Original Owner: This ’66 V-8 hardtop lured a young man into Mustang mania

Proud new Mustang owner Butler got all dressed up to buy his car on May 27, 1966. Courtesy Bruce Butler

Welcome to Original Owner, a series showcasing—you guessed it—people who bought a classic car new and still own it. The cars don’t need to be factory-original, just still in the hands of the first owner and still getting driven. Got a tip? Email tips@hagerty.com —Ed.

From April through October 1964, about 24 million people filed through the New York World’s Fair, held at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens. Among the highlight attractions, spread over 650 acres, were the Swiss Sky Ride over the Fairgrounds, a working video phone shown by AT&T, a genuine jetpack flight demonstration, and even a nine-minute speech by an animatronic Abraham Lincoln.

From the automotive world, the General Motors Futurama display introduced concepts for future cities and transportation on Earth … and the moon. Chrysler’s very real Turbine Car suggested a possible alternative to the piston engine.

At the Ford Pavilion, however, there was a car that excited fairgoers could go out and buy right away: the 1965 Mustang. Unveiled there on April 17, the spicy-looking compact coupe went on sale across America the same day. Its $2368 starting price was affordable, and Ford dealers reportedly took 22,000 orders.

1966 Ford Mustang side
Courtesy Bruce Butler

By that October, when the New York World’s Fair closed for the year (it would reopen for a second season in spring 1965), some 200,000 people had purchased Mustangs. Two months later, millions of moviegoers in America watched a Mustang driven by Tilly Masterson (played by Tania Mallet) duel with a gadget-laden Aston Martin DB5 driven by Sean Connery as James Bond in Goldfinger.

To keep up with demand, Ford was building the Mustang in three assembly plants (Dearborn, Michigan; San Jose, California; and Metuchen, New Jersey). By the following fall,  the automaker had made a hair under 681,000 1965 Mustangs over an extended 18-month model year for this milestone car. America was head-over-heels for what the media dubbed the “pony car.”

1966 Ford Mustang interior seats
Courtesy Bruce Butler

 

Bruce Butler, however, was not swayed. In basic training with the U.S. Army National Guard, the 23-year-old was, naturally, aware of the public’s feverish reaction to the Mustang. Still, the Eastern Washington native was happy to trundle along in a 1961 Volkswagen Beetle he’d bought used while serving his enlistment at Fort Ord, California. Besides, Butler had his own classic Ford back home, a Model A barely capable of 50 mph.

“I was not impressed by the Mustang at first,” Butler, now 83, recalls.

Mustang Attitude Adjustment

His attitude would change the following year. At the time, he was working in his first job out of college. On May 27, 1966, the Friday before Memorial Day, Butler bought one of the 607,568 Mustangs Ford built for that model year. More than 57 years later, he still owns the Night Mist Blue Mustang hardtop he bought from Market Ford in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

1966 Ford Mustang rear in dealership shop
Butler snuck a peak at his new ’66 Mustang before the Market Ford did final prep on delivery day. Courtesy Bruce Butler

Butler’s Mustang came with the standard three-speed manual transmission and, for options, the 200-horsepower 289 cubic-inch V-8 and two-barrel carburetor, AM radio, tinted glass, heavy-duty battery, whitewall tires, trailer hitch, and day/night rear-view mirror. The sticker price came to $2757.97, including $67 for freight, and that is what he paid. The dealer gave him $288 for his Beetle trade-in.

1966 Ford Mustang salesman Freeburg on delivery day
Market Ford’s salesman with Butler’s Mustang and the traded-in Beetle. Courtesy Bruce Butler

According to Mustang: The Complete History of America’s Pioneer Ponycar by Gary L. Witzenburg (1979), 58.3 percent of 1966 Mustangs came with the optional 289 two-barrel engine, and 30 percent had the standard three-speed stick. (Nearly 63 percent had the automatic transmission, and just 7 percent had the four-speed.)

Job changes over the following decades would take Butler and his family around the Midwest, then out to Olympia, Washington, and finally back east to Spokane Valley, where he grew up. He took the Mustang with every move, but along the way, he came close to selling it. After a long storage period, the car emerged in 2022 and is back on the road for weekend fun.

Butler had expert help to get it there; Andy’s Classic Mustangs, a restoration, sales, and service shop for Ford’s classic pony car, is right in town. Butler also gave into temptation there: In spring 2023, he sold Andy a ’66 Mustang convertible he’d bought decades before but never restored. He then bought from Andy’s a restored ’66 V-8 convertible, also painted Night Mist Blue, just like his coupe.

