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BOOK REVIEW: MUSTANG: 40 YEARS

This article is from our archives and has not been updated and integrated with our "new" site yet... Even so, it's still awesome - so keep reading!

Published on Thu, Dec 25, 2003

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

Book Review

MUSTANG: FORTY YEARS by Randy Leffingwell and David Newhardt. Motorbooks International, 2003 Hard Bound; 384 pages 10.5w x 12h ISBN: 0760315973 Catalog Id: 136274 $50

Review by BRIAN KENNEDY

There were about one million Mustangs made in 1965-66, and at least two million of them are now restored and on the road again. Or that's how it seems, anyway. The people driving those early cars, and all the other Mustangs since, will buy this gigantic Mustang book no matter what anyone says. But in case there's anyone out there who needs permission - here it is: This is a gorgeous, luscious feast of a volume, worth its price tag.

There are a bunch of reasons to pick up Mustang: Forty Years, from the abundant photography to the inside stories which apply not just to the Ford corporate scene, but anywhere big companies make cars. Readers will learn about how focus groups worked as long ago as the 1960s to dictate car design, about the precursors to the eventual first Mustang design, about how the sometimes-hated 1974-78 cars fit into the Mustang family tree, and about the technical decisions that drive corporate racing enterprises and end up having an effect on what enthusiasts drive.

Early Shelby Mustang GT350

It takes reading but one of the book's sixteen chapters covering the post-War period to the present to get the feeling that the authors must have spent much of their free time since, oh, Reagan was in office, compiling this material. How else could they know the range of facts, insider stories, and historical information that fill this book?

Third-generation Shelby Mustang

Just a couple of examples, which readers can check out for themselves once they've bought a copy: There's great engineering information about the 1967s in chapter six as well as an interesting tidbit on Edsel Ford, something most might not have known about 428 engines in chapter eight, a funny and revealing story about the Mustang II in chapter eleven, and a nice history lesson and explanation of how the Mustang fits in in chapter fourteen. These don't begin to indicate the scope of the book, which is vast.

1970 Ford Mustang Boss 302

That's not to say that the book is perfect. First impressions suggest that the photography is sometimes strange, such as in interior shots which use distorting wide-angle lenses, and crops and angles of photos which leave the viewer wondering what the center is (see the top of page 73 or 121 for instance). But this reaction is probably a function of one's assumption that the book will be a giant catalogue of everything in the Mustang universe, presented in the straightforward style of an encyclopedia, and it's not meant to be that. Rather, it's a look at the cars over their lifespan and a new contextualization of their meaning in the collector world and the world at large. And we car people have to realize that this is not a magazine full of exactly similar restoration stories. It's much more. So what if the shots aren't always conventional? They present the Mustang in dimensions that give us new ways to look at our own cars.

Current-generation Mustang Cobra

Some oddities of grammar suggest that the volume was hurried to press, and a couple of more basic facts seem to need checking, such as the claim that "the fastback model was one of three body configurations offered when the Mustang debuted in April 1964" (77) - of course, the fastback was not offered until September of that year. The only other oversight is that the recent 40th-anniversary model needs mentioning, but these things shrink in comparison to the wealth of the book.

Mustang Concept Car introduced at the Detroit Auto Show in 2003

Mustang: Forty Years is not a simple compendium of features and models. It's not, thus, the one Mustang book that you can have to the exclusion of all others, but it is one Mustang book that you must have. If it's your first, you'll be bathed in knowledge that some in the hobby haven't been able to acquire despite years of reading other books and every mag out there with "Mustang" in the title. If you're like me and already have a shelf devoted to books about these cars, this one will nicely take the lead position.

Mustang: Forty Years, $50.00, MBI Publishing Company Available in bookstores everywhere, through Classic Motorbooks at (800) 826-6600 or on www.motorbooks.com. For more information on this book, go to MBI's Mustang: Forty Years site.

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