It’s the 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang, and the Saratoga Auto Museum in upstate New York is featuring the marque.

On a visit there this week, I saw a bunch of cool ones, including a ’65 Shelby Cobra GT 350 ($4,547 new, a fortune now), a ’65 British-built coupe (three were made) with Ferguson all-wheel drive and Dunlop anti-lock brakes!, and a fastback 350H, one of the cars supplied to Hertz (you had to be 25 to rent it).

This Shelby Mustang was code named 350H, marking it as a Hertz rental car.

This Shelby Mustang was code named 350H, marking it as a Hertz rental car. (Photo: Jim Motavalli)

But what caught me short was a pre-production 1964 ½ convertible with all kinds of differences from the cars that reached customers. The plaque said the car, owned by Ohio’s Bruce R. Beeghly, is “probably the oldest Mustang in existence.”

Whoa! I’ve heard claims like this before, and they turn on subtle stuff. For instance, Beeghly’s early car has #41 penciled on the side of its radiator support, and the celebrated car with serial number 5F08F100001, now at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, has #84 there. And then there’s this: “It was easily seen that Mustang 001’s idler arm washers were much larger than the ones on #41.”

This is Captain Stanley Tucker's 1964 1/2 car, serial #001 but sold a couple days after Wise's Mustang.

This is Captain Stanley Tucker's 1964 1/2 car, serial #001 but sold a couple days after Wise's Mustang. (Photo: Alvin Trusty/flickr)

#41 also boasts a handmade firewall, rear valence and well liner, hand-sewn carpeting and torch-cut frame rails. That’s it then …

OK, so the Henry Ford Museum car, 001, a Wimbledon white cruise-o-matic convertible, was sold to Captain Stanley Tucker, a Canadian corporate pilot, on (according to the Henry Ford Museum website) April 14, 1964, three days before public sales began. That’s pretty definitive, then. It’s the first car sold to a customer, right? Not so fast.

Probably the very first Mustang sold, and owned by Gail Wise and husband Tom.

Probably the very first Mustang sold, and owned by Gail Wise and husband Tom. (Photo: Chad Horwedel/flickr)

Gail Wise and her husband Tom are owners of a blue convertible. According to the Wall Street Journal, they own “the first Ford Mustang ever purchased.” She claims the salesman in Chicago took her to the back room and whisked a cloth off “something special,” a car he wasn’t supposed to sell yet. The date? April 15, 1964.

OK, so Wise’s claim doesn’t hold up, because the Ford museum’s car was sold on April 14, right? Again, not so fast. A Canadian press release says that Captain Tucker got his car the day after introduction day, on April 17, 1964. So who’s right about the sales day, Ford of Canada (April 17) or the Ford Museum (April 14)?

Actually, Gail Wise is the owner of the first Mustang sold in North America (unless another one turns up), and the museum’s website needs to be updated. Ford admitted as much following a Mustang Owners of Southeastern Michigan car show last summer, and a press release went out in September of 2013.

And there's more. Bob Fria of La Crescenta, California owns serial number 002 (a Caspian blue hardtop), definitely built after Tucker’s 001 car, right? Not clear. Fria told me back in 2004 that his car might actually have been constructed before the museum Mustang, but shoddy recordkeeping back then disguises this.

That's hard to prove, and in any case Beeghly's car (though not a production model) is likely older than either of those other two. I think based on available evidence, he can legitimately claim to own the oldest Mustang in existence. But let's allow the experts to sort it out. You can drive yourself nuts with this stuff!

Here's a closer look at Gail Wise and her famous Mustang:

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