The “original” Mustang II has led a sad life. My point: I have been a rabid car fan for all of my 37 years on this planet, live in Michigan, attend a dozen or more car shows and museums per annum, and own an early Mustang (and therefore am fascinated by its history). Never had I, however, laid eyes on this concept car until this June, and then I saw it two weeks in a row. Why the sneaking subterfuge? What gives?
Unfortunately, it has much to do with the city of Detroit, and that may be all I have to say about that. Detroit is, to be charitable, a work in progress. The Detroit Historical Museum owns the Mustang II show car and stores it in a large decrepit warehouse among the rest of their 100-odd vehicle collection. Their cars are stored in large inflatable car bags, but due to a lack of display space, they are almost exclusively locked away from an adoring public.
Fortunately for car buffs, the Mustang II has managed to emerge from its cocoon relatively intact. Indeed, the paint is cracking and a large dent mars its tail panel, but it is in one piece and apparently runs, no thanks to Detroit. Legend has it that the museum loaned the car to Owl’s Head Transportation Museum in Maine from 1996-2011. No wonder I’ve never seen it out. One of Owl’s Head’s employees/volunteers actually worked on the Mustang II during his career at Ford, and restored it to running and driving condition. Remember Maine!
Although the Mustang II has spent much of its life hidden from daylight, it has been shown twice (at least) this year in Michigan: at the Henry Ford Motor Muster and at Sloan Museum’s Autofair. Both times, a “handler” accompanied the car, and I got the distinct feeling that he was a bit overprotective, like a jealous suitor. He seemed to give me the stink eye as I photographed it, and refused to open the hood, as it was “against policy.” Whose policy? To be fair to him, Detroit’s bureaucracy may actually forbid handlers from opening car hoods.
Nevertheless, the Mustang II show car was intended to be a bridge between the Mustang I show car and the eventual production Mustang. Obviously, it had more in common with the ’65 Mustang than the original concept, but it was evidently built from a Falcon Sprint convertible, as the Mustang had not yet been introduced when this car was assembled. Upon seeing it for the first time, GM’s Bill Mitchell reputedly remarked that it looked like a Hamtramck Falcon. For those who aren’t Michiganians, Hamtramck is a city in Michigan with a historically large Polish community. Old Bill was apparently never known for his tact.
Normally, I bow to Bill Mitchell’s taste and wisdom, but he was 180 degrees out regarding the Mustang II. It looks great. In fact, these wheels would look terrific on my ’65 hardtop. I wonder if I could find a set.
Oh goodness, those mirrors! They look infinitely more seductive than the garden variety rear view on the door of my ’65. From this standpoint, it’s easy to see that the Mustang II used similar body panels to the production Mustang. In fact, from here, aside from the mirrors, most people would think they were looking at someone’s base notchback.
According to what I’ve read (and there is little real information out there on this car), the nose of the concept was steel, but bolstered with a heaping helping of body filler, so it certainly wasn’t meant for production. That may be for the best, as the headlight/grille combination may be the car’s weakest feature.
The interior and lowered roofline were, contrarily, grand slam home runs. The sculptured door panels and console said money where the production Mustang’s said frugality. The blue and white vinyl hark to echo the car’s exterior, which wears a similar paint scheme to the Mustang I show car.
The fiberglass hardtop was removable, and this topless photo shows the two-toning that would inspire later “Pony” interiors in production Mustangs. The divided rear seat is a sporty touch that didn’t make it to production models.
Although I have no engine shots, everything I’ve read states that the Mustang II has a 289 High-Performance engine with dual four-barrel carburetors. These were allegedly added later, as the car was used as a carburetor mule by the fuel-system engineering department after its days on the show circuit. By one account, the car was on a trailer headed to the crusher when a few engineers figured they’d use it as a test car. Close call!
The most intriguing engine modification includes wax-filled lifters. Apparently, Ford designed the lifters with a special expanding wax so the engine would sound like it had a huge cam once the engine warmed up. Neat trick, but I’d have to wonder if it would hang the valves open on a hot start.
Who knows how I managed to miss out on the Mustang II for this long? Happily, we found each other, even if only for a short time, and I hope I don’t have to wait another 37 years to see it again. And this raises an interesting dream I have.
I certainly don’t understand the vagaries of museum ownership, but it would be appropriate if the Detroit Historical Museum would loan the Mustang II to the Henry Ford Museum indefinitely. There, it could sit between the Mustang I concept and Mustang serial number 100001, completing the story of the Mustang’s infancy. Until that happens, I guess I’ll just have to be satisfied with an occasional sighting at an occasional car show.
The above link shows several pictures of this car, including under the hood shots (the handler told me that these pictures would be online). The engine has dual vacuum secondary Holleys on what appears to be a pretty tall manifold. It’s interesting that it all fits under the hood with that homemade air cleaner. Notice the cuts made around the curved ends of the lid.