PONIES AT THE PIKE
Mustang World Gets Younger

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21st Annual Ponies at the Pike in Long Beach (Brian Kennedy)


Story and pictures by Brian Kennedy

The Beach Cities Mustang Club sponsored its 21st annual Ponies at the Pike Mustang show in Long Beach, gathering a turnout of several hundred Mustangs (and one 1963 Fairlane 500, albeit with a Mustang engine and five-speed transmission, according to its car card). One thing the show proved: Mustang people will buy almost anything, as long as they can bolt it onto their car. Various Mustangs, mostly late-models, had the following assortment of extras attached to their Ford-produced bodies: lowering kits, huge wheels, chrome intakes, nitrous kits, Recaro seats, decals of giant horses, scissor doors, and on and on.

Yes, scissor doors, a la Lamborghini. What’s with that? If nothing else, it’s a sign that younger owners with more ostentatious tastes are taking over the hobby.

Some of these cars bordered on the ridiculous, parodies of the pure and original Pony car. But is that the right way to look at it? How about the opposite: the fact that people, mostly younger people by the looks of things, are willing to drop big money into their rides suggests that the hobby is alive and well. Not so the muscle car scene overall, if you go by the results of recent auctions and the opinion of hobbyist magazines, who are lamenting the shift away from 60s cars. All you have to do is look at mecum.com for auction results—there are, in most events now, more 1970s Firebirds than 1960s Mustangs.

21st Annual Ponies at the Pike in Long Beach (Brian Kennedy)

The Mustang modifying craze is inspired in part because there’s continuity in the history of this model that doesn’t exist with any of its competitors. Camaro? Break in production. Challenger? Ditto. Only the Mustang has been continually available for more than half a century, each new generation making the car their own.

So whether these youngsters with their vinyl wraps and wild stripe kits know it or not, their mods are a nod to the history of the marque. Heck, the tagline in 1965 was, “The car that’s designed to be designed by you.” Maybe Lee Iacocca didn’t have this extent of accessories and adornment in mind (see the accompanying photo of the zombie car), but it’s the spirit of the thing that’s the point at present. Come to think of it, most of the new-model Mustangs in the show this year, by the time they were decked out like they were, wouldn’t be cheap.

21st Annual Ponies at the Pike in Long Beach (Brian Kennedy)

Having said all of that, I go to Mustang shows to see how well they celebrate the past, and I’m happy to say that this show had a few gems of the 60s and 70s featured. There were Bullitt replicas, Mach 1’s, a Boss or two (though not the beautiful black Boss 429 of last year’s show), California Specials, and on and on.

My favorite car: Tom Baker’s 1968 Mustang in Sunlit Gold. 101,000 miles have been put on the car by this original owner, and the Mustang is largely the way it left the factory and arrived on the dealer’s lot on February 14, 1968.

The car came to Tom when his dad called him and said, “You’ve gotta see this car. I think you should buy it.” That call came from Lompoc to SoCal. Trouble was, the 21-year-old Baker had recently graduated from college and taken a job. He couldn’t drive North to see the car. So dad drove it down South. Had he stolen it? Not exactly. He was friends with the dealer, who had told him to take the car home, do what he needed to see if Tom liked it. The younger Baker loved it, and he still does, nearly 50 years on.

Tom Baker’s 1968 Mustang at the 21st Annual Ponies at the Pike in Long Beach (Brian Kennedy)

Two weeks from that first encounter, it was Tom’s. His dad took it home, the dealer prepped it, and Tom picked it up on November 26, 1968. Note that this means that it had sat on the dealer’s lot from Valentine’s Day to Thanksgiving. Lots of people’s loss. Tom’s gain. He drove the car from 1968 to 1994 as a regular driver, working only three miles from home.

In 1994, he got something else to drive, but the Mustang was never neglected, and it was always garaged. In 2004, he got caught in a sandstorm, which led to a repaint. In 2014, the car was at the famous Fabulous Fords Forever show as a hallmark car representing its year.

Under the hood and in the interior, all’s like it was in 1968 except for the presence of a coolant expansion tank. Mr. Baker drives it to shows now, and not as a daily-use car, and he carefully keeps even the stickers under the hood authentic, replacing what needs to be renewed with replicas that he buys from selected vendors.

Options? All of them but AC. And the original equipment includes shoulder belts mounted on the roof panels. These, Tom told me, were mandated not for 1968-model-year cars, but for cars sold during the 1968 calendar year. His car was born just after the new year began.

1967 Mustang Coupe at the 21st Annual Ponies at the Pike (Brian Kennedy)

The other cool car from the 1960s was a sister to Baker’s, being a 1967 model, also a coupe. (You probably don’t need me to tell you that the 1967 and -68 models were practically twins, as the 1965 and -66 models had been of each other.) Blue, nice paint, original-style interior, new engine, it was for sale. Selling it was a guy named Joe. Reach him at geeverjoe@gmail.com. The price at just over $16 grand seemed in the ballpark to me, though the last thing I need is another car. It seemed to garner a fair bit of interest, but funny enough, amongst the older set. Well, the advanced middle-aged set of 50-somethings. Every time I circled past it, owner Joe was talking to another gray-head. That too, seems like a glimpse into the place that the vintage portion of this hobby is going. Hopefully it’s not going, going gone.

But let’s be real: It makes a lot more sense for a 20-something owner to buy a daily driver from the 2010s, or even a brand new one that can be had for low-$20k money if it’s not equipped with too many goodies, than to buy a 50-year-old car. I’d rather it not be that way, at least not until every single beat-up 60s model is rescued from fields and barns and resuscitated, but not everyone can put up with the foibles of an old car, and especially not if it’s one’s only car.

So maybe those of us in the 40-50 age bracket need to start realizing that the kids are going to be alright, but that they’re taking over, and the Mustang hobby is getting younger—both the participants and the cars themselves.

And wilder. Deep-dish wheels mounted beneath a tack-on fender widening kit, anyone?

21st Annual Ponies at the Pike in Long Beach (Brian Kennedy)

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