Curbside Car Show: Mustang Day – Part 1

Let’s delve into this rich pond of good ol’ Americana, as my high-school friend Cesar took me to the Mustang’s Club of El Salvador gathering this past April. Me, being a Beetle owner, was suddenly exposed to alien concepts as ‘horsepower’ and ‘performance tips.’ We, from the VW club, stick our conversations to sensible issues like how to fix rusted out heater ducts, or wondering if the brake fluid reservoir of a ’74 fits a ’68.

Early this year I decided to check on Cesar, a lifelong Mustang devotee, to see if he still possessed a sample of Ford’s iconic car. Yes he did, now owning an ’84 (more on that on a future post), but no longer the light-blue 6 cyl. ’73 I associated him with since high school days, as the car had ‘died’ some years ago. Still, he posed the question; would I like to go to their meet? Of course I did! This being almost a one horse town, I wasn’t about to miss my chance to be surrounded by a bunch of ponies all of the sudden.

This white 67-68 fastback was my favorite of the bunch. Regarding how ‘original’ most of these are, hard to say; there’s been the usual engine swappings with suspension and chassis fixes. However, there was quite a mix of sixes and eights, so that’s a sign not everyone was a horsepower zealot (it may be a sign of constrained finances, though). Talking about ‘originality,’ American cars still had a presence in Central America during the 60’s and 70’s, so these early Mustangs run the lot from original to recent grey imports.

Considering the local liking for extroverted styling mods, most of these ’64-’73s were rather restrained. Fixing up vehicles being a rather costly affair, most expenditure has been on paint jobs and cosmetics. Talking about cosmetics, the owner of this fastback, already in his mid-70’s and who appears to have owned it for ages, seems to have a preference for white walls (impossible to find locally) regardless of how they fit those wheel wells. They do ruin the car’s look some, but would be an easy fix should it fall in someone else’s hands.

All that could be said on Ford’s pony car has been done before, so I’ll try to limit my comments to a ‘foreign’ view on the model. Lido and Ford’s styling team did quite the coup with the lines of the ’64 1/2 Mustang, as it’s the quintessential American vehicle, recognized and lusted upon as such the world over. Everyone knows what a Mustang is, from Europe to Oceania (sorry Cutlass lovers, but Oldsmobile’s favorite is strictly an American affair). Casting a wide net at conception, Lido and team managed to appeal to men and women with effective cues; laborers, secretaries, and the young at heart took to the car’s lines with paychecks in hand.

As we know, at launch the buff press criticized the model as being something of an appearance package, failing to deliver their evergreen hope of a Detroit-built-European-like-sports car (Non-spoiler alert: Detroit NEVER delivered, leaving that market to the Japanese). Ironically, abroad the American attributes of the Mustang turned it into a niche cult; an aspirational car with which to enjoy excess in perfect American style; boastful, stylish, non-practical, and excessive. As my friend Cesar said, Ford gave people the chance to enjoy lots of horsepower for little money, and to feel as if they owned a bit of that Le Mans winning GT40 (something he won’t stop boasting about with his own 289).

Philosopher and writer Umberto Eco once elaborated as to how Casablanca has everlasting appeal not by being ‘new,’ but by playing endless clichés in such an unabashed way that felt entirely its own. One could make the same argument for the original Mustang, for it plays every renowned automotive accord in ways that are aimed to tickle the materialistic-pleasure-nerve of people’s brains. Each item; from fake scoops, to a goes quick appearance, to lux-like accents, tickle the fancy of men and women in strategic and effective ways. At my own home, my wife loves the car, and her younger brother dreams of nothing but one.

On a more personal note, during my childhood as a GM fan boy, I went through a lot of mental hoops in order to think that I “liked” Camaros better than Mustangs, the latter my brother’s favorite. TBH, GM stylists didn’t help much either with the early Camaro, and as the years passed, I dropped the pretense; yes, the Mustang was the nicer looking of the two (‘though I keep brainwashing myself into liking that ’67 Camaro).

This red model belonged to a family that brought along two early Mustangs. Not too noticeable on the photo, the Mrs. was at the wheel on #2, and seemed quite Ok with the whole outing, though staying in the car’s interior most of the afternoon. I feel pretty sure she was seeking shelter from the sweltering heat rather than any non-compliance on her part. If that was the case, she was the smart one, as I ended pretty dehydrated and with a headache by journeys end. April’s sun is merciless in these lands.

Talking about the Mustang’s interior, it almost brought tears to my eyes to see how lusty those Detroit interiors used to be. By the early 60’s, Ford’s earlier Thunderbird lessons were in full display, artfully mixing shiny surfaces and lux accents to create rather inviting cabins. Yet, compared to 50’s interiors, less fanciful and much more useful. The contrast is huge when thinking of the utterly nasty plastics to be found in American offerings during the ’90s (my joyful age!). Regulations often get the blame, but 90’s Honda interiors looked good, so? How the mighty fell…

And bringing more tears, those rear seats. Not that they’re unpleasant to look at, but they do seem rather tight, and according to previous accounts, impossible to look out of. On the Mustang’s negative legacy (with aid of the ’69 Grand Prix), was Detroit’s realization that maybe Americans didn’t care much for rear seat space. (Sorry to say, but I still have nasty memories of that ride in the back of a mid ’80s Riviera).

Lots of details to gaze on in these old Detroit rides. About that last photo, a bit unusual of a sticker, but this is a Catholic country. I assume Lido’s parents were too, so maybe it’s fitting? Also, those tail lights are the closest I’ve to a direct relationship with Ford’s pony car, as my little brother spent his early years riding a Mustang pedal car. The toy car’s tail lights are what I remember the most, probably from trying to pry them loose or something to that effect (I was a curious boy that broke LOTS of toys).

Of course, by ’69 men had made their voices heard, either through the automotive press, letters, or clinics. And Dearborn heard us; as we wanted the car not only to look fast, but be manlier and faster, with the model slowly turning into a GT40 for the masses. At this point in the Mustang genealogy, with the locals, only true boy racers seem inclined to own one and it can be safely assumed most are no longer in stock condition.

As we know, sales took a dive as secretaries bailed out by then. Insurance costs mounted too, which goes to show how misguided those guys are. Don’t they know? We men can kill ourselves just as easily with slow cars too. Dying pointlessly is one of our specialties (said he, who crossed Mexico with an old Beetle).

By the time the ’70 arrived, the shark-like styling was announcing the model would soon be jumping the shark, in a year or two, to deadly levels. Like everywhere else, the Mustangs locals love are the early ’64 1/2-’68, and these later models rarely ever appear. My friend Cesar’s ’73 was one of but a handful of the later grande ‘Stangs. I’ve yet to see one again.

Was this one of the earliest-ever uses of honeycomb texture in a sports car? I don’t mind it on this ’70, although it was a particular odd affectation in later Pontiacs. Is there a history of the ‘honeycomb in auto styling’ to be written? Probably not, some chapters are better left unexplored.

As these last shots show, later models were also present, more on those in Part 2. Around this time in the afternoon (we had a short drive to a different location) a fella on a recent Camaro revved by tauntingly, not that anyone in the group gave it much attention. But still, goes to show that those GM-Ford animosities are an international issue, and some peace keeping entity may need to be created. We got to put those hostile wrenches down, and as my case shows, Camaro-self-induced love can find some appreciation for Ford’s perennial pony car.