Known as “Shorty” or the “Mustang III” and originally built in 1963, this is the oldest mustang that’s still on the road. It started life as a pre-production convertible prototype, one of 15 pre-production Mustangs built to test manufacturing processes, crash safety, and generally help them find and fix any problems before production. Of those 15 cars, it is one of only 3 that survived and is the only one not in a museum, making it the oldest road-legal Mustang in the world. The story of how it ended up not being scrapped like most other prototype cars is rather interesting. First, in June 1964, Ford decided they wanted a small, two-seater fastback Mustang concept, so they sent this car to Dearborn Steel Tubing where it underwent substantial modifications. DST stripped the body down to its structural floorpan and shortened the wheelbase from 108 to 90 inches, with the plan being to replace the rest of the body behind the cowl with fiberglass.(Update: in my original post, I said the wheelbase was 180 inches. Thanks to those who pointed out that the mustang did not have a 15-foot wheelbase! It is corrected now)
The new exterior was designed by Vince Gardner, and is pretty interesting. The coves in the side now end at the doors so that the relationship with the rear wheel well remains the same, and the sail panels in the roof are concave, which is a bit unusual. It’s a bit odd, but I think it totally works. It toured the country with Ford’s Custom Car Caravan until May 2, 1965, when it mysteriously disappeared. Shorty had been stolen. Luckily, DST got back most of the money they had put into the car from insurance, but the theft of the car warranted further investigation. In August, a former DST employee called them, saying that he had spotted the car in a loft above his shop. Police didn’t find it, but an insurance investigator found it behind a plywood wall, and the loft was soon found to have been rented recently by the car’s designer, Vince Gardner! Gardner hadn’t wanted to see his creation destroyed like so many other show cars, so he had stolen it in hopes of saving it. Bizarrely, he was never charged. But he did succeed in saving the car from destruction, because now the insurance company owned the car, and it was soon sold to an employee who used it for several years. It’s still around, and its current owner, Howard Kroplick, still drives it. He says it’s like a GT350, but louder and feels faster.