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Happy Birthday, Mustang

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 Sun, May 11, 2014

By: The LACar Editorial Staff

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Ronald Reagan\'s ride in 1966 (Brian Kennedy)

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PONY By Brian Kennedy A few weeks after its official 50th birthday (born April 17, 1964), the Ford Mustang was roundly and properly feted in Southern California during Mustang Madness, which started at Galpin Ford in Sherman Oaks, traveled through the streets of Los Angeles, and ended at the Petersen Automotive Museum in the Wilshire Center. Sunday was a bigger day than Saturday, with a car show, a couple of special talks, guided tours of the museum’s 50thanniversary Mustang display, and the big draw—a sneak peek at the upcoming 2015 Mustang GT. It’s not that no one’s seen the car before. It has been making its rotations at auto shows after a Detroit debut earlier in the year. But this is, to my knowledge, the first general public appearance in LA. According to a museum docent, there are just a few copies in existence thus far, and nobody’s exactly sure what the final, final specs are going to be, but the body is ready to go, and if you have any interest in the marque, you’ve likely seen the photos.

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A general public viewing for the 2015 Mustang (Brian Kennedy)

What people have said about the car is this: you’ll like it more in person than you might looking at photos. That’s not true. I think it looks equally good in either guise, but I must add that seeing it in person is a bit of a shock. I haven’t checked the specs, but it looks to me like the Dodge Challenger does—a replication of the original that spawned it, but oversized. The Challenger is a 115 percent copy of the original. The Mustang is not, in fact, supposed to resemble the original, but it still looks big, bigger than the current generation. This could be only an optical illusion, but my plan was to decide whether to buy one based on eyeballing it. If I fell instantly in love, I’d wait until the greedy people they call dealers—car dealers—stopped gouging for the new Mustang and pick one up. That is, sometime around a year from now. Now, I’m not so sure. I need to drive it to make sure it’s not too big a monster to park and see out of. Perhaps partly, my impression is forged out of the resemblance the car bears to the Camaro, which I’ve been in (the Mustang was not available to get into at the Petersen). Being in the Chevy makes me think it would be a pain to try to see out of, and thus maneuver. Since I would likely keep the new Mustang for a decade or more, like I have my current one, the car needs to be comfortable and serviceable over that period, and if the butt’s too big, well, that just wouldn’t do. So that quest remains incomplete as of now.

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The first production Ford Mustang coupe, Serial No 2 (Brian Kennedy)

But that’s all about the new car, and this festival was about all the generations of the marque, but particularly the early ones. And what was a bigger thrill to me than seeing the 2015 was seeing the earliest production 1965 coupe, serial number 2, which was on display across from the 2015 model. This car, dark blue, is owned by Mustang historian Bob Fria, who gave the second of the two tours I took on Sunday. Why two? Because it was so much fun the first time, I decided to do it again. Fria’s car, he said, came from the Temecula area of California, but it had originally been sold to someone in the Yukon. He didn’t say it, but the story as I’ve read it says that the engine it was born with, a 6-cylinder, long ago was abandoned in a field up there, and thus has by now melted back into the elements from which it came. The car as it sits is pristine, sold by someone who had no idea what he had, according to a chuckling Mr. Fria. To the uneducated eye, the car looked just like a nicely restored ’65. But knowing what it was, and hearing Fria describe how when he restored it, he realized that as a super-early car, it was essentially hand-assembled, I was awed. The tour/exhibit packed almost every significant Mustang in history into a single, very wonderful room in the Petersen. Starting out was the car that Ronald Reagan drove around in during his 1966 gubernatorial campaign in California, a successful run. The vehicle is a light blue 1965 convertible formerly owned by his assistant campaign manager.

