At 50, Ford Mustang still revs the hearts of owners
The car that starred in the classic Steve McQueen chase scene in “Bullitt,” the Ford Mustang, is 50 and still rocking.
Seattle Times staff reporter
They crank up their Ford Mustangs, among them, a 1965 Fastback and a 2012 Boss.
You can hear that growl. This is a real American car. No whiny sounds like in the European makes.
“A lot of Mustangs have that nice rumble. I roll down my windows so I can hear the engine,” says Linda Hallberg.
She’s 64, a retired postmaster. Her husband, Gary Hallberg, 67, worked in planning for a manufacturer. They own four Mustangs.
They loved the cars when they were young and in their 20s, they love them now.
Among their collection was a 1998 GT that they’ve now sold.
Gary made sure that when Linda first drove it, the CD player blasted Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” when she turned the key.
They so love Mustangs that they had the trunk of a red Mustang convertible made into a couch for their Renton home.
April 17 is a day etched for the keepers of the Mustang flame. That’s when their beloved brand debuted at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.
Over 50 years, more than 9 million of the vehicles have sold, says Ford.
The Mustang has been in at least 3,000 movies and TV shows, including the classic 1968 Steve McQueen film, “Bullitt,” with its nine-minute-long chase scene.
Icon drives icon.
The car was a marvel of “Mad Men” marketing when it first came out, with its long hood like European sports cars, and that galloping horse insignia at the front that created the “pony” class of cars.
It had world-record sales of 418,812 in its first year, four times the expected number, says Ford.
Says longtime Chicago auto writer Dan Jedlicka, “There was nothing mechanically advanced about the 2,572-pound Mustang. It was based on Ford’s bland, reliable Falcon economy car.”
But, says Jedlicka, “The Mustang had a chameleonlike ability to assume different personalities. You could order a basic-transportation Mustang, a sporty one, a small luxury line or a high-performance version.”
The Mustang was marketed both to men wanting engine power and women seeking economy and style.
A 1966 TV commercial showed a young woman, her hair in a bun, dressed in a business suit, wearing glasses, peering into a Mustang. The male voice-over says, “Everything you could ask for on a secretary’s salary. ...”
The commercial asks, “Should a single girl buy a Mustang?” It answers the question with wedding bells.
Another ad, playing on the best-selling Helen Gurley Brown book, “Sex and the Single Girl,” said about the Mustang’s six cylinders, “Six and the single girl.”
The ad tells of the car’s “husky, brute of an engine to squire her around.”
For men, a print ad showed a photo of a guy yawning over a desk full of paperwork. The headline asked, “Should a harried Public Accountant drive a relaxed private fun car like a Mustang?”
The answer is the happy, smiling accountant sitting in a red Mustang convertible.
Another ad shows a guy in a white shirt and tie and glasses, who spends his Sundays collecting seashells.
Then he starts driving a Mustang and suddenly becomes a lifeguard, with the glasses gone, surrounded by three adoring “bathing beauties” he has saved.
For thrifty types, the basic model began at $2,368 (about $18,100 in today’s dollars).
The money was made with all the add-ons. Famed car designer Carroll Shelby was even commissioned to build limited-edition versions that could beat Chevrolet Corvettes on the racetrack, says Jedlicka.
The sixth generation of the Mustang begins with the 2015 model, with news reports saying that Ford hopes for sales to increase from the 77,000 sold in 2013.
It hopes to build from the momentum of celebrations this week, in which 100,000 Mustang fans, and 10,000 of their cars, are descending on Las Vegas and Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina, including a Seattle contingent.
This area lays claim to having the oldest Mustang club in the country, along with one in Tucson. It was among 500 Mustang clubs formed within the first three years of its existence, says Ford.
It was Gary’s brother, Sandy Hallberg, 73, of Issaquah, now a retired metal plater, who founded the club that became the Pacific Cascade Mustang Club.
That was in the first week of January 1965, says Sandy.
These days, the club has 111 people on its email list.
You can look at photos of past get-togethers, and see the membership getting older, although it does have a few younger members.
Back in the late ’60s and ’70s, the guys had bushy hair, and the women wore the short skirts of the era.
Back then, says Sandy, “We probably had a few keggers.”
It’s been a long time since the club has had those kinds of parties.
Says Gary, “It started out as guys and girlfriends, then people got married, having kids, then they started getting divorced, and in the last few years, they started dying.”
Being part of the older crowd of Mustang drivers doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate the engine power it can provide.
Gary and Linda talk about picking up their 2012 Boss 302, with its 444 of horsepower, in Mabank, Texas, where the hard-to-get car was available at a dealership.
Of course, they ordered it in red, and, of course, they got it with the special “Trac-Key” that, when inserted, changes more than 600 engine parameters to turn it into “a pure Ford Racing competition calibration.”
In other words, better keep that mode for the racetrack.
The couple remembers how Linda was barely driving 2 miles per hour above the 80 mph speed limit when a State Patrol car “followed me quite a while.”
Hmmm. A red Boss racing car. You bet it’s a cop attractant.
She got a warning.
The Hallbergs do admit to taking a different Mustang to 130 mph in Montana, back in 1998.
“It was legal to do back then, not now,” Gary makes sure to explain. Yes, he says, driving that fast is fun.
Still, there is just so much oomph older Mustang drivers can take.
On this afternoon, the Hallbergs are visiting their friends, and Mustang lovers, Bruce and Margaret Petersen in West Seattle. He is 67, a retired digital-copier repairman. She is 65, a retired special-events programmer.
The Petersens also own four Mustangs, and one of them is a 1998 Cobra convertible.
“I bought a special muffler to quiet it down,” says Bruce. “It had this full nitrous-oxide system for drag racing and a supercharger. I removed all of that and put it back to stock.”
The car had so much power, he says, if it was in third gear going into a freeway, “It’d break loose” and the wheels would start spinning.
But, says Gary, that image is a reason why the Mustangs have fans all over the world, with many shipping their Mustangs to the U.S. for this week’s festivities.
“It’s American, it’s horsepower,” he says.
The older model Mustangs do have their drawbacks for the older owners, though.
Bruce says that a couple of hours in those original seats is as much as his back can take these days.
“Back in the 1960s, you could drive around them all day long,” he says. “Now we’ve gotten old.”
Things change when they get into a newer Mustang with its lumbar support.
The years erase. That look, that feel of power.
“They are works of art,” says Bruce. “Works of pure art.”
Staff researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this report.
Erik Lacitis: 206-464-2237 or firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter @ErikLacitis