“Look at this, Gerardo”, my father told me this week after going to town. “I found something I lost a long time ago”. He passed me his cell phone and the picture you are looking at right now was on the screen. Could it be? The mythical Mustang I had heard about since my childhood? It still exists? I thought he had just made it up!
My father is one of the most contradictory human beings I’ve ever met, although I am sure most people can say the same thing about theirs. He was born in a coastal town up north to a lower working-class family and came to the capital when he was age seven. His childhood was not a particularly happy one, and he was forced to work at a very young age selling the herb rue in the notoriously competitive and not at all sweet Honduran markets. One of the stories he loved to tell me was that he had no shame in taking rotten produce from the garbage, cutting away the bad bits and eating the rest. I can’t even eat a banana if the peel has gone black and those sort of stories did nothing to help. As horrible as it was, he remembered that all his hard work paid off for him and taught him the value of an honest day’s work.
As he got older he made his punishing childhood an asset, as he became a salesman assistant and then a full-on salesman. Salesmen are some of the best paid workers in the country, mostly because they make their own wage by commission while the rest of us are at the mercy of our employers. So it was that this barefoot kid became upwardly mobile as his hard work paid off, with dividends. However, his past life also meant that he was a more…practical person. He spent money where it mattered to do his job properly; clothing and personal image are essential to the salesman. His car, not so much. When you’re just going to leave it on the office and switch it to whatever truck the office will give you today it’s more of an afterthought really. And so he made it without a car or temporarily driving things like a Toyota Publica Pickup
In 1978 he was already doing pretty well for himself despite being only about 19 years old and one day fate called to his door. More specifically, a friend of his whose girlfriend had dumped paint thinner on his car and he was so mad that he didn’t want it anymore and wanted to sell it to him. My father, never wasting an opportunity, said yes. At least that’s how one of the versions he told me goes, the guy who sold it to him has changed on a number of occasions. Well you know what they say, if you have to have a story, you’re better off making it multiple choice.
What didn’t change was the reason and the car, a 1971 Ford Mustang in Brown with Black Stripes on it. As a car-crazy kid this was no less impressive than imagining a jet fighter. I’d never seen a Mustang before, it would be years before I would see a New-Edge model and even more before I saw a 1st-gen model. Common as Mustangs are in America, elsewhere in the world they were either unavailable or just too expensive and not practical enough to woo the people buying Volkswagens or even plain-jane Fords. Even today there are so few of them around here that seeing one still calls for excitement rather than ambivalence.
In any case, those stories of Dad’s Mustang had me hooked almost instantly; when I got a computer the first thing I did was open paint and try to recreate it there. It bears repeating at this point that I had not actually ever seen a Mustang, so a stock file of a Ferrari Testarossa painted brown with a black stripe would do very nicely. My father loved to tell me about the noise it made and how when he revved it he could actually see the fuel needle go down as the 351 engine sang a concerto and the rear tires provided second vocals. “I didn’t know what I had, I was an idiot.” he said on one of his retellings when I was older and already wondering what happened to it. He apparently sold it to another friend who owned an auto shop for a nice sum and that was the end of that. The shop went bust and they lost touch with each other and the Mustang disappeared.
I don’t blame him; this was the early ‘80s and the Mustang was nowhere near the collectors’ juggernaut that it is today. Back then it was just another old car with terrible gas mileage. Still, it seems he beat himself up pretty hard for letting that one go. I, on the other hand had gone from blindly believing him into flipping between whether he had or he had not owned it. You get older, you start noticing inconsistencies and that indecipherable box we know as the brain does the rest. And anyway, as cool as it was he was still a practical man. He liked cars and some he considered incredibly cool and desirable, but to actually buy one unless you get an incredibly good deal? Not really, no.
The years passed; we moved on; my father retired involuntarily (apparently to be a salesman now you need to have a degree in Marketing around here) and now he spends his days doing whatever he likes. That’s a problem as he’s had 40 years of doing nothing but work and I’m guessing suddenly having all this time off is not particularly rewarding for him. Earlier this week he was buying some things he needed for an oil change when he heard a very distinct rumble. Then the rumble became a roar and a gold streak passed in front of the shop where he was. He dropped what he was doing and ran outside only to notice that yes, it was a 1971 gold Mustang and it was coming back down the street. I can only imagine his feelings for the car empowered by a healthy dose of nostalgia. And it got even better because the driver pulled over and turned out to be yet another of his friends. Salesmen have lots of those.
It seems after the shop folded the Mustang was propped on bricks and started every day just to make sure everything stayed as it should. The current owner noticed it and made an offer a year or so ago and they took it, even giving him the wheels that came with the car. The paint had been damaged by the sun so he resprayed it without stripes this time. One guy tried to steal the mirrors and they got replaced with ones I strongly suspect came from a Toyota Pickup. Yeah, it figures. It spends decades on storage, you have it out for a couple of months and some jerk messes with it. Vincent Vega had it right; they should be executed without trial or jury
On closer inspection, I also noticed the strip of Chrome on the C-Pillar. Could….could it have been a Mustang Grande? My dad owned a Mustang Brougham!
Excited and forgetting his now more modest-status, he asked the guy who owned it to sell it to him. He’s not, apparently even the local Ford Dealership made a bid for it for an unspecified amount of money plus a new truck. He wouldn’t take it. Still, at least he let my dad take those pics and share it once again with the rest of us. Most surprised of all was my sister who said in an incredulous tone, “You mean he actually owned one!?” On the evidence presented, the answer is yes.
Epilogue: You may be wondering with what sort of car my dad replaced the Mustang with. Well, it wasn’t nearly as impressive.
But it was practical. He owned three of them.