a modified, showy build that, according to Gary Witzenburg's book Mustang!, was cobbled together using a preproduction, prototype body.
Ford created the Mustang II as an allusion to promote the upcoming production Mustang, which would debut the following year. Potential buyers would see the Mustang as a derivation of the exotic-looking Mustang II. The production Mustang was already set, so the Mustang II was designed to bridge the gap between the Mustang I, the original two-passenger Mustang sports car from 1962, and the production '65 Mustang due for introduction in April 1964.
Hal Spurlich, one of the product planners, is quoted in Witzenburg's book as recalling, "We took a steel prototype body, made it a convertible, took the bumpers off, restyled the front and back, and did a lot of things to pick up cues from that Lunn-mobile," which was Spurlich's euphemism for the Mustang I.
Designer Gene Bordinat takes credit for the promotional idea. John Najir, in charge of the Mustang's interior design, remembers Bordinat visiting his studio and talking about producing a link between the Mustang I and the production car.
Najir says, "I had a man working for me by the name of Jimmy Sherbourne turn out some drawings that were a blend of the two vehicles. We had the bumpers tucked in, we still had the rollover bar, and we were beginning to play with a retractable, stowable roof and dropped rear window. As it went along it got more of an abstract look, but also got closer to the production car. I later did sketches myself, and they ended up as the Mustang II that was shown at Watkins Glen in October 1963."
For now, Curtis at the Owls Head Museum is our source for details of the car's status and unrecorded history, which dates back to its design and build. Anybody can read facts from history books, but the real car-and this is the Mustang II that debuted at Watkins Glen-is full of history.
Curtis has worked on the car and has had part of the interior out. He describes the seats as "handmade." The rear bench is "pretty much for looks. You can sit on them, but they are not that great, mostly a wood frame. The whole interior treatment is fiberglass and things held up with pieces of 2x4 jammed into big blobs of putty."
Inside, the center of the custom dash features "aircraft controls." The instrument panel for the driver features round dials. The horizontal Falcon speedometer used on the original Mustang certainly would not suffice in a show car.
We're excited to see the Mustang II has survived because no book on Mustang history is complete without pictures and information about this important part of its past.
About Owls Head
The Owls Head Transportation Museum has one of the finest collections of pioneer-era aircraft and automobiles in the world. More than 100 historic aircraft, automobiles, bicycles, carriages, and engines are on permanent display. The Aircraft Collection contains replicas and originals representing the first century of flight, while the museum's collection of automobiles spans the late 19th century and early 20th century. For more information, contact: Peter Curtis, Owls Head Transportation Museum, 117 Museum St., Owls Head, ME 04854; 207/594-4418; www.ohtm.org.