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Gail Wise bought first Mustang sold in US 60 years ago

Last week, Tom Wise took a vintage convertible around the Park Ridge neighborhood, his wife Gail’s hair flying in the wind, as it has done for over sixty years, since the day she purchased the legendary car.

As Wise maneuvered the vehicle towards the garage of his Park Ridge residence, a neighbor in a truck drove by and offered some remarks. “This is where I’ve always noticed the Mustang.”

His eyes widened on April 15, 1964, when Wise told him it was the first Ford Mustang ever sold in the United States to Gail Wise, a 22-year-old rookie third grade teacher.

their folks’ enormous vehicles from that era. After driving her father Cleadis Brown’s 1949 and 1957 Ford convertibles, she just wanted a new one. On April 15, 1964, the two made a stop to Johnson Ford, located near their Chicago home at Cicero and Diversey Avenues.

Although there was not a convertible on the showroom floor, the salesperson did have a quite intriguing item in the rear. Before Henry Ford II presented the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair, it was meant to be under wraps for two more days.
However, Cleadis Brown had the $3,447 sale price in cash (sent to his daughter) and an inducement of a $400 trade-in for a 1958 Impala, so the salesperson decided to jump the gun with Gail as long as she didn’t test drive the vehicle. He might have been quite costly for Johnson Ford.

Tom Wise said, “Ford might have taken the dealership away if they had discovered he had sold the car early.”

In the spring of 1964, no American could have missed the hype around the Mustang. News magazine cover articles featured the automobile. Onlookers stared in shock as the then-Gail Brown drove the car from her Northwest Side house to her teaching position in a west suburban Berkeley neighborhood.

Gail Wise bought the first Ford Mustang ever sold in the United States on April 15, 1964, before she married her husband Tom Wise. The Park Ridge couple is celebrating 60 years of ownership of the historic "pony car." (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)
Gail Wise bought the first Ford Mustang ever sold in the United States on April 15, 1964, before she married her husband, Tom Wise. The Park Ridge couple is celebrating 60 years of ownership of the historic “pony car.” (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)

She remarked, “I felt like a movie star.” “I wasn’t going to seek attention. This automobile was a welcome sight to all. Everyone signaled for me to slow down by waving.

She once trailed the squad car of the Chicago police. She claimed, “He motioned for me to pull up next to him so he could get a close-up look at the car.”

In order to have a relaxing summer, Wise made arrangements for her $5,000 rookie teaching salary to be distributed over a 12-month period. That made it possible for her to go on excursions to the beach, where the car garnered even more interest.

In the spring of 1964, everything seemed so much more simple and different.
Top 40 Weekly.com states that Gail Brown could listen to the Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Twist and Shout,” which were the top two hits, as she was leaving Johnson Ford by pressing the button on the AM-only radio. Additionally, the Fab Four received “She Loves You” at No. 8 and “Do You Want to Know a Secret” at No. 5.

When Lou Brock, a right fielder, started his third season as a starter for the North Siders, Brown could hear his play-by-play if she changed to 720 and listened to WGN-Radio’s Cubs broadcast with Jack Quinlan and Lou Boudreau. While exploring the city, she would come across numerous corner newsstands offering four daily newspapers published in Chicago.
The Wises’ “pony car,” which was threatened by corrosion and aging engine problems, underwent a thorough body and mechanical restoration before becoming the first in a series of unique vehicles designed by automative impresario Lee Iacocca.

The Wises loaded it onto flatbed trucks to avoid damaging the tire treads and piston strokes as they traveled to Midwest auto shows, Ford’s Dearborn, Michigan headquarters celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, and Gale Halderman’s personal museum. Onstage, Edsel Ford, the scion of the Ford family, brushed shoulders with Gail Wise.

Gail Wise of Park Ridge bought this Ford Mustang, the first ever sold in the United States, on April 15, 1964 -- two days before it was supposed to go on sale. After a restoration to remove rust and other issues, the Wises are celebrating 60 years since its purchase. (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)
Gail Wise of Park Ridge bought this Ford Mustang, the first ever sold in the United States, on April 15, 1964 — two days before it was supposed to go on sale. After a restoration to remove rust and other issues, the Wises are celebrating 60 years since its purchase. (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)

The Mustang, which was commemorated with a 1965 Chicago city sticker and a 1964 Illinois license plate, also enjoyed some luck in celebrating 60 years in the family’s ownership.

In the early going, during Chicago’s big blizzard of January 1967, which dumped 23 inches of snow on the city, Gail Wise survived and made it home without abandoning the rear-wheel drive car in snowdrifts, which was the destiny of tens of thousands of vehicles. As it happened, the blizzard prevented Wise from sheltering the Mustang in the garage, so the snow covered it and it remained on the street.
The car stayed garaged with her parents in Chicago, rather than racking up miles on the road, during the late 1960s when Tom Wise, a submariner, was away on Navy duty and he and his wife lived in Charleston, South Carolina. And when Tom Wise concluded in 1979 that he could no longer drive the ancient vehicle to Bellwood for work, he just stored it in the Park Ridge garage until he was ready to rebuild it 27 years later. The odometer on the Mustang is only 68,000 kilometers old.

Gail Wise of Park Ridge still has the invoice for the first Ford Mustang ever sold in the United States, which she purchased 60 years ago on April 15, 1964. (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)
Gail Wise of Park Ridge still has the invoice for the first Ford Mustang ever sold in the United States, which she purchased 60 years ago on April 15, 1964. (Pam DeFiglio, Chicago Tribune/Pioneer Press)

According to Tom Wise, the fastback Mustang debuted in the fall of 1964 and came with a more powerful engine than his 168-horsepower model. The fastback was popularized as Steve McQueen’s pursuit vehicle in the iconic car chase scene from the 1968 film “Bullitt.” Although the movie Mustang is still in existence and was just sold, Wise was unable to identify who the current owner was.

Not too long ago, the Wises considered selling their classic. However, capital gains taxes caused it to collapse, according to Tom Wise. According to the current agreement, their four children will not be responsible for capital gains when the car ultimately passes to the family estate.

Gail Wise of Park Ridge bought this Ford Mustang, the first ever sold in the United States, on April 15, 1964 -- two days before it was supposed to go on sale. After a restoration to remove rust and other issues, the Wises are celebrating 60 years since its purchase. (Pam DeFiglio)
Gail Wise of Park Ridge bought this Ford Mustang, the first ever sold in the United States, on April 15, 1964 — two days before it was supposed to go on sale. After a restoration to remove rust and other issues, the Wises are celebrating 60 years since its purchase. (Pam DeFiglio)

The neighbors who wave at the Wises as they drive by will probably get their own form of horsing around as summer arrives with its convertible weather. Tom Wise had the car equipped with an auxiliary horn throughout the lengthy period he spent working on its restoration. Now, when the Wises push a button, the automobile’s internal components emit a sound akin to a horse’s “whinnying,” alerting passersby to the fact that the ostensibly “pony car” is still suitable for riding despite its advanced age.

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