When I was 18 years old in the summer of 1993, I had purchased a five-year-old Ford Mustang LX 2.3L hatchback. The restyled, “aero” Fox-body Mustangs appeared around the same time I entered middle school in the fall of ’86, and the memory of the (temporary) chic of these cars was still somewhat fresh in my mind when I made my purchase. My car, pictured above, was Oxford White with a Regatta Blue interior. I babied that car like it was a 5.0L – or more accurately, as if it was a classic. You see, my affinity for the Ford Mustang went back to my adolescence – around the time my ’88 was new.
Before starting fall semester at University of Florida in Gainesville in ’93, I drove my new-to-me Mustang back to my hometown of Flint, Michigan, with my family having moved away from there just one year prior. I made a stop in Nashville to visit my sister, and then another to see my grandparents at the family farm in northwestern Ohio. Making a pit-stop in the small hamlet of Malinta to show off my new toy to Grandma and Grandpa felt a little juvenile, like “show & tell” or Christmas, but the cool thing about them was that they always seemed to share my enthusiasm. Plus, I had really missed them, and the farm.
Rewinding to late spring of 1987, my second-cousin Andy, Grandpa’s brother’s grandson, had graduated from high school in the nearby hamlet of Deshler. Andy was a car guy, and had three first-generation Mustangs in his possession: a blue ’69 fastback, a ’73 Sportsroof, and a ’71 Mach I parts car. I remember the thrill of being pinned to the seatback of the rear seat of the ’73 as he floored it with my older brother in the front seat, and the roar of what had to be a 351. That thing was like a rocket, a feeling only enhanced by the slot-like rear window on that large fastback roofline. Cousin Andy unknowingly provided the catalyst for my ensuing Mustang mania.
Additionally, our great-grandfather had purchased a brand-new, tomato-red, ’74 Mustang II notchback (when he must have been in his 80s), which was sitting in Andy’s parents’ garage in mint condition. It was the nicest Mustang II I had ever seen up to that point, and at the time, it singlehandedly changed my perception of what seemed to be everyone’s least-favorite Mustang by just looking so darned good. I regretted to learn that my great-grandpa had passed away that same year, and that I had never had the chance to meet him. To this day, I wonder what ever happened to that car.
Fast-forwarding back to August of ’93, I rolled into Henry County, Ohio in my newest, favorite prized possession. My grandpa and great-uncle had farms that were adjacent to each other and as it turned out, behind the shed at my great-uncle’s old farmstead was Cousin Andy’s blue, ’69 fastback. Oooo…and it looked that much worse for wear. Parking my ’88 next to Andy’s ’69, with nothing but the sounds of crickets and rustling weeds behind me, I took a few pictures to reflect on how different these cars were, and what it must have been like for my mom to grow up here.
Here were two cars that shared the same model name, separated by just under two decades – much like Andy and I were separated by three generations of family. Andy’s and my experiences growing up, our appearances, and our lives in general, couldn’t have been more different. I was thoroughly urban and he was completely country – with those two environments being equally comfortable to each, respective dweller. Our Mustangs were also just as different from each other, bearing the same “family name” and basic architecture, but none of the same styling cues.
Even if his blue ’69 had been a 6-cylinder “secretary’s special” like my 4-cylinder LX, a driver’s experience of each car when five years old would still probably have been as different as night and day in their respective times. Let’s face it… though I will always love my ’88 Mustang, the hyper-aggressive styling of his ’69 fastback, even in its state of neglect, made my car look like a tin can. It’s okay to say it. Let’s also take time to appreciate, though, that the Fox-body Mustang represented a daring break from Mustang tradition, at least visually, when it was introduced for model year ’79. In the past ten years or so, my appreciation of the 80s Mustangs of my youth has only increased.
I did also spot Andy’s old parts-car ’71 behind my great-uncle’s barn, and it made me wonder if and when his life’s priorities had shifted and the Mach I had become the project he just never got around to. The buildings on my great-uncle’s property have long since been razed, but I am thankful for the chance to have been able to go back that summer. Malinta, Ohio is a place I never really considered “home”, but it is a place that is still very much a part of my roots and identity.
I wonder sometimes if by purchasing a Mustang – any Mustang, I might have been seeking solidarity and to identify with family members I barely knew (or never had the chance to meet). All the same, these are and were relatives with whom I shared a passion for cars – specifically, for Ford Mustangs. The Mustang provided a common ground that otherwise might not have existed – even among blood relatives.
c. August 1993.