Sunday, December 8, 2013

Mustang Memories

Mustang enthusiasm is still alive and well in the USA
What is it about the Ford Mustang that so excites the imagination? Well, for starters, consider the name. Mustang. When I think of mustangs I think of wild horses. And when older men think of Mustangs, they think of the wild horsepower packed under the hood of that breed of Sixties muscle car.

In ways too innumerable to realize at the time 1964 became a critical turning point in my life. I’d be turning twelve that year. Our family moved from Ohio to New Jersey due to my father's job transfer. The changes were dramatic.

As a sixth grader the move from our suburban home in Cleveland to the suburbs of Bridgewater in January of that year seemed hardly significant at the time, just a new chapter in my life story. I don’t remember being sentimental about leaving my friends, even though we played baseball or football every day depending on the season. It was family that went with you and family that was important, ours being no exception.

Mustang evolution.
But 1964 proved to be a year more significant than I could have imagined. The two-year New York World’s Fair commenced that spring. Over the course of two years I must have attended this global destination at least a dozen times. Though it was an international exhibition, Corporate America pulled out all the stops to showcase its achievements on this majestic stage. And one of the highlights of this Fair for nearly every adolescent boy was the Ford Pavilion.

This was actually the third world's fair to be held in New York. The theme of the show was "Peace Through Understanding", a theme echoed in various ways and most memorably in Disney's "It's A Small World After All"-themed waterboat tunnel spectacle.

Every school and youth organization took outings to Flushing Meadows to experience the fair. I went with scouts, with classmates, and a seeming dozen times more with relatives. All manner of cousins, aunts and uncles visited our home in the summer of '65. I thought it was to see our new house, which was a treat. But when I looked back many years later I realized our home provided free lodging within striking distance of the Fair. And so it was that we had kin from Ohio to as far away as Arizona come stay with us, and being summertime my brothers and I could tag along when they went to see the sights.

The lines were long for nearly everything worth seeing. It only cost two bucks to get in and a dollar if you were under twelve. And even though it was a two year event, it was actually only an April to October event in reality, two six month seasons about "Man's Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe." More than 51 million people went to the fair in those two years, and most probably spent half of each day standing in lines, waiting to see displays, waiting to eat, waiting for bathrooms.

I remember seeing Michaelangelo's "Pieta" there and being awed by it, even as a kid. I remember Joey Chitwood's Thrill Show being awesome, too, with cars doing death-defying deeds providing awe of a different nature.

And then, there was the Ford Pavilion. Carmakers usually introduce their wares in the fall, but in 1964 Ford had a better idea: Introduce the new Mustang as something you ride in to see the Ford exhibits. So on the first day of the Fair people stood in line to climb into Ford Mustangs. Throughout that day in other parts of the country, Mustangs were being corralled into dealer showrooms. What a memorable way to introduce a car.

When we stood in line to get our ride, all around the boys would be saying, "I want a red one." And "I want the yellow one." You not only waited to get in a Mustang, but hoped to get the color of your choice, something that happens to adult car buyers to this day. (For example the 2012 Boss 302 comes in this set of colors: Competition Orange, Race Red, Performance White, and Yellow Blaze Metallic Tri-Coat.)

One of the 4,016 Boss 302s produced in 2012.
Once inside the pavilion you would take a ride on Walt Disney's Magic Skyway. Disney himself designed many of the displays, recreating other civilizations, prehistoric times and futuristic worlds, all of it animated and designed to amaze and stimulate young imaginations. Because of man's achievements and technology, the world of tomorrow will astonish us, we were assured.

When all was said and done the Ford Mustang was already an American icon in its first year out of the gate. Kids who had never given two thoughts about getting a driver's license one day were suddenly dreaming about cars. Mustangs featured in many of those dreams.

What made it so distinctive? Perhaps it was the long hood with the driver's compartment set further back on the chassis. Light weight, affordable, with a variety of engine options, and style. It looked fast. No, you don't have much trunk room, but who's thinking vacation when you get a "Stang? This was the beginning of the muscle car era. Camaros and Barracudas would eventually give the Mustang a run for the money, but beefy engines and style were about to become the name of the game over the next several years.

Add a racing stripe and that superfly-slammer Mustang logo-plate, and you've got instant recognition. Everybody knows... if you've got one of these, you're boss.

Boss 302 courtesy Bob Winship.

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