Nfld. & Labrador

When Harry met Henry: Man who sold first-ever Ford Mustang to be reunited with the car

The very first Ford Mustang ever made wound up in St. John's by mistake. Harry Phillips sold it, made history and is now heading to the Henry Ford Museum to see it again.

It all started with a big mix-up

Harry Phillips sold the first Ford Mustang ever made. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The very first Ford Mustang ever made wound up in St. John's because of a mix-up. But car salesman Harry Phillips didn't know that. 

Nor did he know he was making history when he sold it to a St. John's pilot.

Now, after 55 years, he's hoping his name and the story of his sale will finally be on display along with that car — which still has Newfoundland plates — in the Henry Ford Museum in Michigan.

"It's been a long, long time. They got the message and I'm going. And I'm finally going to get reunited with that car," he said.

On Saturday, Phillips got an official recognition from Ford and a special invitation to visit the Ford Museum, the Mustang and the plant where it was built — the same day St. John's Mayor Danny Breen presented him with a framed note honouring his spot in Newfoundland and Labrador history at a car show in Bowring Park.

"It's quite unexpected, really. I never, ever thought this would happen," he said.

St. John's Mayor Danny Breen, right, presents Phillips with a token to recognize Phillips's contribution the history of the city and the province. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

It was love at first sight

Phillips hasn't seen the car since he sold it to a man named Stanley Tucker in April 1964.

"We had the car on display on Elizabeth Avenue, on the roadside. It was white and it stood out like anything," he said. "Cars were going back and forth and people were coming in." 

And in walked Tucker. It was love, Phillips said.

"He said, 'I want it, I want it.' And I said, 'Yes! Yes, yes!'"

Tucker handed Phillips a cheque but couldn't take the car home right away. Phillips had been instructed to keep the car in the shop for a few weeks as part of Ford's big rollout of its fancy new model.

"He used to come in all the time and check on it, make sure nobody got at it," said Phillips. "He just loved it."

Stanley Tucker poses with his hot-off-the-press Ford Mustang, sold to him by Phillips. (Send Harry To Henry group/Facebook)

Phillips, at the time, had no idea it was the first Mustang to roll out of Ford's production plant — and neither did Ford.

"We weren't aware for quite a while that it was the first one, even for months. And then when Ford found out or realized that it was given to us and we sold it, they weren't too happy," he said.

"They tried right away to get it back. But he wouldn't give it."

Ford was after Tucker for a year, wining and dining him, even offering a new 1966 Mustang in exchange, before Tucker finally sold them his beloved car, Phillips said.

It's now on display in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich., Newfoundland plates and all.

The only thing missing from the exhibit is Harry Phillips's name.

Phillips sits in a 1968 Ford Mustang. (Send Harry To Henry group/Facebook)

Reunion as memorable as the sale

It was Phillips's granddaughter, Stephanie Mealey, who first took up the push to get Phillips some recognition. She set up a social media campaign and, with the help of the classic and antique car clubs in the city, got the word out.

"I'm glad to have been a little part of what's helped it. And from what I hear, this is something that should have happened a long time ago," she said. "And it's such a cool part of Mustang history and Newfoundland and Labrador history."

Stephanie Mealey helped launched a campaign to get her grandfather some recognition for selling the world's first Mustang. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

Noting that her grandfather was emotional as he held up the framed note of recognition given to him by Danny Breen Saturday, she said his reunion with the world's first Mustang will likely be as memorable for him as the day he sold it.

"I think it's going to be very surreal, very emotional moment for him. Something that he will never forget."

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