1966 Ford Mustang owner Butler with his hardtop and convertible
In 2023, Butler bought a matching-color 1966 Mustang V-8 convertible to go with the coupe he bought new. Courtesy Bruce Butler

Factory Basics: 1965–66 Mustang

Ford captured lightning in a bottle with the 1965 Mustang. Championed by Ford Motor Company’s brash vice president and general manager, Lee Iacocca, savvy product planner Hal Sperlich led a quick development program for an affordable compact car that would appeal to young buyers.

Iacocca recognized the market potential of the post-WWII baby boomers who would begin graduating from high school in huge numbers in 1964. He envisioned a kind of “poor man’s Thunderbird” priced around $2500 that could also appeal as a second family car with style and verve.

With Ford still reeling from the $250 million Edsel failure a few years before, a new car for a segment that didn’t yet exist proved a tough sell to the boss, Henry Ford II. The persistent Iacocca eventually won him over. Given a low $40 million budget, the designers and engineers concocted the right-time, right-look, right-price car based on Ford’s popular (and cheap) Falcon compact. The Mustang name was decided upon late in the car’s development.

1966 Ford Mustang info plate
Courtesy Bruce Butler

Though many refer to the first six months of Mustang production as “1964-1/2” models, all first-year Mustangs were in fact 1965 cars. The distinction, more accurately, applies to several running production changes made in September 1964: Ford offered three body styles, including the hardtop coupe, fastback, and convertible. The 1966 model was largely a reprise with some exterior and interior trim differences.

Enthusiasts who grew up with 5.0-liter Fox-body Mustangs and the more modern models may think of Ford’s pony car only as a muscle car, but performance-optioned 1965–66 Mustangs accounted for a very small percentage of sales. The early Mustang had fulfilled its mission as a kind of mass-market “Thunderbird Lite.”

Catching Mustang Fever

1966 Ford Mustang interior passenger side
Courtesy Bruce Butler

Butler elaborates on his journey from Mustang skeptic to half-century-long owner:

“In the service, I had a buddy in the same company, John J. Haffner from Peoria, Illinois. All he could talk about was buying a Mustang when he got off active duty. On a three-day pass, we drove my Volkswagen to a dealer near Los Angeles to see the Mustang. This dealer had a 1930 Model A coupe in a glass display case. While John drooled over the Mustangs, I drooled over the Model A.”

After his stint in the service and with college completed, Butler started his career as an internal auditor for Rock Island Railroad in Chicago. Soon afterward, he became a claims adjuster for the company and transferred to Des Moines, Iowa. That’s when he first got to drive a Mustang.

1966 Ford Mustang interior rear seat
Courtesy Bruce Butler

“I had a girlfriend with a green ‘65 Mustang coupe with the Pony interior,” Butler says. “I still had my Volkswagen and began thinking it’d be fun to have a nice car before I wind up in the family way with a sedan. I kind of got Mustang fever at that point.”

Shortly before Memorial Day weekend in 1966, Butler rode a train to St. Louis for a weekend and rented a Mustang from Hertz. “That finalized my decision to get one,” he remembers. “Back in Des Moines, I saw a newspaper ad for Mustangs in stock at Market Ford in Minneapolis. I took a train up there and bought mine on the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend. I was 23, and the salesmen was not much older. My 24th birthday was just a couple weeks later, so I called the car my present to myself.”

Criss-Crossing the West

When Rock Island Railroad acquired an IBM System/360 mainframe computer, which filled an entire room, Butler accepted company training to become an operator. He would remain in the computer field for 37 years. While still in Iowa, he drove a 1966 Plymouth Fury sedan as a company car. The small house he was renting had a two-car garage, and that’s where he parked his new Mustang and his Model A. The Plymouth stayed outside.

1966 Ford Mustang with Plymouth fronts three quarter
While living in Des Moines, Iowa in 1966, Butler drove a Plymouth sedan as his company car. Courtesy Bruce Butler

When Butler moved back to Chicago for his new computer job with the railroad, he stayed in a friend’s house that had a two-car garage. He kept the Mustang and Model A there and could take the train to work.

1966 Ford Mustang side street parked Blue Island brick house
Butler and his newlywed wife moved into this Blue Island, Illinois duplex in the summer of 1968. Courtesy Bruce Butler

“The Mustang didn’t get a lot of miles in Chicago,” he says. “I met my fiancée there. After we got married in summer 1968, we rented a duplex in Blue Island, Illinois that had a garage. The Mustang was our daily driver until we had kids. Over the years, several people tried to trade me for cars that would have been more suited to my needs. One guy offered a ’68 Ford wagon, which was worth more money than my Mustang at the time. It was a nice car, but I didn’t want it.”

