First Off the Lot
Some of the best things in life aren’t planned. Instead, they are born from necessity and a dash of good fortune. Convenience and providence become the catalysts for stories that make headlines. Just ask Gail Wise, the woman believed to be the owner of the first production Ford Mustang in the world.
In 1964, Gail Wise — known then as Gail Brown — a 22-year-old elementary school teacher, strolled into the showroom of Johnson Ford on Cicero Avenue in Chicago. She had a starting salary of $5,100 and visions of driving to her new teaching job in a convertible all her own.
“On Wednesday, April 15, 1964, I had just graduated from college and was living at home with my parents in Chicago. I was looking for a car to take me to my new job in the suburbs,” Gail said. “My parents had a 1949 and a 1957 Ford convertible, so I knew that was what I wanted when I walked into Johnson Ford that day.”
After perusing the showroom floor with no luck finding the convertible of her dreams, or even a convertible at all, Gail followed the salesman into the back room.
“When I told the salesman I wanted a convertible, he said that he didn’t have any on the showroom floor but to follow him to the backroom. Underneath a tarp, there it was, a skylight blue, convertible Mustang,” Gail reminisced. “I thought, ‘Oh wow!’ It was sporty looking, a beautiful color, had power steering, bucket seats and went zoom-zoom. At that moment, I said, ‘Yes, I’d love to buy it!’ The salesman told me he really wasn’t supposed to sell the car because it was two nights before Lee Iacocca unveiled the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair, but for some reason he sold it to me for $3,447.50. Since then, people have told me I paid too much.”
It wasn’t until Gail drove away from the dealership that she realized how special the car was. Everyone was excited to see the shiny new Mustang, and Gail soon felt like a celebrity.
“I was excited to be driving the Mustang. Everyone was staring and waving at me. They’d give me high-fives. I hadn’t gone into the dealership that day planning on buying a Mustang, I had just gone to purchase a convertible. I felt like a movie star, but it wasn’t me everyone was looking at, it was the car,” Gail said. “There was a junior high attached to the elementary school where I worked. When I drove the car to work the next day, the seventh- and eighth-grade boys hovered over the car. The custodian said, ‘Miss Brown, if I had a nickel for everybody that looks at your car, I’d be a millionaire.’ That’s how it was for quite awhile. Everybody was thrilled to see the Mustang.”
Gail went on to marry her husband, Tom. Fifteen years after Gail had purchased the Mustang it went from being an eye-catching 22-year-old’s vehicle to the family car. Tom drove the car to and from work everyday.
“One day in 1979, Tom came to me and said, ‘There is something wrong with the Mustang.’ He pushed it into the garage and said, ‘I’ll fix it next week.’ Next week turned into 27 years. It sat in the garage covered with all sorts of stuff,” Gail said. “I would complain and say, ‘Oh, let’s get rid of this car. We need space for the children’s things.’ Tom would reply, ‘Oh no, that’s my retirement project.’”