The first fully functional prototype was the awesome mid-engine roadster called Mustang I which became the perfect advertising tool for the Blue Oval’s upcoming nameplate but was eventually deemed too extravagant for mass production.
In 1963, stylists were instructed to come up with more conventional, front-engine two-plus-two designs and according to historians, 15 pilot-production cars were conceived. After settling on a final design, Ford built about 200 pre-production Mustangs that were used for advertising or crash testing.
Most of these vehicles would end up being scrapped, with only a few being converted to race cars. Only two survived in the initial pre-production specification albeit with converted VIN codes, while a third, chassis number 9 became one of the weirdest, yet fascinating Mustangs of all time.
In the summer of 1964, DST received a convertible that was nearly identical to the mass-produced model and proceeded to transform it. The man in charge of designing it was Vincent Gardner whose resume included projects for the likes of Auburn, Budd, or Studebaker.
The chassis was stripped down to its bare bones and the original 108-inch (274.3 cm) wheelbase was shortened to just 90 inches (228.6 cm). Though the original front end remained untouched, virtually all other body panels were redesigned.
Inside, most of the factory-spec components were used, except for the headliner and door panels which had to be refabricated. A carpet-covered luggage compartment was fitted behind the seats since the car didn’t feature an opening liftgate.
Under the hood, its 260-ci (4.3-liter) V8 was bored out to 302 ci (4.9 liters) and the stock two-barrel was swapped with a Holley 3x2 setup. The engine was linked to a modified Ford C4 automatic that directed torque to the rear wheels through an open 8-inch (20.3 cm) diff.
This one-off ‘Stang finished in an exquisite deep candy-apple red paint was christened Mustang III, since it was the second prototype created by DST after the Mustang II show car which was delivered to Ford several months earlier. However, it quickly earned the Shorty nickname for obvious reasons.
The conversion took about a month to complete, after which Shorty spent almost a year touring the country with Ford's Custom Car Caravan. The entire process was covered in the April 1965 issue of Custom Craft magazine and a month later, Motor Trend reported that the prototype would become a limited-production model.
In truth, Ford only envisioned this vehicle as a promotional tool and intended to scrap it but it never managed to do so. On May 2, it disappeared from DST's shop and a claim was filed with the Aetna Life and Casualty insurance company several days later. DST eventually received $10,000 for the loss and Aetna hired a private investigation firm to trace the car.
For reasons yet unknown, Gardner was never charged and although he didn't get to keep the car, he managed to save it. Aetna now owned Shorty so Ford couldn’t destroy it. The prototype was later bought by a company executive and in 1968, it was auctioned off by Hemmings, ending up in the hands of Bill Snyder from Ohio.
Snyder initially used the one-off Mustang as a daily driver but eventually decided to fully restore it. The experts at Capaldi Enterprises, in Willoughby, Ohio, were in charge of the project, and shortly after the restoration was completed, the car was featured at the 2013 Amelia Island Concours d'Elegance. You can admire it in the video below, posted on YouTube by Windwood.
Two years later, it was sold again, this time at an Auctions America event held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. The winning bid of $511,550 came from collectors Howard and Roz Kroplick of Long Island, New York, the current owners of this unique piece of Mustang history.
More than half of a century after it was supposed to be destroyed, Shorty has not only survived but thrived. Although it was converted in 1964, it is one of three pilot versions built in 1963 that are still around today, and the only one that retains its original VIN code. It was manufactured prior to the other two models, which makes it the oldest surviving Mustang in the world.