Car Lovers Reminisce About the Mustang

By Patricia B. Mitchell (1984)

Ralph Daniel with 1966 scale model

Ralph Daniel displays 1966 Mustang scale model which was provided to Ford dealers.

Introduced by Ford April 16, 1964

"The sales were great! It was a fantastic car! I don't think there has ever been another like it before or since," comments Ralph Daniel, who was co-owner of Chatham's Ford dealership when the Mustang was introduced on April 16, 1964.

And now it seems that those old Mustangs don't die, they just get fixed up again. Take a look at the roads, streets, and driveways of Pittsylvania— and everywhere else, for that matter. More and more '64-'73 Mustangs are coming out of pasture, back onto the highways.

When Ford unveiled the sleek and frisky new Mustang in April 1964, auto dealers literally could not keep the cars on their lots. America had a new passion. Sales in the first four months totaled more than 100,000, astounding even the manufacturer. Potential buyers lined up to custom-order the pony of their dream — convertible or hardtop.

The economy was good, people wanted to forget the Kennedy assassination, the Beatles were projecting an image of youthful excitement and success, Walt Disney had just released his movie version of Mary Poppins — so why not go out and buy a peppy new car to celebrate? And buy them they did. By the end of the first year Ford had put over 400,000 Mustangs on the road.

First to Contract "Mustang Fever"

Ralph Daniel, recalling the early days of "Mustang Fever," remembers that pharmacist Hunt Whitehead bought the first Mustang sold in Chatham. "Hunt was walking down Main Street on his way to the post office as we parked a new Mustang in the showroom window. [The Ford dealership was located where Hampco is now.]

"As Hunt returned from the post office, he stopped in and looked the car over, asked the price, and bought it on the spot. It was white with a blue interior, 6-cylinder, straight drive, a radio, and black tires. The price was $1995. The profit for the dealer was $280, and the freight was $55 from Detroit," laughs Daniel.

The Mustang created "a lot of excitement," reminisces Daniel. "It was the hottest thing we ever sold. The price was good. It looked good. It drove good. Our orders were backed up. It took two years to get caught up on the orders. We were going out and buying some from other dealers and paying them a little extra.

"Lots of people say that Ford should build a Mustang Classic for sale now. I think they'd really sell. There's never been any other car like it!"

What do owners say about their nostalgic love affair with these classic cars? For many individuals, it began in high school. If their parents were affluent (and not afraid of spoiling their child) a lucky boy or girl might have had a car of his own to drive to school. If not that, some received a car as a graduation gift. And for many, the dream machine was a Mustang.

Later, when the youth married and started a family, the Mustang often went back to "live" with the youth's parents. Some cars have stayed with one family all of their existence.

Other people, of less wealthy situations, did not have a car in high school, but subsequently bought one to fulfill their own fantasies.

"I Wish I Had It Back"

Nancy Johnson, educational consultant for Good Apple Publishong Co., who is periodically in the county because of her work with the local school system, tells of her first Mustang.

"Mother and father bought me a 1967 Mustang for my graduation from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. It was candy apple red, black inside, automatic transmission, and a total surprise!

"I was thrilled. They drove it down from home, and Dad honked the horn as they pulled up beside the dorm. Some of the other girls looked out and recognized my father as he climbed out because he's six feet, seven inches tall. They said, 'Your folks are here!'

"I went out and greeted them, and my aunt and uncle who arrived at the same time. We were just standing there on the sidewalk when I eventually asked whose new car that was. I was so amazed when they said it was mine!

"I had it for seven years and now I wish I had kept it. I loved the way it handled! It had a good feel about it. I cleaned it, and polished it, and wouldn't let a particle of dust settle on it.

"Later, at home, Dad and I would argue over who could park in the one-car garage. It was my very first new car. Now I don't know why I ever sold it. I wish I had it back …

"The last time I bought a new car, the dealer had a '66 blue Mustang convertible with white interior for the same price as a new car. I even wish I had bought that Mustang now!"

"Economical, Good-Looking"

Maxwell Bryant of Chatham relates that he bought a pale green Mustang, which he still owns, in the summer of 1968. He recalls that Barkhouser Ford in Danville had twenty-five or thirty Mustangs on the lot from which he made his choice.

"I had been appointed assistant to the Superintendent of Schools and would be working in Chatham [rather than as principal at the high school], so my wife [a teacher] and daughter needed transportation to the school. We bought the Mustang as a second car because it was economical and good-looking.

"We haven't ever sold it because it has given us good service, the maintenance cost has been very little, and we like the styling.

"If I had kept a list over the years of all the people who have asked me about buying it, especially during the gasoline shortage, I'd have a long list. Just the other Sunday, when I wasn't even driving that car, somebody else told me if I ever wanted to sell it, to let him know.

"Most of the Mustangs are collectors' items now. They are going up in value, while other cars are depreciating."

1965 Mustang Steering Wheel Hub

Steering wheel hub of a 1965 Mustang.

Convertible, Hardtop, or 2Plus2?

The most collectible model is generally agreed to be the 1964½ convertible. ("1964½" indicates manufacture during the spring of 1964.) However, some prefer the 1965 2Plus2 fastback, a forerunner of the hatch-back car design. A September 25, 1964 Life magazine advertisement for Mustangs stated, "A new fastback 2Plus2 has joined the Mustang Hardtop and Convertible. The 2Plus2 looks and acts like a $5000 sports import — but this cool, sweet peppermint-candy car lists for thousands less." (Incidentally, the Life magazine cost a quarter.)

