Jul 04 2015

VanderbiltCupRaces.com Exclusive: How Vincent Gardner Saved the Mustang III from Being Destroyed

This is the story of how the Mustang III was saved from the crusher by its designer Vincent Gardner. This amazing story is supported by legal documents and correspondence which previously have never been made public.



Howard Kroplick

Ford Requests a "Two-Seater" Mustang Fastback Concept Show Car (June 1964)

Between August and December in 1963 Ford built 15 pre-production pilot Mustang chassis in the Allen Park Pilot Plant to establish assembly procedures, to determine engineering revisions necessary for future production at Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant and to create concept show cars. These 15 pilot Mustangs with S-code VINs were built prior to the first assembly of production Mustangs in early 1964. After their use, all Mustangs with S-code VINs were scheduled to be destroyed.


In June 1964, Ford  provided the ninth pre-production Mustang ever built (VIN #5S08F100009), a convertible, to its prototype/concept car show supplier Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST), builders of the Ford's concept show cars and prototypes.


Dearborn Steel Tubing Work Order, Inkster, Michigan (June-August 1964)

Dearborn Steel Tubing was requested  by Ford to build a "two-seater Experimental Mustang " to be shown at the 1964-1965 Ford Custom Car Caravan which traveled througout the United States. As part of the financial deal, a commission was paid to Dearborn who also obtained ownership of the car. It was apparently agreed by both Dearborn and Ford, that the car would be destroyed after its use on the Caravan since it was not built to be driven.

This DST 1964 DST doument provided a description of the work preformed:

-Shorten Wheel Base

-Install Engine & Transmission (Special)

-Clay up and take molds

-Fabricate body in fiberglass

-Rework seats for custom trim

Dearborn Steel Tubing contracted prominent designer and stylist Vince Gardner to design and build the Mustang III by shortening the wheelbase by 16 inches and fabricating a unique fiberglass fastback body.

The designation of the Mustang III name followed the naming of the Mustang I and Mustang II concept show cars/prototypes. Dearborn Steel Tubing had also built the 1963 Mustang II Concept Show Car for Ford.

Ford Custom Car Caravan (September 1964-April 1965) and 1965 "Sports Cars in Review" at the Henry Ford Museum (January 1965)

The Mustang III was displayed throughout the United States in the Ford Custom Car Cararvan from September 1964 to April 1965.

The Mustang III also appeared in the 1965 "Sports Cars  in Review" exhibit at the Henry Ford Museum.

It was highlighted in the May 1965 issue of Motor Trend, which implied the model  may be available for sale by Ford in 1966.

May 2, 1965

After touring on the Ford Custom Car Caravan, the Mustang III was apparently scheduled to be destroyed. However, it was stolen from the Dearborn Steel Tubing's Inkster shop on May 2, 1965.

Dearborn Steel Tubing Letter to Aetna Casualty and Surety (September 3, 1965)

This Dearborn Steel Tubing letter to its insurer Aetna Casualty and Surety documented the theft of the Mustang III and its history:

"This car was built at the request of the Ford Motor Company Car Marketing Division in June 1964. After completion the car was used by Ford Motor Company for showing in its Custom Car Caravan which travels all over the country."

"While this car was equipped with a high performance engine and special transmission, it was not used for over the road purposes, but was a show car to be on display at various exhibits and auto shows."

The total costs to Dearborn Steel Tubing to build the Mustang III was $16,979.02, equivalent to $128,560 today.

Dearborn Steel Tubing Notarized Letter to Aetna Casualty and Surety (September 10, 1965)

This notarized letter documented for Aetna that Dearborn Steel Tubing was the owner of the "Shortie Experimental Mustang."

Aetna Check to Dearborn Steel Tubing for the Mustang III

Dearborn Steel Tubing received $10,000 from Aetna for the loss of the Mustang III. This is the equivalent of  $75,500 today. If the car was ever found, the new owner would to Aetna.

National Automobile Theft Bureau Inter-Office Correspondence (December 7, 1965)

The theft and recovery of the "Ford Mustang Experiemental Prototype Vehicle" was documented in this December 7, 1965 inter-office correspondence from the National Automobile Theft Bureau, which investigated the theft for Aetna. Highlights were:

-Seven months after reporting the theft, Dearborn Steel Tubing contacted Aetna around December 3, 1965 and reported that an informant had seen the Mustang III in a Detroit metal shipping company warehouse. It was completely covered and "surrounded by a plywood wall."

-Bob Campbell, an investigator for the National Automobile Theft Bureau, and Sargent Stanley Zimmer of the Detroit Police Auto Recovery Bureau, found the Mustang III on the second floor of the building at 1980 Marston Street in Detroit.

-The owner of the building told the investigator and police that the space was rented around July 1965 to Vincent Gardner.

-Gardner had  informed the owner that "he was building this prototype model for the Ford Motor Company, and it was necssary that the vehicle be in a hidden location in order to provide the secrecy needed in its manufacture." After paying an initial $50 payment, Gardner never paid the additional monthly rents.

-The Mustang III was removed from its Detroit warehouse and transported to the Detroit Metropolitan police garage.

-Arrangements were made with Aetna Casualty and Surety to "reclaim their property".

-There was no attempt to prosecute Vincent Gardner due to his "very close relationship" with Dearborn Steel Tubing.

-Unfortunately, the rest of the report is missing after the page two cliffhanger "In fact, Dearborn Steel Tubing...."


The Mustang III was likely headed to the crusher after its tour with the Ford Custom Car Caravan. Its designer and primary builder Vincent Gardner decided to steal the car in order to save it. Dearborn Steel Tubing collected an insurance claim for the theft. Seven months later, the Mustang III was recovered and sent to its new owner Aetna Casualty and Surety. Since Aetna did not have any agreements with Ford, they were under no obligation to destroy the car. The Mustang III was saved and soon sold to an Aetna executive who offically titled the car.

Today, it is the only Mustang in the world  with an "S" VIN #, designating its pre-production chassis built in August 1963. According to early Mustang historian Bob Fria, since the eight earlier "S" VIN# pre-production Mustangs have been destroyed or are unknown, it is likely the oldest Mustang on the road today


Jul 05 2015 Bob Weber 8:39 AM

What great forensic work! Amazing story to accompany a unique car.

Jul 05 2015 Ted 4:00 PM

What great forensic work is exactly right, you always get down to the bottom of things and get the best of it. What will you get next? You’ll never know until you see something that strikes your eyes or hear about something that really interests you and I know you’re always looking for something historical.

Jul 05 2015 Howard Kroplick 9:22 PM

From Ron Richer:

Fabulous Mustang story, Howard.  Amazing that Gardner wasn’t prosecuted.  I wonder if he ever did any additional work for Ford.
From Howard Kroplick:
Ron, I believe Gardner was still doing contract work for Dearborn Steel Tubing. They refused to prosecute him.

Jul 11 2015 S. Berliner, III 8:47 PM

For thiose who remember the Pegaso, there’s a similar story under Classic Cars on my Automotive Page 2, <http://sbiii.com/automot2.html#clasicar>; scroll down to Pegaso.  Sam, III

Leave a Comment