Feb 02 2016

InMyGarage.com 2013 Article: Vince Gardner and the Two-Seater Mustang

On February 7, 2013, InMyGarage.com posted this article on the Mustang III and its designer Vince Gardner.

Bill Snyder posted a comment on the article followed by a reply by the article's author.


Howard Kroplick

Vince Gardner and the Two-Seater Mustang

Thu, Feb 7, 2013 | Posted by: Mike

The world of custom cars is fascinating. Sometimes history is well-preserved. Other times, as with a shortened, two-seater Mustang that resurfaced a couple years ago, it must be peeled back layer-by-layer. Often, the full and true story (mired in years of  fable, or even corporate secrecy), can never be realized.

This unique 1964/65 Mustang caught my attention when the folks at The Amelia Island Concours d’Elegance recently announced that in 2013 it would be headlining “What Were They Thinking?”, a class for significant, interesting cars that don’t fit into any traditional category.


By the early 1960’s, Detroit auto manufacturers were keenly aware of the importance of customizing. The preceding decade had seen the hobby grow from niche nonconformity  to mainstream acceptance. Cars were being driven off the lot straight to the shops of Barris, Winfield, Starbird, and countless others to be chopped, shaved, sectioned, and sprayed in candy colors.
Riding the wave, in the fall of 1962, Ford launched a traveling show called The Custom Car Caravan. Early on, the shows relied upon cars built in-house. As the Caravan grew, more customs were needed, so Ford began accepting privately-created cars based on production models.

 Vince landed a job at Auburn Automobile Company, and was part of the small design team that produced the beautiful Cord 810. He later moved to Studebaker and worked under Raymond Loewy, design pioneer of the streamline era. In 1951, Gardner struck out on his own, and in 1963, he began partnering with Dearborn Steel Tubing, a respected Detroit parts builder that was also commissioned by Ford to build prototype vehicles and custom cars.

It was during this time that Vince Gardner conceived  a two-seater, fastback-style Mustang. By most accounts, the design was not commissioned or assisted by Ford. Nor was it a concept or prototype. It was simply Gardner’s own vision of a restyled pony car. Howard Kroplick Note: These points were disputed by then Mustang III owner Bill Sndyer (see his comment below.)

The Mustang began life as one of ten pre-production 1965 chassis. Working with his associates at Dearborn, Vince shortened the wheelbase a full sixteen inches. The team also assisted Gardner in the requisite bodywork, drawing from their previous experience with customs like the famed Thunderbird Italien. The car ran a standard 260ci V-8, though the mill was bored to 302. The “shorty” Mustang quickly caught Ford’s attention and, because it was based on a factory chassis and powerplant, was adopted into the Custom Car Caravan circuit.

Bill Snyder, an attendee at one of those shows, recalled his first encounter with the diminutive Mustang. “I loved it,” he said, and vowed to put one in his garage. “No dice,” was the reply from the attendant Ford rep. This car  would never be produced, and might even meet a worse fate in exile or destruction.

Legend has it that Vince Gardner feared the same, absconded with the car, and walled it up inside an Inkster, Michigan warehouse. Vince, so the story goes, didn’t attempt to sell or further publicize the car, but also failed to pay rent at the warehouse. The hidden Mustang was found a few months later, after the insurance claim had already been paid. An executive at the insurance company bought it, and eventually put it up for sale.
In spite of the years that had passed since his first, wide-eyed encounter with the one-of-a-kind Mustang, Bill Snyder recognized it instantly in the pages of a car collector publication. It should be no surprise that he snatched up his dream car without delay and brought it to his home in Ohio.

The car has since undergone a complete restoration, and will make its anticipated reappearance at Amelia Island in March of this year.

Comment from Bill Snyder (Owner of the Mustang III from 1969 to 2015)

bill snyder Says:
February 15th, 2013 at 4:51 pm
The story you wrote, mostly it would appear, from material in the October 2007 issue of COLLECTIBLE AUTOMOBILE is fascinating but some of it is not true. Yes I own the car. I first saw it at a dealer in Ohio when it was on the Ford tour in 1965. It is a factory pre-production chassis number 5S08F-100009. These vehicles were not meant to be sold to the public! Vince Gardner never owned the car! Ford engineering did the modifications to chassis and motor! Dearborn Steel tube built the body which Vince did design and may have helped to build. How do I know this?? The car became the property of Aetna insurance company after it was recovered from where it had been stored by Vince who took it from the Ford Caravan. I bought it in 1969 after an employee of the insurance co bought it and offered it for sale. Along with the car I received a great deal of correspondence related to the theft, and recovery of the vehicle as well as a copy of the check paid to Dearborn to cover their costs in building the body. The letters to various entities written by the people at Dearborn as well as the Automobile Theft bureau in regard to the theft of the car are quite specific in noting Ford’s involvment, Dearborn’s involvement and Vince Gardner’s involvement. I do intend to present the full story in an appropriate publication where all of the material can be included in its original form.

Response from the Article's Author

Mike Says:
February 18th, 2013 at 8:28 am
Thank you for your reply, Bill! I researched the story from a number of sources, but it quickly became clear that the history was hazy. Many sources contradicted each other, so I settled on reporting what the majority said, while still noting that much of the story was “legend”. This is what makes this kind of stuff so interesting… the unraveling of the truth. It’s wonderful that the car’s in your hands and will be preserved… I look forward to reading your full account!


Feb 05 2016 Walt Gosden 4:48 PM

Bill Snyder is a great guy as is his wife Christine. They both have devoted many years to the Classic Car Club of America. I saw them both about 3 weeks ago at the CCCA annual meeting in Novi ,Michigan. Bill is also a great enthusiast of Stutz cars as well as Marmon V16 cars and had his two Marmon V16 sedans at that annual meeting.

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