Big Al's Featured Car's
Ohio Shop Restores Oldest Mustang
Owned by Bruce R. Beeghly
Story & Pictures by John Carollo

(Editor’s note: In a move that breaks with tradition on Big Al‘s List, we have what may be the biggest story in Mustang collector history. And due to the amount of information, it will definitely be the longest story in Big Al’s List history.)

Bruce R. Beeghly, of Ohio wanted to do something no one had ever done. The serious car collector wanted to take a 1964 ½ Ford Mustang convertible prototype and restore it. All of the existing prototypes are in ‘as is’ condition: dust, rust, paint cracks and all. Even serial number 001 Mustang in the Ford Museum is showing every bit of its 45 years. Bruce thought it would be neat to see a rare prototype just the way it came from Ford in late 1964. When the cars were on display and the energy level for the new Pony cars was literally Mustang-Mania! So he bought a prototype and took it to Nate Miller and his Buckeye Automotive Restoration, located in Berlin Center, Ohio. Nate, already an ace with resto Mustangs was up for the task and began by disassembling the car. That’s when things got interesting. Miller started noticing quite a bit of difference in many of the parts coming off Beeghly’s newest acquisition. And having done more than his share of restoration Mustangs, he knew different when he saw it.

We’ll spare you the suspense and tell you that the pair found out the Mustang they wanted to restore turned out to be what they now believe to be the oldest Mustang in existence, preceding all the other prototypes. And they didn’t come by that highly controversial claim without due process. It took years of research and careful examination of other prototypes, even spending one year alone just documenting with photographs.

Knowing Mustang fans will tell you the car known as Mustang 1, located in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan, with VIN #5F08F100001, has been long believed to be the first hand-manufactured pre-production car in the series due to its VIN. But information on Mustang prototypes is far from complete. Even Ford comes up short in research material for these cars. Yet, it was a great place to start checking and learn more of the prototypes’ subtle differences, including those that were accepted as common knowledge in Mustang collector circles. Miller got permission from the Museum to inspect and photograph Mustang 1 and went on to put in what he estimates as,
“Six to 700 hundred hours of research.”

Another surprising fact found during Miller and fellow Mustang expert Tony Begley’s research (Begley has 18 hours of film footage documenting #41 coming apart) were many indications that VIN numbers on earlier Mustangs had little or no bearing on the sequence in which preproduction cars were built.

Beeghly’s Mustang was VIN # 5F08F100140 and was quickly determined to also be known as Job Number 41 by the simple paint pencil marking “#41” on the driver’s side of the radiator core support. That simple fact would give credence to the age of the car. Mustang 1 in the Ford Museum has a similar #84 on its core support. Evidence was further bolstered by Miller when he was able to verify Ford’s use of ‘Job Numbers’ thanks to a hand written document found in VIN #5F08F100155, which recognizes #48 as the referenced job number. From the jump off point of matching VIN numbers to Job Numbers, the differences quickly added up.

One of the biggest aspects that may have sequential importance was the size of the washers used to hold the car’s idler arm in place. It was easily seen that Mustang 1’s idler arm washers were much larger than the ones on #41. The larger washers also suggest, according to Miller, that Mustang 1 was manufactured after #41 and most likely other preproduction cars. What’s up with the washers? The smaller washers would not hold up to more active use as the unibody area where they are mounted contains no reinforcement to avoid pull-through. As this came to light to the early Mustang prototype builders, bigger washers were used.

A third factor was the number of handmade pieces on #41 that outnumbered the other cars researched. #41 has a handmade firewall and well liner for the convertible top as well as the rear valance. Inside, the carpeting was hand sewn and up front, the front frame rails were torch cut for steering clearance.
 
Another significant difference in the chassis of #41 indicated it was, in all probability, not designed for long-term use or maintenance. The shock tower access in the trunk panel was much too narrow for a human hand to fit. Simple maintenance repairs such as replacing the rear shocks would have been impossible. Bigger shock tower openings were noted in production Mustangs.
 