More Moves with the Mustang

Butler made his way back to Washington in the Seventies, taking a job with the state in the capital, Olympia. “We had an apartment, and for a while the Mustang was parked on a carport. We bought our first home shortly after that, and it had a kind of a shelter for the car,” he says.

1966 Ford Mustang front
Courtesy Bruce Butler

In 1977, now with two sons, Butler moved his family back to Spokane Valley where his parents still lived. He picked up a ’66 Mustang convertible project car a few years later, which he planned to restore but never did. After retiring from the computer field in 2006, Butler found a new calling as a train engineer. “I had a 15-year post-retirement career working for a small railroad that ran 90 or so miles out west into central Washington,” he says.

Other changes came, bringing sadness. Butler’s wife died in 2020.

“I’ve adjusted, done better than I expected,” he says. “She never drove the Mustang much, because she wasn’t a very good driver, and she knew it. But she was more than happy letting me drive. I retired for good at the end of 2021. Then I finally had time for the cars.”

Mustang Memories

1966 Ford Mustang vintage plates
Butler’s Mustang has followed him for 57 years through four states. Courtesy Bruce Butler

Hagerty: Did you drive the Mustang a lot when you first bought it?

Butler: After I picked up the car new, starting out of Minneapolis, I wanted to see how many states I could hit in the first 24 hours. I notched off Minnesota, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, and then the next morning I got up and drove over to Indiana.”

Hagerty: How long did you use the Mustang as a family car?

Butler: The Mustang was my primary vehicle until 1987, logging 142,902 miles. It was never abused, but not babied either. It has been driven very little since then.

Hagerty: What made you hold on to the Mustang for so long?

Butler: I somehow always felt that the Mustang would be a classic, and it happened faster than I thought it would. I’d say by the early-to-mid-Seventies, they bottomed out at 800-900 bucks and started going up in value after that fairly quickly.”

1966 Ford Mustang rear three quarter
Courtesy Bruce Butler

Hagerty: Did you run the car or drive it after putting it in storage?

Butler: I started it for the first time in seven years on June 6, 2006. Then, in 2014, we moved about 10 miles away. I got the Mustang started and was going to drive it. I went up the driveway, stepped on the brake and the pedal went clear to the floor. So, it made the trip to our new home on a trailer. I’d built a workshop by then and kept it in there.

Hagerty: The early Mustangs were rust-prone. How did you preserve yours?

Butler: The car has been garaged nearly all its life. If I parked it on the street, it wasn’t for long. The Mustang wasn’t as practical as I needed, so it mostly sat. It stayed in a shed under cover for 20 years, and I didn’t drive it.

Hagerty: Did you drop the Model As after getting the Mustang?

Butler: No. At one point I had two Model As and the two Mustangs. We had a double garage. I told my wife, ‘I need to get rid of the Model As or the Mustangs.’ I didn’t care which ones I sold, but the Model As sold first, so the Mustangs stayed.

Hagerty: What spurred you to finally get the Mustang back on the road?

Butler: Last year, I finally decided I wanted to have a little fun with it. I took it to Andy’s Classic Mustangs and said, ‘Let’s make this car safe to drive.’ Andy went through it. It got a new radiator, new water pump, fuel pump, gas tank, clutch, and a front disc brake conversion with dual master cylinders. It drives very nicely.

1966 Ford Mustang owner Butler gives car a hose bath
Butler cleans up his 1966 Mustang before taking it to Andy’s Classic Mustangs to make road-worthy. Courtesy Bruce Butler

Hagerty: Was the goal to keep the car close to original condition?

Butler: I can’t say the car is a hundred percent original. It was in a couple of minor fender benders, and the rear quarter panels started to rust. I got those repaired, so it’s had some minor body work. The rest of the paint is original. I figured it could make a good car for a concours restoration, but there are already plenty of those around.

Hagerty: How did it feel to get back behind the wheel of this 57-year-old car?

Butler: Getting used to the stick shift after many years of driving automatics was a slightly bigger challenge than I expected, but I’m getting better at it.

Hagerty: Do any memories of the Mustang stand out?

Butler: One time, near Galesburg, Illinois, when I was still single, I had some friends in the car. There was nobody around, no traffic. I got the Mustang up to 100 mph, and I realized we were quickly approaching a curve in the road. I shut that down real quick.

Hagerty: Are your sons involved with the Mustangs?

Butler: One already has a classic Mustang of his own, and the other wants my hardtop. I’m 83, so I don’t know how much longer I’ll be around. The convertible will also likely remain in the family.