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1974 Mustang II alongside a 1971 429 Mach I Ram Air (Brian Kennedy)

The next car in the exhibit was a 1971 429 Mach I Ram Air, white with black appointments. Next to it was a 1974 Mustang II. Those who know about this model know that it’s the shame of the Mustang family, or at least, that’s how most collectors see it. In fact, it sold about as many cars as the early ones (1965-66) did, and thus was highly successful. But it came on the heels of the monster-powered machines of the real core of the muscle car era, and thus was a black sheep. In fact, even getting this one for the display has a story, according to the docent who gave the first exhibit tour I took. It goes like this: nobody in the local Mustang collector world will admit to having one of the 1974-78 models, so the Petersen sought one from the East Coast. It was going to cost $2000 to ship each way, and so they thought they’d go to plan B. That ended up being consulting, and when they did, poof! In Palm Springs, there was a nice, unrestored, one-owner car, white with red interior, and they bought it. For $2800! Past that were representatives of each of the succeeding eras in Mustang history, including a nice SVT Cobra R, the 2000 model that was made in super-limited quantities. Then there were a couple of examples of drag racing Mustangs, including one with four engines (go figure) and one that was campaigned by “Ohio” George Montgomery, which was the 1967 Ford MALCO Gasser. Wild, with metal flake paint marking it out as a product of its time. Nice to see, but wouldn’t want to own it, or own up to having produced it.

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Eleanor from the original Gone in 60 Seconds (Brian Kennedy)

The middle of this room had examples of various special Mustangs, including a low-mileage 350GT barn find that Galpin Motors had originally sold in the 1960s and recently bought back at auction. This was on display at the LA Auto Show this year also, for those who attended that event. There was also a 1968 GT/CS (the “California Special”) in lovely restored condition. And as background to the whole works, a loop of 30 or so Mustang ads from various eras, mostly the 1960s, was playing. Much of that’s on YouTube if you’re interested. Pretty nice to see one after the other looping past, though funny how dorky the ads were back then, especially compared to now, where the dealer and the dealership seems to feature so prominently in some companies’ marketing approach. As we used to say when I was in the ad game, “show the car, talk about the car, then show the car some more.” The top two floors of the Petersen’s garage were dedicated to over 100 show cars, some driven and many obviously trailered in. The one I liked the best was a 1965 black A-code Fastback, absolutely perfect with its redline tires and gleaming paint. A couple of vendors also turned up, including McGuiar’s waxes and a fellow selling car artwork. There was also one flea market vendor with magazines but more notably, three examples of the 1965 model pedal car that kids could buy then but only an adult could afford now. A beat-up model was priced at $300, and that’s probably not far off its value. The display areas inside also had a Hollywood room, with various star and movie Mustangs on display, including the wrecked and ruined remains of the Eleanor car from the original movie.


Frank Sinatra\'s Zebra Mustang (Brian Kennedy)

There was also a 1991 Mustang LX 5.0 which would be totally unremarkable except that it is owned by Francis Ford Coppola. And perhaps out-tackying the tackiest thing you can thing of, a 1965 Zebra Mustang, a custom by George Barris done for Frank Sinatra and driven by Nancy Sinatra in the 1965 film Marriage on the Rocks. It was one of those things that you see and instantly recoil from, and then are drawn close to and, once you get looking, kind of think it’s cool. Actually, very cool. The final piece of the day’s puzzle were two talks given to anyone who cared to attend. One was a fellow from Galpin talking about all the customs the dealership had done over the years as well as other aspects of the history of the dealership since 1946. This was accompanied by slides, and was mildly interesting but went on for almost two hours. I checked in and out and got bits of it. (Note to organizers—it’s not cool to start fifteen minutes late. People want to be productive with their time in an environment as rich as this). The final talk was a Hagerty Classic Car Valuation seminar. Four people spoke. Much of what Chris Brown, with the Museum, presented was old news to Mustang guys—a history that retreaded the standard moments in the history of the marque. The best speaker was John Karman, with Mecum auctions. He broke down what the cars have done over the last few years and gave some tips on buying. The key idea that the early cars are getting harder to find and buy right and that aficionados should turn their attention to some of the specials made in the past couple of decades.

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50 years of memorabilia (Brian Kennedy)

All of this took place against the backdrop of the multiple events—display, show, a food tent, and in the glorious sunshine of a perfect May day. The event as a whole offered so much variety and depth of coverage of the Mustang and its history that nobody could have gone away unhappy. I considered going to Vegas or Charlotte for the “Official” Mustang birthday celebration but couldn’t possibly make the time. In fact, the programs for each seemed too contemporary for what I would have hoped such a birthday to be. The Petersen event more than made up for this, and I’ve been on a Mustang high ever since. Now why the heck didn’t I see that ad for the 66 GT out in Fontana before the guy got the thing sold this week?

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