I include my birth year in my on-line name, because it can help to explain where I might be coming from in my comments, based on my age. For a car-obsessed child, being born in 1960 was a huge blessing. My childhood, from about 8 to 12, was an unending barrage of all things automotive and wheeled. Tonka trucks, the obligatory pedal car at a young age, the Sting-Ray bike, the Matchboxes and Hot Wheels, the model car plastic kits and pre-assembled dealer give-aways, and the proliferation of license plates, the real ones, the tiny key-chain ones from the DAV that Mom and Dad got unsolicited in the mail (with their own license numbers on them, and that were exactly the scale to fit the front bumper of a Tonka), and the medium-sized ones that came in boxes of cereal. There was all the real car stuff going on, too, the pony cars, the muscle cars, and all the high-profile factory racing programs. Mom would let me pick a car magazine from the rack when we went shopping at the grocery store, to keep me quiet.
As the existing family Ford fleet was getting a bit aged in 1965 (cars didn’t typically last ten years or more back then, or at least one didn’t want to be seen driving a ten year old car in “respectable circles”), that meant only one thing, in a “Ford family”. Let’s go look at the new Mustangs.
Mustangs were everywhere in that time frame, and the Mustang was a cultural phenomenon at least as great as anything Prius or Tesla has been in recent years. Mom and Dad took us to the local Ford dealership, which was an almost unbearable marathon of waiting around and being made to sit still. I was not allowed to rummage in the showroom vehicles or rifle through any brochures or other paraphernalia. It was “sit still and behave” time.
At one point, everything was done, we just walked away from the white Falcon, and went and got into a new red Mustang and drove home. My first impression was that the car was red, very red. “Poppy Red” is what it was called. It also didn’t quite look like most Mustangs, with an arched roof and a big back window. It looked odd at first glance, but I grew to love it, as I got used to it and learned that the fastback feature added bragging points when dickering with the other car-obsessed kids at school, when talking about family cars. The fish-gill louvers, instead of actually being able to see out the side from the back seat through a window, were novel, and also a bit odd to my young eyes.
The ride home was awkward. My sister and I got the back seat, which was not really made for a human body, even a little one. Many “2+2” arrangements, with vestigial back seats, work this way, as I learned later. There were no real back and bottom cushions, but instead a curved arc from the seat back into the seat bottom. Between gravity and slick vinyl, small kiddos immediately slid in a lump onto the floor and partially under the front seat. To Mom’s distress, there were no seat belts back there, nor was there a provision or obvious way to install any.
The back window was somewhat overhead, so that our heads baked on hot summer days. Mom prescribed hats to keep us from sunburning. In the meantime, the side windows were rolled down, as there was no air conditioning, and the wind really blew us and our stuff around. So my sister and I got baked and buffeted, were unable to sit up straight in our seats without conscious effort, could not be strapped in (we were a “seat belts at all times” family), and we couldn’t even see out, forward or to the sides. A little car guy wants to see all the cars and trucks go by when he is being driven somewhere, and even that was denied to me.
But, for a car-obsessed kiddo, the car was cool. I couldn’t see out of the front seat, either, until I got a bit bigger. But watching the working of the controls was easier to see from the front, especially the shifting of the four-speed and the rhythms of the clutch, shift lever, and throttle. The dashboard was tidy and seemed “sporty”. With four forward gears, there was a ton of shifting going on, in stop-and-go situations.
As I got a bit older and delved deeper into cars and how they worked, I really liked the idea that the family car had a V-8 and disc brakes. The Fastback seemed perfectly suited to be a full member of all the “cool” cars that I kept reading about and seeing around, from the late ‘60s into the early ‘70s. I grew to love that Mustang, and as I approached young teenagerhood, I began to beg to be able to buy, borrow, or steal the car when I would be old enough to drive.
One other aspect of the thing likely worked magic on my impressionable young mind. The first Mustang was indelibly associated with that running horse emblem, and that logo has carried on, uninterrupted, on new Mustangs to the present day. The running horse was everywhere, all over the car, and all over the advertising for the car. I think it planted a seed, both with myself and with many others. It is likely a visceral, subconscious thing. I found myself drawing Mustang horse logos in my junior high doodlings.
The horse was all over the car. Radiator grill, gas cap, steering wheel center, glove box door, front fenders. Even the keys were not the standard Ford fare, but specially made up with the horse on one side.
There are two important elements to any car, the aesthetic and the mechanical. As a kid looking at and riding in the car, the Mustang Fastback, aesthetically, was some sort of dream car for me. Actually riding in the back seat was miserable, but looking at the car was a glorious experience.
My experience with this Mustang is not over with, and my family kept it a long, long time, and it came to be a true COAL. But, in the meantime, it is time for me to get my license and actually start driving cars for real, not just riding in them. Driving cars opened up a whole new way of looking at them, at how they functioned, not just how they appeared. But my infatuation with the Mustang colored my future automotive aesthetic preferences in a big way, and it was my touchstone car through my formative years, and later on as well.