Merced County Times Newspaper
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Mustang fans gearing up to celebrate 60th anniversary

Doane Yawger
Doane Yawger

A special milestone is coming up soon in the old car world. The Ford Mustang’s birthday cake will have 60 candles on it! The Mustang was introduced in 1964 and has been an unqualified success ever since that time.

Except for the brief period in the 1980s when the downsized Mustang II cars were the only ones available, Mustangs have a devoted following and often-hefty prices. Ford collaborated with sports car racer Carroll Shelby and his special-order modified Mustangs are even more treasured to this day. Buyers can still custom-order a brand-new Shelby Mustang and it easily out-performs a “plain Jane” regular version.

The original Mustang is considered the first of the “pony car” category. A long hood, short and small central body section and short rear deck have been identifying design elements of the Mustang since it was introduced.

Historical articles indicate the success of the initial Mustangs even caught Ford Motor Co. by surprise and there was a scramble at first to produce enough cars for a demanding and growing consumer base. The Mustang was based on the suspension underpinnings of the compact Ford Falcon which was also in production during this time.

The newest fastback Mustangs are quite popular with the younger motoring crowd craving high horsepower. On West Olive Avenue or Campus Parkway, the Mustangs square off against the Chevy Camaro and Dodge Charger four-door sedans for performance bragging rights. The new Stangs have high-performance motors, low-slung ground effects body panels and gnarly-sounding exhausts which can be heard for blocks. There is even an all-electric Mustang E sedan on the market now.

American car manufacturers launched a number of compact cars about 1960 to do battle with the popular foreign car imports. Economy and practicality were some of the initial attractions for the first-version Mustangs. The 1964 1/2 Mustangs started out simple, with six-cylinder and small displacement V-8 engines. They were compact, economical and good-looking.

The growing competition during this period included the Mercury Comet, Plymouth Valiant-Barracuda, Dodge Dart, Rambler Americans, Buick Special, Chevy II Nova, Pontiac Tempest/GTO, and the Oldsmobile F-85 Cutlass.

All of the compact and medium-sized cars offered by the manufacturers started out small and simple but have morphed into mid-sized performance machines. All three versions of Mustang, the convertible, two-door hardtop and the fastbacks, could be ordered in mild or wild versions. Thankfully Mustang never was offered in a four-door or station wagon which would seem like heresy to the purists.

The first generation Mustangs were only available from 1964-66, followed by distinctly different “editions” or versions of the car since then. Most all designs have carried through the characteristic and recognizable narrow oval horse-collar grille, slotted taillights and the traditional prancing horse medallion.

With the advance of time, all cars wear out, get wrecked or can be in short supply. With the Mustang, there is a thriving aftermarket of suppliers who produce brand-new reproduction steel bodies, frames and other necessary parts to create a new car or bring an old one back to life. Whether it’s restoring a beat-up original through the junkyards or swap meets or buying all-new sheet metal, the price for a replacement Mustang can be pretty hefty either way.

My wife has especially noticed the bright-red 1965 Mustang convertibles you see on the street once in a while. The old saying holds true – when the top goes down, the price goes up. So finding a decent-shape early Mustang convertible won’t be too easy or affordable.

I think simple is better and the Mustang that I would like to have is one with a six-cylinder engine, narrower stock tires and original hubcaps. Many old car enthusiasts want their Mustangs with big high-performance V-8 engines and suspension upgrades. Lots of early Mustangs have led a rough life with periodic performance upgrades, amateur backyard restorations, and maybe some drag racing.

At car shows, cruise nights, or on YouTube videos and television programs the vintage auto enthusiast has plenty to enjoy. Right up there with the best of them is the Mustang. It’s good to see a 60-year-old that has stood the test of time and can keep up with the competition.

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