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Classic Mustang Roundup Corrals 1,000 Cars

Times Staff Writer

Ken Upchurch, who flew in from Albuquerque just to see the car show in Orange County, said Sunday that he was not disappointed.

Looking around at the hundreds of vintage automobiles, Upchurch said, “It’s fabulous. There are more (display) cars here than I’ve ever seen in one place.”

Another visitor, Larry Quay of Covina, said, “For someone who likes cars, this is like Christmas.” And yet another visitor, Donald E. Petersen of Detroit, chairman of board of the Ford Motor Co., said, “This is the biggest show of Mustangs in the nation.”

Thousands jammed the east side of Knott’s Berry Farm to lovingly stare at a wide array of classic cars on display. Petersen, in an interview, said there’s a reason Southern Californians love cars so much.

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“I think the California spirit is one of freedom and experimentation--trying things that are different and new,” Petersen said. “And there is also here a love for the outdoors and a love for being active. I think this interest in cars, especially sporty cars and unusual cars, is just part of that.”

Petersen was at the event to mark Ford Motor Co.'s 25th anniversary of its enormously successful Mustang model. About 1,000 early-model Mustangs, now coveted as collector’s items, were on display. European car lovers brought 37 of the classic Mustangs to the show. They shipped their cars from Europe to Florida and then drove them cross-country to Buena Park to be in the event.

But most of the vintage cars came from Southern California--a place sometimes mocked by the rest of the nation because of its love affair with automobiles.

Petersen, however, said he well understands the mystique cars hold for Southern Californians. “It’s a phenomenon I was first introduced to a little kid,” he said.

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“I was born in Minnesota, but I grew up in Southern California. I lived with my folks in San Bernardino and Long Beach. I was in a Depression family that didn’t have cars. But I sure yearned for them and loved to look at them.”

As Petersen recalled his lifelong interest in cars, thousands milled among the gleaming automobiles on display nearby. Some in the crowd stood before restored cars as if having a religious experience. Their eyes had a dreamy, far-away look.

The show had a wide assortment of makes and models of classic cars. But the big draw, and numerically the largest single model on display, was Ford’s Mustang. Today is the official 25th anniversary of the historic vehicle, and Petersen said Ford Motor Co. chose the Knott’s show to be “the official celebration for the 25th anniversary of the Mustang.”

Mustang car owners from Switzerland to San Diego came to the show to display their “Mustang collectibles.” Most were early-model Mustangs, with 1964 1/2 models being the prime objects of attention. Mustang devotees--and there were thousands in the crowd--were quick to point out that the car’s debut in April, 1964, came in mid-year. Thus the first models are officially known as 1964 1/2 year-of-make.

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Ken Upchurch and his wife Sherron were among those in the crowd who are proud owners of 1964 1/2 Mustangs.

“We have two 1964 1/2s: a coupe and a convertible,” said Sherron Upchurch. “We’ve had quite a few (Mustang) shows in Albuquerque where they’ve had more than 100 cars, but it’s nowhere near what this show has. The Europeans who brought their Mustangs to this show drove through Albuquerque, so we saw part of the ‘Pony Drive’ on its way here.”

Ken Upchurch said he is so anxious to protect his 1964 1/2 Mustang “that I never drive it any more, I just keep it in the garage for shows.”

Sherron Upchurch said that the original year-of-make Mustangs now bring hefty prices. “I only paid $1,100 for my Mustang in 1968 when I bought it, as the second owner,” she said. “Now I could sell it for about $14,000,” she said.

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Near the Upchurchs, Larry Quay, a professional photographer from Covina, stood by his restored 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible. Quay said he had taken a junked Mustang and restored it to a car that he estimated would sell for up to $20,000.

A display book by the car, with photos made by Quay, showed the before and after transformation of his Mustang.

“I found this car about 1 1/2 years ago in Gardena,” Quay said. “It was in absolute, terrible shape. I paid $1,200 for it. Since then, I’ve put a lot of work into it, and I guess I’ve spent about $10,000 all told.”

Quay said that fixing up an old car is a bit of adventure. “It’s like doing archeology,” he said. “It’s also like a three-dimensional crossword puzzle. It’s definitely a hobby; it’s real enjoyable.”

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Quay said that while the restored vehicle now brings many purchase offers, he has no intention of selling. But he said he is pleased at his investment.

Petersen, the Ford Motor Co. chairman, said that one of the interesting things about the early Mustangs is how they have escalated in value.

“The first ones are worth so much more now than what we sold them for,” said the Ford executive. “We started (in 1964) selling Mustangs at $2,268, and if you really wanted to spend a lot of money, you could pay $250 more for our manual soft-top convertible. So you could buy a new convertible Mustang in those days for about $2,600.”

While the economics of car collecting interested some in the crowd, others said just the sheer beauty of the vehicles made the event akin to attending an art show.

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Quay gestured to the acres of restored classic cars at the display. “This is the ultimate,” he said.


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