__

Car: 1966 Ford Mustang V-8 Hardtop

Owner: Bruce Butler

Home: Spokane Valley, Washington

Delivery Date: May 27, 1966

Miles on Car: ~150,000

 

Are you the original owner of a classic car, or do you know someone who is? Send us a photo and a bit of background at tips@hagerty.com with ORIGINAL OWNER in the subject line—you might get featured in our next installment!

 

***

 

Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Click below for more about
Read next Up next: This plucky Mini just scaled an active volcano

Comments

    Too bad he didn’t keep the Bug, it looks like it was a euro-spec oval window, not a ‘61… would have been worth a fair amount of change now (a lot more than $288!)

    Yeah, dont know who sold him a “61” bug, but I’m sure at the time he thought he was pulling a quick one over on someone. Definitely an oval and in 1966 with the lack of bullets one can only surmise that it is a euro spec semaphore car. Way cooler than the Mustang… sorry pony fans:(

    Ehh, too old and slow. I would not want a Beetle older than 1969, when they got a (somewhat) safe rear suspension, and had the 1500cc engine (which started in 1967 in the USA). I would much rather have a Mustang, then or now – even though my first car, and two later ones, were Beetles (I could not afford a good Mustang back then).

    This guy has gotten close to classics a number of times.
    In the “House” photo that is a 59-60 El Camino in the lower right of the shot.
    I wish …

    From one 83-year old to another, congratulations, Bruce.

    My first new car (’63 Tempest LeMans convertible, 326 V8, 3-speed manual) was with me only a year. Couldn’t afford to keep replacing the rear end gears after the warrantee expired.

    Great story, I’ve been a Mustang fanatic for years. Helped my son build a 68 and my daughter a 65 which she was at the time so set on the color pink which I matched to some lipstick she bought.I always liked the 69 MACH 1 which my friend had in high school so I got one back in 2000 to join my kids at carshows.

    Jim, a great story! As I read this, I kept thinking about my father and his brother. One purchased a 1964 1/2 and the other a 1965, both coupes. As was more expected back then, cars were considered more “disposable back then. And as Mr. Butler mused, they weren’t particularly versatile as a transportation device. My parents had a third child, that was the end of the road for my father’s. My uncle’s I’m less sure about. To date though, between myself, my brother, my father and his brother, there have been 12 total with the newest being a 2017 GT with Performance Pack with additional suspension modes for occasional track outings. My brother still has his restored ’67 coupe, his wife has an ’08 Saleen, and he also has a 1994 SN-95 GT he just had repainted.

    I still have my ’85 GT H.O. which I purchased new. 50,000 total miles and unlike Mr. Butler’s Mustang Coupe, this car was babied. Never seen snow under it’s tires and has rarely seen rain. Had it Zeibarted just like Mr. Butler did…I noticed the Ziebart Rustproofing plug in the door in the one photo.

    Yes, when a Mustang nips your hard, sometimes you don’t recover from that bite!

    Being kept under a roof meant this Mustang avoided the fresh air cowl rot that many Fords based on the Falcon unibody suffered from.

    Always nice to hear the one owner stories! In 1975, I had a chance to buy my Aunts 65 HiPo for $500, had to turn it down, because the automatic was going out, and it would have cost $50 big ones to fix! With just a little luck, I should be able to buy a CSX8000, small block Cobra, thus fulfilling a dream that also goes back to the summer of 75, when a dumb, broke, punk, 17 year old, got to test drive the real deal! It was $5,500, mine as well have been 5.5 million, since I didn’t have either! Better, late then never.

    Great story, sweet mustangs… I was 12 at the 64 worlds Fair and fell in love with them also…always admired them.. Finally got a 98 gt during covid and enjoyed it after owning a gorgeous 90 c4 which I describe as the most beautiful car I ever hated… Last October found a 09 Vista blue convertible v6 auto in my neighborhood and bought it… Last year of the true retro, 05 to 09… Love it, another job well done by ford… They are still surviving as the camaro and challenger ride off into the sunset… Also own a 63 Mercury comet s22 convertible exactly like my first car I purchased 15 months ago… I’m 72 and still enjoying my passion… Keep it up Bruce, God bless

    I more interested in the beetle than the mustang to be honest. It looks like it has an oval window which is native to ‘53-‘57. I am skeptical about it being a 1961.

    I had a base ’67 coupe (6-cylinder 3-speed manual) back in ’75 but was dumb enough to sell it to buy a ’73 Javelin. I wanted to keep the Mustang, but my Dad said “No 18 year-old son of mine is going to have two cars.” But as of 2 days before Thanksgiving, I now have my dream Mustang: ’67 GT Fastback restomod with a Coyote engine, Tremec 6-speed T56 Magnum tranny, and a complete TCI Stage 2 suspension. So of course, my vanity tag says MODRN67.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *