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50 Years of Mustang – A Birthday Bash Fit for an American Icon

April 25, 2014

The Henry Ford’s 1965 Mustang Serial #1 and 1962 Mustang I concept car were honored guests at a pair of simultaneous events honoring the pony car’s golden anniversary in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Las Vegas, Nevada. The four-day celebrations, hosted by the Mustang Club of America with close cooperation from Ford Motor Company, brought together cars, owners and fans from around the world to commemorate one of the most influential and enduring automobiles.

The Charlotte event, held at Charlotte Motor Speedway, opened in grand fashion on April 17. Fifty years to the day after Henry Ford II introduced the Mustang at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, current Ford Motor Company Executive Chairman Bill Ford unveiled the 50th Anniversary Edition 2015 Ford Mustang. Limited to 1,964 units, the 50th Anniversary car comes fully loaded but available in just two colors: Kona Blue and Wimbledon White – the latter something of a nod to Serial #1’s paint.

The 50th Anniversary Edition 2015 Ford Mustang. There’s a definite family resemblance to Serial #1.

Other distinguished guests in Charlotte included Ford Board Member Edsel Ford II, Ford Chief Operating Officer Mark Fields, the 1965 Mustang Design Chief Gale Halderman, and current Mustang Chief Engineer Dave Pericak. Retired Chicago-area school teacher Gail Wise enjoyed a unique fame at the event. On April 15, 1964, she purchased a Skylight Blue Mustang convertible – making her the first Mustang buyer in the United States. She still owns the car today, which also makes her the senior-most original owner. Gail and her convertible posed for countless photos with Mustang fans over the four-day party.

The Henry Ford’s Mustang Serial #1 (left) sat next to Gail Wise’s Skylight Blue convertible in Charlotte. The “Mustang Garage” display area included pony cars from every generation.

I had the privilege of joining Serial #1 in Charlotte. As I spoke with visitors, nearly every one of them was familiar with the car’s story. In fact, many had seen Serial #1 before, either at The Henry Ford or at a previous show. My favorite reaction was from members of the Montreal Mustang Club. Upon seeing Serial #1 with its Newfoundland license plates, they immediately shouted “Captain Tucker! Captain Tucker!” – referring to their fellow Canadian, the airline pilot who inadvertently purchased the car in April 1964.

The sister celebration at Las Vegas Motor Speedway was even more international in tone. While Ford has never directly sold the Mustang overseas (until the 2015 model, that is), this hasn’t stopped the car from winning fans abroad. Our Mustang I concept car brought smiles to the faces of Mustang club members from Sweden, France, Switzerland and Brazil, among other nations. Special guests in Las Vegas included Ford Sales Zone Manager Henry Ford III, Ford COO Mark Fields (yes, the busy Fields visited both celebrations), and former Ford Special Projects Assistant Hal Sperlich. Along with Ford Vice-President Lee Iacocca and Ford Product Manager Don Frey, Sperlich is one of the key people who brought the Mustang into being 50 years ago. He was given a hero’s welcome by the fans gathered in Nevada.

Members of the Mustang Club of Switzerland pose with our 1962 Mustang I concept car in Las Vegas.

Mustang owners and enthusiasts at both events enjoyed various activities. Souvenir stands sold Mustang merchandise of all descriptions. Vendors and swap meet participants sold parts for Mustangs from every vintage. Mustang historians gave presentations on the car’s debut and evolution. Owners with performance cars took laps around the tracks. And then there were the cars themselves – thousands of Mustangs filled and surrounded the venues in Charlotte and Las Vegas.

By the time each event wrapped up on April 20, new friendships were formed, the latest version of the pony car was revealed to the world, and a passion for the Mustang had been ignited in the young visitors who will take the car into its next generations. I’ll bet a few of them are already dreaming about 2064!

Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford

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