From the electrical components on #41, Miller saw preproduction differences. One is that there is no ground wire in the headlight wiring harness in preproduction models. Also, the horn wiring was connected through its own harness separate from the headlights. The parking lights on Job #41 had two wire ‘pigtails’ with a separate ground wire that ran from the parking light retaining ring to the fender. Again, production models differ but it is the use of gaskets on the light housings that appear to be hand cut that demands attention.

Under the hood, the silver paint on the engine easily states it as a prototype. The color change was for a very good and simple reason. The lighter silver color would show leaks or other engine troubles by easy to spot, contrasting colors. The normal black color could have hidden a leak until bigger problems arose, making for a bad impression when the car was continually shown. Miller says, “It only stands to reason that the sooner Ford engineers could identify the simple problems, the faster they could repair them and move on to the next big challenge.” Miller’s documentation reveals that prototypes used silver paint through Mustang 1.

Inside #41, there are plenty of preproduction differences. The dashboard seems to have substantial changes to it when compared to production models. One example found was the upper dash being ½ inch narrower than production models. The dash also gave more details. Cuts in the dash framework behind the instrument panel assembly indicate an obvious production progression pattern. Mustang 1 has these cuts but #41 reveals a more primitive rough edge, clearly hand cut, in an attempt to adapt to the dashboard mount.

The convertible top has obvious differences easily seen from the outside. Its top bows are actually flat with no arch to prevent water from settling. Miller states the reason for the change was to address the reported problems of the staples pulling away from bows causing water to accumulate on the fabric in the earlier preproduction models. Instead of being held by screws, as were found in the later production models, the handmade well liners for the convertible top were a unique one-piece unit fastened by tabs. The tabs kept the well liner and the rods in place. Speculation says it was due to manufacturing and/or production costs.

Also related to the convertible top, hand smashed dents in the quarter wheel wells on the preproduction convertibles were concluded by Miller as needed to accommodate the retraction of the convertible tops. Production models, of course, have a neatly molded wheel well indentation for a more refined look and fit. Research revealed the hand-hammered dents in #41 were much more severe than other prototypes. This indicates engineers were still working out just how much clearance was needed for the top frames.

Other distinguishing features support the idea that preproduction models were simply stepping-stones to production. The body, as being the biggest element of any car, would prove to have a wealth of differences. Normal finish details were neglected in early prototypes. The door locks on #41 have no bushings or trim molding and the doors skins are double crimped. One of the most easily seen body differences are the seams in the trunk threshold and on both door jams. The seams were hand welded and then hand leaded for a super smooth appearance. This adds to the hand built factor, since manufacturers relied on solely spot welding seams for speedy production.

There were a number of discrepancies in measurements of prototypes. The reason for the differences was never determined but it would be reasonable to conclude that more standardized measurements played a role in the change. Those, and the fact that prototypes are known for looser tolerances, show these differences. One example is the pre-production version quarter panels measured 59.5 inches compared to its production models, which measure a full 60 inches. Another measurement change discovered was on the outer rocker body panels. The measurement on the pre-production models was a ¼-inch shorter than seen on production cars. Even the wheelbase on #41 was affected with its 107.5 inches versus the production 108.

A simple change in the quarter panel drains on the wheel wells of #41were the use of slits instead of the round plugs seen in later production models. Other prototypes have two or three drains. Miller suspects water drainage must have been a problem in the earlier models as they changed quantities and shapes.
 
Miller and his crew of researchers noted the quarter panel extension pin count is configured differently on preproduction models. In other words, a production 1965 quarter panel end cap will not fit on a preproduction vehicle because the pin hole alignment does not match. 
 
The front and rear valances on #41 have small spears, not seen on other vehicles. The valances are also squared on the ends as opposed to rounded versions in production models. These different valances are known to exist on only three preproduction cars, VIN 5F08F100170, Mustang 1 and #41.

