Ford Motor Co. provided the first look at the sixth-generation Mustang in a six-city global tour Thursday, a move to get the maximum exposure for the 50th-anniversary model of the sports coupe.
Few cars are as firmly planted in automotive culture.
The Mustang has 5 million Facebook fans -- on par with a Hollywood celebrity -- and just about everyone over the age of 25 either has either owned one or had a friend or family member who did. It’s also one of the most popular rental cars.
My first look at the original Mustang came in 1964, when it appeared in our neighbors’ driveway in the San Fernando Valley. I was just a young child, but that car cemented their status in my eyes. They had two things I coveted -- the Mustang and a color television.
Jim Foster, a computer analyst from Chatsworth, remembers falling in love with the Mustang around 1967.
“I was just a kid, but thought it was a cool-looking car, something I would like to drive one day,” Foster recalled.
Years later his father drove up “with this stock coupe Mustang. He bought it for me, and I paid him back.”
That car now has more than 500,000 miles on it. “The odometer has turned over four times because it only goes up to 99,999,” Foster said.
The black 1968 coupe was his daily driver for three decades after its purchase in 1976, but no longer.
“I was coming home from work when I was rear-ended on the freeway,” Foster said. “The car was totaled. Most of my family and friends said, ‘You have had the car for 30 years -- give it up.’ But I took the insurance money and I cashed out a 401(k) and had the car put back together.”
Now Foster commutes in a 1993 Toyota Corolla. But he takes the Mustang out for a spin now and then, mostly to car shows.
Foster doesn’t pause for an instant when asked what would happen if the Mustang is in another crash: “I would fix it again.”
The first Mustang that Chad McQueen remembers is among the most famous pony cars ever -- the green 1968 Mustang GT that his father, Steve McQueen, drove in “Bullitt,” the 1968 thriller. Chad McQueen was on the set of the movie.
That Mustang was the star of one of the most famous car chases in movie history.
The younger McQueen, a former race car driver, knew his father was into fast cars. But he mostly drove European sportsters, totally unsuitable for a movie about a hard-bitten San Francisco detective.
“Dad had to find a car that made sense for the movie,” McQueen said, “a really neat car for the character to drive, something a detective might afford on his salary.”
The Mustang, the quintessential affordable sporty car, filled the need.
“My dad hit that one right on the head,” McQueen said. “Still to this day, people know what that car is.”
Craig Cunningham of Van Nuys purchased his first Mustang from the old Holmes Tuttle Ford dealership in Los Angeles in 1965. It was a light metallic blue coupe with a V-8 engine, power steering and automatic transmission.
“I paid about $3,000 with tax,” said Cunningham, a retired UCLA professor who is president of the Mustang Owners Club of California. “It was very affordable for me at that point in time.”
He sold it to move up to a bigger Ford station wagon that could pull a boat. But Cunningham didn’t abandon Mustangs. He now has two 1966 models, one in night mist blue and the other a candy apple red convertible.
“Every nut and bolt are just as they were when they came off the assembly line,” Cunningham said. “There is nothing on the cars that was not the way it was ordered.”
Of the early Mustangs, he liked the 1966 models best because they had so many options.
“You could get disc brakes, an eight-track stereo,” he said. “You could custom design the car any way you liked.”
He still considers the mid-'60s Mustangs the classic pony cars.
“The sporty look and concept of freedom really rung a bell with me,” Cunningham said. “The style broke loose from the boxy cars of the 1960s. It looked like it was going down the highway even when it was standing still.”