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Mustang turns 50

The car that rocketed to pop-culture icon status and conjured one of the automotive industry's most enduring and widespread love affairs is celebrating its golden anniversary.

  • Ford Mustang cars lined up to spell out

    TORONTO, ON -APRIL 12 - Ford Mustang celebrates it's 50th anniversary this year and the Mustang owners gathered at Ontario Place to do it up right. .Toronto, April 12, 2014. Rene Johnston/Toronto Star

On April 17, 1964, a lone Ford Mustang sat perched on a pedestal at the New York World’s Fair, proudly proclaiming its arrival.

And now, the car that rocketed to pop-culture icon status and conjured one of the automotive industry’s most enduring and widespread love affairs is celebrating its golden anniversary.

The Mustang was a game-changer the day it landed. Baby boomers who were clamouring for more sporty and compact vehicles flocked to it in droves.

“It’s the soul of the Ford Motor Co.,” says Marc Vejgman, marketing manager for Ford Canada. “We sold 100,000 cars in the first three months and almost 420,000 cars in the first year. We hit a million cars two years later. The response was just overwhelming.”

Although the Mustang has endured its ups and downs, the car has enjoyed continuous production and retained its cachet throughout its 50-year history.

Ford is marking the occasion by launching a new generation that will land in showrooms later this year.

“It’s got all the traditional styling cues that people look for in a Mustang — the long hood, the short rear deck, the signature tri-bar tail lights,” Vejgman said last Saturday at Ontario Place, where several hundred Mustangs and their owners had gathered for a celebration.

Several events were held this week to commemorate the anniversary, the highlight being the new model’s trip to the top of the Empire State Building — piece by piece in the elevator, then reconstructed on the observation deck — which coincided with this year’s New York Auto Show and re-created a publicity stunt by Ford in 1965.

Closer to home, Mustang enthusiasts from across southern Ontario gathered at Ontario Place to put their treasured rides on display, exchange stories and share their passion for the iconic pony car.

George O’Hearn, past-president of the Golden Horseshoe Mustang Association, knows as well as anyone what that passion entails.

He fell hard at the Mustang’s debut in 1964, when he was just 13, and finally bought his first in 1997. He has owned 18 Mustangs and is constantly on the lookout for his next project.

“My fun in the hobby is in finding them, restoring them and then, of course, driving them for a while — that’s what it’s really all about. There isn’t one of them I don’t like.”

The enthusiasts range from those who can recall Mustang’s beginnings right down to people half the car’s age.

They all have stories to tell about what connects them to their cars and those stories very often begin with family ties.

“My dad had a ’71 for a few years. I took it to my prom. I drove it for my wedding. Having a Mustang is part of the family,” recalls Matt Owens of Aurora, who is the proud owner of a 2003 Mach 1.

Barry and Diane O’Rourke of Acton come from the other side of the equation. They relive the days of their youth while driving their 1968 Mustang Fastback, in Gulfstream Aqua.

“When we were first dating, we had a ’68 Mustang,” Barry explains. “So, a few years ago, we picked this up because we wanted another. It was a six-cylinder automatic, but I put a five-litre in it with a five-speed.

“My sons helped me with it, too, but now they’ve grown up and moved out. It’s won some awards at car shows. It’s just plain cool.”

One of the oldest Mustangs on hand Saturday was a 1965 convertible owned by Steve Bartolo of Brampton.

“I had it completely restored from the ground up seven years ago,” he said. “I found a gentleman who did freelance bodywork in Guelph and he did an amazing job. We put $35,000 in, just body parts alone.”

Some of that work was an upgrade dear to Bartolo’s heart: a new coat of paint in Pepper Grey.

“The original colour was Wimbledon White,” he explained.

“When I’d seen the movie Gone in 60 Seconds with Nicolas Cage and I saw Eleanor’s colour (the Mustang featured in the movie), I said, ‘That’s the colour I want,’ and I researched the DuPont paint code.

“I’m really happy with it.”

Not everyone reaches for the oldest models. Russ Wilton of Kitchener satisfied a long-term itch for a soft top by purchasing a 1987 Cobra convertible.

“I don’t get to drive it much — once or twice a year, it seems,” he said.

“I’ve got a couple of young kids, so they take up a lot of my time.

“But there are about five of my friends who own Mustangs, so whenever we get a chance, we go out for a rip and then we park them for a while.”

The man who best articulated the emotion behind Mustang ownership Saturday was John Vernile of Burlington, a one-time Ford employee who related the role his 1966 convertible plays in his life.

“Driving a Mustang just makes you feel free and alive,” he said. “If I’m having a bad day, if I’ve got a headache, if work was just going in the wrong direction, I climb into this car on a hot summer’s night, put the roof down and take it for a cruise down the road.

“It makes me forget about all of my problems. It’s just an exhilarating feeling.”

Stories and camaraderie were shared throughout the afternoon. But, by far, the most exhilarating moment came at the very end.

Within just a few minutes, all 200 of the Mustangs at the event — spanning each of the past five decades — fired up their engines and drove away.

Fifty years of history culminated in a single, giant roar — for many, the most captivating sound in the world.

The Toronto Star for Wheels.ca

  • Mustang turns 50 Subject: Photos for Mustang 50th Anniversary story (5/5) On 2014-04-14, at 4:53 PM, steph@morefrontwing.com wrote: For Wheels editor Norris McDonald to accompany the Mustang 50th Anniversary story. Barry and Diane O'Rourke of Acton show off their 1968 Fastback, which helps them relive their courtship days. P1110796.JPG
  • Mustang turns 50 Subject: Photos for Mustang 50th Anniversary story (3/5) On 2014-04-14, at 4:49 PM, steph@morefrontwing.com wrote: For Wheels editor Norris McDonald to accompany the Mustang 50th Anniversary story. Steve Bartolo of Brampton with his 1965 Mustang Convertible, completely restored and repainted in Pepper Grey. P1110793.JPG
  • Mustang turns 50 Subject: Photos for Mustang 50th Anniversary story (4/5) On 2014-04-14, at 4:52 PM, steph@morefrontwing.com wrote: For Wheels editor Norris McDonald to accompany the Mustang 50th Anniversary story. Matt Owens of Aurora with his 2003 Mustang Mach 1, which he is currently preparing for track racing. He fondly recalls memories of his younger days in his dad's 1971 Mustang. P1110790.JPG
  • Mustang turns 50 Subject: Photos for Mustang 50th Anniversary story (1/5) On 2014-04-14, at 4:44 PM, steph@morefrontwing.com wrote: For Wheels editor Norris McDonald to accompany the Mustang 50th Anniversary story. Russ Wilton of Kitchener with his 1987 Mustang Convertible Cobra painted in Kandy Oriental Blue. He repainted the interior himself to match. P1110810.JPG

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