Gail Wise remembers Wednesday, April 15, 1964, like it was yesterday. Recently graduated from college, the 22-year-old Gail, then Gail Brown, had landed her first job as a school teacher and her parents drove her to Chicago's Johnson Ford to shop for her first car. She had no idea that Ford's new Mustang would go on sale two days later. In fact, she had not even heard about the Mustang.
"I was just looking for a convertible," says Gail. "And the salesman said, 'Come on back here, I have something you might like.'
In the garage area, under wraps, was a brand-new Skylight Blue Mustang convertible. "I believe there was a hardtop too," Gail recalls, "but I wanted a convertible." The salesman, either unaware that the Mustang didn't officially go on sale until April 17 or just anxious to make his commission, sold the Mustang to Gail on the spot. She picked it up the next morning, after the dealership applied undercoating, and for one day Gail had the only Mustang on the streets of Chicago.
"I felt like a movie star because everyone was staring at me," Gail says.
Forty-seven years later, Gail still owns the car, which likely means that she has owned a Mustang longer than anyone else. The purchase date of April 15 is also the earliest known sales date.
On that April day in 1964, not only did Gail find herself driving a new Mustang convertible, it was also well-equipped with a 260 V-8, automatic transmission, console, Rally Pac, power steering, two-speed wipers, and backup lights. According to the paperwork-all of it dated April 15, 1964-Gail purchased the Mustang for $3,447.50, minus $400 for a '58 Chevrolet that her father traded in. "That was big money back then," Gail says. "As a school teacher, I only made $5,000 a year. But my parents loaned me the money and I paid them back."
Gail recalls that driving a new Mustang convertible in the spring of 1964 was great fun. "Other drivers would slow down and flag me over so they could check it out," she says. "I was young and blonde so I would think that people were noticing me. But it was actually the car."
Once, a policeman motioned for her to pass him and Gail wondered what she had done to deserve a ticket. "But he was just grinning and looking at the Mustang," Gail says. "And that's how it was all the time."
In 1966, Gail married Tom Wise. By 1967, they had started a family and the Mustang became Tom's daily driver, with the Chicago winters taking its toll on the sheetmetal. By 1979, it was getting pretty beat up. "It was 15 years old," Gail says. "I remember we had a horrible snow storm that year and the Mustang was parked on the street. Tom went to leave for work and someone had stolen the battery. He didn't tell me or report it. After he'd left, the police came around to tell everyone to move their cars off the street so the snow plows could get through. So my neighbors helped me push the car into a driveway across the street. It was rather comical-three older ladies helping me push the car through the snow."
Gail credits Tom for convincing her to keep the car through the 1980s and 1990s. "Tom's dream was to restore the Mustang when he retired," Gail reports. With a rusty carburetor linkage preventing the engine from starting, Tom pushed the Mustang into the garage in 1979, where it sat for the next 27 years.
"The Mustang was my pride and joy when it was young and beautiful," Gail says. "But later, as far as I was concerned, it just took up room in the garage. I would ask Tom, 'Why don't you just sell it?' Now I'm glad he didn't."
In 2006, Tom made good on his dream to restore Gail's original-owner Mustang convertible. He knew he could handle the minor cosmetic work but realized that he needed help with the rusty sheetmetal. "I stumbled across Greg's Auto Body in Lake Bluff," Tom recalls. "They said they could repair the car. I had already taken it apart-nothing left on it but the steering wheel and tires-so I pushed it on a trailer and took it up there. I told Gail, 'If they say it's beyond repair, I'm going to take it straight to the junkyard."
Fortunately, Greg's Auto Body was able to replace or repair the rusty sheetmetal, including the floorpans, door skins, and fenders. "Pretty much everything except the hood and trunk lid," Tom says. "It took about 10 months, then I got the car back and did the remainder of the work. I had a new interior put in and a new top installed. I left the engine with a shop and told them to give it the once-over. I don't think they did a whole lot to it other than clean out the sludge."
Today, Gail is happy that her husband of 45 years convinced her to keep her Mustang of 47 years. Since completing the restoration in 2007, Tom has entered the Mustang in a couple of shows, taking First Place awards at both, but Gail admits that she didn't go with him. "I think I had something else going on," she says with a laugh.
And she hasn't even driven it. "I figured he did all the work so I'm not going to mess anything up."