No other car introduction can equal the Mustang's debut on April 17, 1964. Ford rolled out its new ponycar at Walt Disney's Magic Skyway exhibit during the 1964 World's Fair in New York after teasing the public on all three television networks the night before. An extensive Walter Middy-style advertising campaign in the months to follow pulled consumers into Ford dealer showrooms everywhere. Ford's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson, created such a successful ad campaign that the Walter Middy theme continued through 1968.
Shortly after its introduction, the Mustang was chosen as the official pace car of the 1964 Indianapolis 500. Unlike subsequent '79 and '04 pace car models that were produced in the thousands, Ford assembled scarcely more than 230 Pace Car replicas for 1964: 35 dignitary convertibles for the Indy 500 Festival Parade, and approximately 200 hardtops for a pair of sales contests.
Three specially prepared pace car convertibles were also built to pace the Indy 500: 5F08F100240, 5F08F100241, and 5F08F100242, all with 09C (March 9, 1964) date codes. One was the primary pace car and the other two were designated as backups. All three came from the factory with 260 V-8s and three-speed manual transmissions, but their original drivetrains were replaced with Holman-Moody-built 289 High Performance V-8s and four-speeds. As we understand it, the primary pace car experienced mechanical problems and one of the backup cars actually paced the race, a fact that remains unconfirmed by a reliable source. One of the cars, 5F08F100241, has been restored. The other two are unaccounted for. Although it has been widely rumored that race winner A.J. Foyt got one of the three pace cars and gave it to his maid, this is not true. Ford actually gave Foyt a highly optioned Wimbledon White D-code convertible with blue interior. It is unknown where this car is today.
The 35 festival convertibles were not specially ordered or prepared. Because they were plucked from regional dealer inventories or from the Dearborn Assembly Plant and shuttled to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, they vary greatly, which also makes documentation difficult. We do know that all were Wimbledon White with a V-8, either 260 or 289, and had a variety of options, ranging from stick to automatic, with and without air conditioning, and so on. Clad in Indianapolis 500 graphics, they were auctioned to dealers after the race.
This leads us to the approximately 200 Indy 500 Pace Car replica hardtops produced for Ford's Checkered Flag and Green Flag sales competitions. These contests were run simultaneously during April 1964, with every Ford dealer having the opportunity to participate in at least one of the contests. According to Jim Haskell, who has done a tremendous amount of research on the Pace Car hardtops, each Ford sales district (36 at the time) arranged dealers into groups based on sales volume for the preceding 12 months. Both Checkered and Green Flag groupings were developed in each of the districts. A sales objective (number of units sold) for April was established for each dealership in each group. Dealers that exceeded their sales objective by the greatest percentage qualified to compete against other winning dealers in that sales district.
Ford figured out in advance how many winning dealers there would be and scheduled 180 Pace Car White (color code C, '64½ only) hardtops for production in mid-April. That's five pace cars per sales district. The top dealers were declared Checkered Flag winners while runner-ups were Green Flag winners. Checkered Flag winners won their pace cars outright, with Ford Division General Manager Lee Iacocca presenting the keys at a ceremony in Dearborn. Green Flag winners had the option of buying the cars.
Ford dealers picked up their '64½ Indy Pace Car hardtops at a special "Checkered Fl
Ford aimed for an even split between Checkered Flag and Green Flag winners, but it didn't work out that way. There were ties in some of the sales districts, making it necessary to produce an additional number of Pace Car hardtops with May 1, 1964 (01E) date codes and a DSO code of 84 (Ford Home Office Reserve). It is not known how many additional cars were built.
According to Haskell, 105 dealers won the Checkered Flag contest and were invited to Dearborn for a "Checkered Flag Winners Day" on May 14, 1964. Roughly 85 Green Flag winner cars were shipped to dealers who chose to buy them. Some dealers kept them, while others were promptly sold. Each dealer also received an Indy 500 Pace Car hardtop plastic promo car with the appropriate graphics.
In a sad footnote to the Checkered Flag contest, one of the dealers was killed in a head-on collision while driving his Pace Car home.
Southern California's Steve Grant has always had an interest in the Indy 500 Pace Car Mustangs due to their unique history and rarity. He was thumbing through Hemmings Motor News in June 1996 when he stumbled upon one for sale in Virginia. As luck would have it, he was planning a trip to see his parents in Delaware. He even managed to talk his father into the five-hour drive down to Virginia to check the car out. The Mustang was in pretty good shape for an East Coast car. When Steve checked out all the important details, such as the VIN, color and trim codes, build date, and DSO, he was convinced he'd found one of the hardtops.