Extras such as factory air, deluxe trim package, and Pony upholstery all add to the allure of any body style, whether convertible, 2Plus2, or the most familiar hardtop.

An old Mustang in disrepair can often be purchased for $500 to $1000, depending upon its condition. A restored Mustang may sell for $3000 or more. A "show" Mustang might be worth as much as $15,000

So why are people still driving Mustangs? Partly for practical reasons. Partly to relive the good old days. Not many wish to go back to the times of greasy ducktail hairstyles, bobby socks, and poodle skirts, but fluffy clean hair and "cool" (as Mustang advertisements promised) sophistication are forever desirable.

Drive a Mustang today, and it still gets admiring looks. Park it, and people will ask your selling price. A sort of cult has sprung up, with Mustang clubs, Mustang replacement parts stores and catalogs, and even thievery rings specializing in stealing classic Mustangs.

As for the practical side, much of the charm of the classic Mustang is the fact that parts are readily available and not expensive. Two-seater T-Birds (1957-57) and early Corvettes are beautifully designed and desirable, but the replacement parts and trim are not as easy to find.

Just as Coca-Cola declared in 1964 that "things go better …," old Mustangs are surprisingly reliable vehicles. Engines going 125,000 miles without an overhaul are not rare. They are hearty cars, road-worthy when most other models have long since come to rest in the junk heap.

Carroll Bumgarner with a 1965 Mustang

"Doctor" Carroll Bumgarner (with 1965 model) finds the practice of Mustang medicine easier than treating most other cars.

No Trouble Finding Engine

Carroll Bumgarner, owner/operator of B&G Garage at Tightsqueeze, regularly works on several classic Mustangs with central Pittsylvania owners. Although Bumgarner has never had a Mustang of his own licensed and on the road, he has bought, repaired, and sold several.

When asked about the type of people who own the classic cars, he remarked, "Most of the owners around here are in the 30's. They were teenagers when the Mustang came out. Another car that is popular like the '65 to '70 Mustang is the '57 Chevrolet. Both the Mustangs and the Chevrolets have auto clubs and everything."

Bumgarner rates the classic Mustang "at the top" mechanically and design-wise. "It is a good, serviceable car. If all cars were like these old Mustangs, it sure would make my job easier. When you lift the hood, you don't have any trouble finding the engine. It's not complicated. There is no problem getting parts, because many of the parts are interchangeable with other Ford models, like the Falcon."

Questioned about the sales potential of a reissued Mustang, Bumgarner predicted, "It would sell if it cost $6000, but federal regulations — especially pollution controls — would probably put the sticker price over $14,000.

The Original Mustang

The basic styling concept for the Mustang was born in 1961. Lee A. Iacocca, then Ford Division vice-president, wanted a sporty, affordable, four-seater car. He felt that an experimental design code-named "Allegro" was close to what he had in mind, so he had his men brainstorm along those lines.

After an unproductive period of viewing artists' drawings and various clay models, Iacocca decided to have an in-house competition to produce the exterior design called "Cougar," which was the prototype for the Mustang. (The car went through numerous name changes.)

The man who submitted the winning design was Dave Ash, assistant to Ford studio head Joe Oros. Ash had been left in charge of creating the cars for the design competition while his boss was out of town.

Cougar-to-become-Mustang was selected as the best choice because of its lean, youthful look and because its production cost would be relatively economical. Iacocca actually preferred a svelte design called Stiletto, but it was deemed too costly to build. Indeed, the Mustang was a refreshing new concept even though there was some resemblance to the Mark II and the four-place Thunderbird.

P-51 Mustang

The P-51 Mustang aircraft was the original source of the Ford ponycar's name.

Named for Airplane

During initial production the winning car was fitted with grills and other body parts using different names: "T-5," "Cougar," "Special Falcon," "Torino," and, at last, "Mustang."

The idea for the name came from the World War II P-51 Mustang Fighter plane, but then was selected to symbolize the Western horse with connotations of "all-American" and "independent." The advertisement agency which helped to pick a name pushed "Mustang" as having "the excitement of the wide open spaces …"

Beefed-Up Mustang

On February 6, 1968, Henry Ford II hired Semon E. "Bunkie" Knudsen away from General Motors to be Ford Motor Company president. Knudsen's goal was to win races with Mustangs, so more powerful engines were packed under the hoods. Soon the basic design had to be fattened up to accommodate the increasing horsepower.

The car handled better on the track and was fast, but the Mustang had begun to resemble a plump stock car. The interior was roomier and the auto was definitely high-performance, but some people joked that the car had the appearance of having hit a wall nose first, flattening the front end and bulging out the sides.

Sales dwindled as the Mustang gained weight, dropping from a high of nearly 550,000 during the trim 1966 model's year to fewer than 120,000 during the beefy 1973's production run. As a result, Ford introduced for 1974 the shrunken "son of Mustang," the Mustang II. Thus ended the era of the "classic Mustang."


This webpage is sponsored by Mitchells Publications and the Sims-Mitchell House, Chatham, Virginia.