5 August 2016

The Magic Mustang

In late July, Gary Schweitzer set out for Buffalo as a bundle of nerves with a trailer in tow. The 55-year-old school teacher from Traverse City, Mich., was on his way to the Mustang Club of America’s national show, Mustangs on the Niagara, to display his car for the first time in 38 years.

There are some real doozies in the pantheon of Ford Mustangs — cars like the GT and the Boss and the Mach 1. Schweitzer’s lowly little automatic-equipped six-cylinder, however, may just trump them all.

That’s because s/n 5F08T383386 is no ordinary Mustang. It carries the District Sales Office code of 842011, which indicates it was a special order by Ford’s Home Office Reserve, with a build date of February 15, 1965. Which is all to say that Schweitzer’s white convertible is one of 12 Ford Magic Skyway Mustangs that were part of FoMoCo’s fleet of vehicles from the New York World’s Fair, where the Mustang made its debut.

Created by the Walt Disney Company, the Magic Skyway attraction placed people in Ford vehicles for a trip through time. Inside the 2,300-foot, steel-and-glass Skyway, a chain-and-platen conveyor drew the cars through dioramas of scenes from ancient times to the future. The conveyor system became the basis of the PeopleMover and other rides.

“Walt Disney was pretty smart,” Schweitzer says. “He had these companies pay for his R&D, which he then used at Disneyland and Walt Disney World.”

With so many people sliding in and out of the cars during their time on the Skyway, wear-and-tear proved to be major issues. But when the fair ended, the Mustang was put back to like-new condition and sold to a Ford employee, Lawry Snyder, on December 23, 1965. Schweitzer says it ended up being driven regularly by Snyder’s mother. When she bought a new Ford Maverick in 1977, she parked the Mustang in her garage on Detroit’s eastside, the odometer showing around 35,000 miles.

Through a mutual friend of Snyder’s, Al and Marian Schweitzer heard about the Mustang and arranged for their son, Gary, to purchase it. The enterprising teen had bought and sold a succession of old Mustangs, usually paying around $200 and realizing that much again in profit after fixing them up. This white convertible was another matter, though.

“I was only 16 or 17 at the time,” Schweitzer says, recalling the purchase price of $1,300. “It was quadruple anything I’d ever done before.”

Father and son brought the Mustang home to Grosse Point Woods, just north of Detroit, in August 1978 and took it apart, intending to have it restored and ready to show the following summer.

It never works out that way, though, and 29 years later, Schweitzer’s wife, Dena, asked if he was ever going to do anything with that infernal car they’d been keeping in storage.

Helped immensely by father-in-law Dave Tuttle, who lives close by in Traverse City, Schweitzer set to work, making the most of his summers off from teaching fourth grade. The pair even found an ideal way to divide the labor: “I’m good at tracking down the part and getting it right, he’s good at putting it on the car,” Schweitzer says.

Meanwhile, Jim Smart of Mustang Monthly offered the magazine’s help, making drivetrain restoration a project for publication. National Parts Depot, which specializes in Mustang matters, provided free transportation to California for the engine, transmission and rear axle.

The results of the entire project were good enough to photograph last summer when the magazine undertook a feature story. But Schweitzer was still fiddling with little details when I spoke to him by phone a week before he went shuffling off to Buffalo.

The moment Schweitzer unveiled 5F08T383386 alongside the Niagara River, it became just the second Magic Skyway Mustang from the 1965 group to go public. The other 10 cars have disappeared.

When judging concluded in the Concours Trailered class, Schweitzer won a gold trophy, the highest possible award. It could just be the first of many, as he plans to keep the car show-worthy.

“It’s got the original windshield,” he says. “There aren’t too many 50-year-old cars that have the original windshield. I’m just afraid I’ll drive it down the road and get a chip. It’s not really a car, it’s more a work of art.”

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