Thus began a long journey leading up to a concours restoration. "I'm not mechanically inclined," Steve tells us. "So I had a friend help me get the car running." With a new fuel tank and sending unit, the 260 fired up and ran. A big moment for Steve was when he found "PACE CAR" in the radiator support. He tells us he believes it was put there in grease pencil over bare steel before the paint was applied.
When the restoration process began to outdistance Steve's abilities, he hauled the car to Mustangs & American Classics in Mission Viejo, California, where Monroe Weathers concluded the car needed floors, doors, quarter-panels, and fenders. Although the car had 150,000 miles on its original 260-2V V-8, it had never been apart, making it a solid foundation for rebuilding.
Monroe located new-old-stock sheetmetal and good used doors for Steve's project. John Hesford at Vintage Auto Body in Brea, California, performed all of the bodywork and paint, although Steve had a tough time tracking down Pace Car White, which was ultimately found as DDL-8321 on a Ford color chart.
Steve's Pace Car was one of the Green Flag contest cars. Assembled on April 20, 1964 at the Dearborn assembly plant, it was delivered to Thompson Auto Company in Thomasville, North Carolina. When Steve contacted the dealer in 2002, he was stunned to discover that the car's original salesman, Bennie Link, still worked for the dealership. Bennie remembered the car, telling Steve that it sat in the showroom until November. It was ultimately sold to the owner of a local minor league baseball team for $2,926. Bennie told Steve the buyer did not care for the Indy 500 graphics, asking the dealer to remove them and paint the car Skylight Blue. The car would pass through many owners in North Carolina and Virginia before Steve's purchase in 1996.
Steve's efforts on this car cannot be underestimated, especially considering he is not a mechanic or restorer by nature. So far, the pinnacle for Steve was winning Best of Show at the Fabulous Fords Forever at Knott's Berry Farm in 2003, where he was up against 1,800 other competitors. Steve's success could be written off as beginner's luck, but we don't think so. Steve believes you must be faithful to a car's history and authenticity. And that takes more commitment than luck.
Quick Facts: '64½ Indy Pace Car
• Three actual pace cars were built; all were 260-2V Wimbledon White convertibles as they rolled off the Dearborn assembly line.
• Dearborn Steel Tubing confirmed that these cars were repainted in Pearl White, not Pace Car White.
• All three pace cars were consecutively numbered 5F08F100240, 5F08F100241, and 5F08F100242.
• All were fitted with Holman-Moody-prepared 289 High Performance V-8s installed by Ford in Dearborn. All three cars were prepared by Ford's engineering people and Dearborn Steel Tubing.
• These cars were never re-serialized as "K" engine code cars. All retained their original "F" engine code vehicle identification numbers.
• 5F08F100240 was delivered to Holman-Moody after the race, then shipped to Watkins Glen, New York, for use as a track pace car. Whereabouts unknown today.
• 5F08F100241 was delivered to Holman-Moody, then shipped to Sebring, Florida, for the Automobile Racing Club of Florida. Restored in the early '90s in Pace Car White and in private hands today.
• 5F08F100242 was shipped to Holman-Moody for use in its racing program. Verified by Ford paperwork. Whereabouts unknown today.
Quick Facts: '64½
Pace Car Hardtop
• 180 Hardtops produced in Pace Car White (code C) with white interiors and blue appointments (Trim Code 42) in mid-April 1964. Five for each sales district for Checkered Flag and Green Flag contest winners.
• It appears most sales district units were numbered consecutively. For example, Denver district (DSO 51) units were numbered 5F07F113920 through 5F07F113923, with the exception being 5F07F113799.
• Approximately 20 additional pace car units were produced with date code "01E" (May 1, 1964) with DSO 84 to cover ties in some sales districts.
• Vehicle identification numbers appear to range from 5F07F112566 to 5F07F123807.
• Pace Car White was not a special paint mix. It was a truck color, first appearing as Milk White in 1962. In 1964, it became Pure White until 1979 when it became Special White.
• All Pace Car hardtops were optioned identically except "01E" cars, which had the Visibility Group (two-speed wipers with washer).
• All Pace Car hardtops came with the F-code 260-2V V-8 with C4 automatic and 3.00:1 gears.
• All April cars were fitted with improved hoods (also called '65 hoods). It is rumored "01E" cars may have had unimproved hoods (known as '64½ hoods).
• Aside from their Pace Car White color and Indy 500 graphics, there was nothing unusual about the Pace Car hardtops.