It’s been more than 15 years, and I can still vividly remember the rumble of the 289-cubic-inch V8 with Nirvana’s “In Utero” blaring on the tiny speakers of my fire engine red 1966 Mustang Convertible. To this day, I can’t fathom how the trouble-making 17-year-old me didn’t get killed for pushing my luck doing lackluster burnouts and power slides in that car. I’m almost certain it was responsible for a few bad test grades, because I was too busy daydreaming throughout study hall about where I would drive next—barring any catastrophic fluid leaks or parts falling off. Of course, my trusty camera would sit on the passenger seat and a carefully planned mix cd would be playing in the Pioneer head unit. You see, that car was more than just a prized classic to me. It represented my freedom, my escape from pressures and responsibility. It was my adventure machine.
Having just reached its 50th Anniversary, the Ford Mustang has consistently been the affordable-yet-exciting dream machine for the American public. Born April 17, 1964, the Mustang was intended to sell 100,000 units annually, but Ford dealers received a record 22,000 on the first day alone! Within two years, it sold 1,000,000. This “Pony Car” created a sleek best-selling class of vehicle that made the competition take notice, spurring vehicles like the Camaro and Firebird in response.
It was my adventure machine.
The original 1964 1/2 model was created using a lot of components from other pre-existing Ford models, such as the Fairlane and Falcon, in order to keep the price down. But it didn’t take long for early Mustang models to branch into iconic special high-performance editions like the GT-350, GT-500, Mach 1, Boss 302, Boss 429 that have salivary glands working overtime to this day.
It’s hard for any red-blooded muscle car lover to forget iconic Mustangs in some of our favorite action films. Cars like the crime-fighting 1968 Fastback piloted by Steve McQueen in Bullitt, or “Eleanor” in the 1974 and 2000 variations of Gone In 60 Seconds, or the handsome and loud 2011 GT in the heist movie Drive. The “Mustang” has been mentioned in more than 3,000 songs since the 1964.5 model appeared in 007’s “Goldfinger”. These cars embodied the ultimate American adventure machine with obtainable pricing and limitless potential under the hood that can bring back one’s youth with the turn of a key.
Sadly, a time came in my life when I had to sell my ’66 convertible. That time was a little more than 10 years ago and the cash that I took from the sale was used to start my photography career following college. It was an incredibly painful decision, but it would ultimately pay for new camera and lighting equipment that would put me ahead of my own competition.
Even after my trusty steed left my grasp, it continued to fuel my adventures through my work. The class-leading digital camera it paid for helped get me a job for Universal Republic Records touring for some of the biggest rock bands of the time and ultimately jobs for big-name publications like Rolling Stone and Time Magazine. I know it might be just a car, but I look back at it much like an old relative who helped to teach me to explore the open road, as well as my greatest potential. She might have broken down from time to time, but never until she got me home every time. She might have left my possession, but not until she helped me leave my youth behind and enter into the career that would launch my adulthood.
She might have left my possession, but not until she helped me leave my youth behind and enter into the career that would launch my adulthood.
Approaching my 33rd birthday, I’ve been working VERY hard since I sold my car. Several years ago, I started a video production company and found myself traveling over more than miles annually on assignment either producing video spots or photographing ad campaigns, including for major automotive manufacturers. I had been saving for years to have a special “steed” once again and found that hard work had brought me to a place where I could buy something that would be more than just a stylish appliance. Sure, I had owned some sporty European vehicles in the past years, but for some reason I couldn’t bring myself to buy something that I couldn't keep more than a few years (it would be impossible to maintain past warranty, thanks fancy technology).
While taking breaks from long days at my desk working on production, I would find myself scanning the classifieds and eBay Motors. My childhood best friend, whom I’ve always consulted car purchases with since I was 16, was trying hard to convince me to buy the latest European sportster, and as appealing as it sounded, my heart yearned for the feel of an American V8 once again.
I’ll never forget the moment I saw the eBay Motors listing late one Friday night at my desk in Manhattan. A restored 1969 Mustang Mach 1 with a 1994 5.0 High Output motor and 4-speed manual in a custom pewter grey. The photos were suspiciously terrible and discolored, but for some reason, the ad jumped out at me. Not 48 hours later I was driving down to the D.C. area (my original hometown) to check the car out and make an offer. It had no power steering, manual disc brakes, it was missing random items such as working backup lights and properly fitted weather seals on the trunk, but she was solid. No rust, the engine was strong and in great shape, the body and interior were perfect, and it drove true. I didn’t care the engine wasn’t original. I decided I wanted a project car that I could tailor to my preferences as my budget and time allowed.
Rather than have a new something that I would have to replace in 4-5 years (or honestly get bored with) I decided I HAD to have another vintage Mustang that I could drive when I had time in addition to a beater van as my daily driver / production vehicle. You see, after years of hard work, I had no intention of letting this pony slip through my fingers ever again like I did with my ’66.
Driving the Mach 1, with her brutally loud and awesome (and possibly illegal) three-inch racing exhaust blaring and AC/DC blasting, brings me more joy than most modern supercars ever could. And as an automotive journalist, I have driven many! For example, I drove a 600+ Audi RS7 this past weekend, and despite its amazing 3.2 second 0-60 time, I found it honestly boring. It didn’t rattle my senses, and despite being very sexy in appearance and high tech with its lane departure warning, heads up display, and mobile WIFI hotspot, I felt it had no soul. It didn’t put me that into that visceral and emotional hypnosis the Mach 1 does. It didn’t tug at my heart to drop work and explore the nearest windy country road, all cylinders firing out of its tail. This is what I feel the Mustangs of the past 50 years embody to most: That inexplicable compulsion to drop the hammer and hear her blat out a symphony of fossil-fuel burning music while cruising down a classic Route 66-esque road to nowhere.
As I write this article, Ford is honoring the pony’s 50th anniversary by putting a bright yellow newly redesigned 2015 Ford Mustang GT on top of the Empire State Building’s observation deck, just like they did at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. They also announced a 50th Anniversary special edition, of which only 1,964 will be made.
This new generation car is a leap forward in many respects. It sports cool new modern sheet metal on the outside, LED’s in the front and back, and groundbreaking independent rear suspension for better traction in the corners. It dropped about 200 pounds and more powerful and efficient engine options that now offer Ford’s Ecoboost. The car also gets a much needed modernization of the interior that brings it back up to speed with the competition, with such features as a new infotainment system (Ford’s questionably annoying MyFord Touch), blind spot detection, and keyless entry and engine starting.
However you feel about the new features in this new 50th anniversary Mustang, I guarantee you Ford has worked hard to make sure this car will remind you what it feels like to misbehave. Like its predecessors, it’s sure to be a car that evokes the pure excitement of four wheels connecting with the pavement, just like the first Pony cars did back in 1964.