The grills on preproduction models were gunmetal gray versus the production gunmetal blue. This is seen in all preproduction cars including Mustang 1. But #41 has a Mustang grill horse that contains a more pronounced eye. It’s thought to be one of the first made whereas later models showed an eye casting was ‘worn down’ as it went through production and left less detail.

The bumpers and how they fit the car are documented but Miller also learned #41’s rear bumper brackets were shaped differently from production brackets. The front inner and outer bumper brackets are fully welded as opposed to spot welding noted on production vehicles. Likewise, the bumper guards do not have cushions.
 
When it came to painting #41, every care the team took in researching and authenticating was used for the final finish. The original color of the car was Ford, Code J, Rangoon red. Putting less than modern urethane paint on the car would number the days the paint would stay intact. Miller’s Buckeye Automotive Restoration is as staunch supporter of Sherwin Williams Automotive Finishes and turned to them for the accurate Ford color but in urethane. The folks in the Sherwin Williams labs spent their own six months of research using old pigments, metallic flakes and color standards from Ford to verify the color. With all the improvements in modern paint and colors, some pigments can often get superseded by modern technology. Sherwin Williams knew it was going on a very important car so they wanted to get it right and that’s why the lab sought out the old school elements of that color. At the same time, they created their formula number U-2127 so others can use their single stage, Ultra One urethane paint in an authentic Ford Rangoon red. When the bodywork was completed by Dave Williams, he and Nate Miller painted the convertible. The advantages of using a more modern urethane paint were clearly obvious when no wet/color sanding, clear coats or buffing were needed - a far cry from the original days of enamels and lacquers.

The restoration of #41 took 11 months to complete and Miller credits many with their help. The welding and structural repairs were completed by Brian Ciriello. Assembly was completed by Nate Miller (who also did the parts detailing) and John Miller. Just as importantly is the extensive research conducted and documented by Nate Miller, John Miller, Tony Begley, Randy Paddock and Jeremy Marks. Miller says the huge undertaking owes special thanks to Tony Begley, Chris Devito, Frank Middleweek, Joe Pavlov, Bob Perkins, Ameri-cure Spray Booths, Benchwick Carburetor Company, Boardman Engine and Machine, Christmas Automotive, Classicmusclecars.com, Dead Nuts On, Distributor Dynamics, Fiberglass-Evercoat, The Henry Ford Museum, Iwata Spray Equipment, Johnson’s Custom Upholstery, Lakeside Custom Plating, The Lincoln Electric Company, Mikes Transmission, Niles Manufacturing, Power Brake Booster Exchange, Professional Engine Systems Inc., PS Auto Glass, Rode’s Restoration, Sherwin Williams Automotive Div., Spartan Fabrication, 3M Corporation and countless others they may have forgotten.

But where does this all put Mustang 1 on the evolutionary scale? Nate Miller and his colleagues believe the Museum’s Mustang 1 was, “…the culmination of several pre-production experiments conducted by the Ford Motor Corporation to perfect the unmistakable, legendary beauty known the world over as the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang convertible.” To the best of Miller’s knowledge, no claims have surfaced with such irrefutable proof as are detailed in Beeghly’s Job #41 Mustang. It is only through extensive research that Miller and Begley have concluded that VIN# 5F08F100140 is the earliest pre-production Mustang convertible known to exist with 99.9% of the car untouched before the restoration process began. They also agree, “That it was through trial, error and considerable reconfiguration that engineers of the Ford Motor Company were able to perfect the long since celebrated 1964 ½ Mustang convertible and later give birth to the first assembly line production of a Mustang convertible VIN #5F08F100212 on March 9, 1964.”

We all know there is one thing that runs true for old cars. Research and persistence pays off in finding the story. It did just that and a whole lot more for Nate Miller and owner, Bruce Beeghly, who by the way, is still grinning like a dolphin. He should, his simple project led him to the oldest Mustang in the world