COAL: Taking My ’66 To The Mustang’s 50th Birthday Party

In 1964, Ford introduced the Mustang to the world. Fifty years later, Ford would introduce a new Mustang, the first one ever with independent rear suspension, and Mustang clubs around the world would celebrate both the existence of the original car and the introduction of the new one.

One such 50th birthday celebration was slated to take place in Charlotte, North Carolina at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. I decided that my ’66 Mustang needed to be present at its birthday party, and my friend Pat decided to join me for the trip.

Two Millennials learn to road trip a vintage car

I had previously driven my Mustang around town and around the state, but I had never ventured too far from home. This trip to Charlotte from Detroit would be a 20 hour round trip. Still, the car never gave me any issues on the three hour jaunts I did around the state, so maybe it would be just fine for the trip down south.

Pat himself had a Mustang, but it was a late model example. He liked the idea of driving the original Mustang down for the celebration, and as such came along with me in the car. I think he told me he had some experience with carburetors, but I would find out during the course of the trip that he really didn’t have any more knowledge about keeping an old car running that I had.

The car was packed with our stuff, everything neatly fitting into the trunk. I also carried along a small tool kit in the trunk, just in case, but didn’t pack any parts or spares. Not that I would have known what to pack, anyway.

We broke the drive down to Charlotte into two parts. On Thursday evening after work, Pat and I drove down to Columbus, Ohio where we stayed the night, before finishing the rest of the drive on Friday. The hope was that we’d get to Charlotte in time for the Mustang cruise into town late in the afternoon.

The drive was mostly uneventful. The radio in the Mustang was still crap, but fortunately, Pat had brought along a small Bluetooth speaker that we used to play music as we drove along. We crossed the Ohio River heading south in high spirits.

Crossing the Ohio River on our drive to Charlotte.


We stopped for lunch at a Wendy’s and came back outside to a car that simply wouldn’t start. Curious, as I had just had the Autolite 4-barrel carb rebuilt and the engine tuned up by my shop before this trip, and the car was running just fine before. Pat took the air cleaner off the carb, twiddled around with some things, and eventually the car started up. Back then, vapor lock was a concept that I had absolutely no knowledge of, but now I know that whatever Pat fiddled with didn’t actually do anything, and it was just the passage of time and the opening of the hood that resolved the vapor lock issue.

Pat attempts to diagnose the Mustang’s hot start issue.


At one point in the drive, we noticed that the turn signals weren’t working. You could flick the turn signal switch, but the turn signal light in the dashboard wouldn’t light up. Then we realized that the gauges in the dashboard were dead. I was puzzled. We had been driving for a good two hours, and everything else in the car seemingly worked. Motor was running just fine, so it couldn’t have been an issue with the battery or the alternator. I don’t know what inspired me to try jiggling the key in the ignition, but doing so suddenly made the dashboard come alive and revived our ability to use our turn signals. Okay, a worn ignition switch. Not something that had ever occurred to me as a potential problem, but that may be because I’d never had to deal with a car built before 1989.

I deduced that we must have been rolling around on the country byways without turn signals (and possibly brake lights) for those two hours. Oops.

These two issues aside, the drive down to Charlotte was drama free. Once we crossed the Ohio River, we ran into persistent rain showers, which would unfortunately follow us around for the rest of the weekend.

At the Mustang 50th

The windshield wipers probably saw more use in that single weekend than they ever had for the prior fifteen years of its life.

In one of the largest Mustang traffic jams.


We rolled into Charlotte behind schedule, but were able to find the long conga line of Mustangs that were heading to a downtown spot of sorts for a cruise-in. We parked the car and wandered around, looking to see what other Mustangs had shown up. Once it got dark, we hopped back into the Mustang and headed to our hotel.

Mustangs at the cruise-in.


The next morning, we woke up to gray and water logged skies. We went out to the Mustang to discover that the carpet in the passenger foot well was soaked.

Looking up towards the base of the windshield, it was obvious where the water was coming in. At the bottom corner, there was a small but incessant trickle of water rolling behind the dash and onto the foot well below. (At least the water wasn’t coming from the cowl vent.) Popping open the trunk in the back also revealed evidence of water leaks from the back light glass seals, though fortunately, what water got into the trunk landed on the outside of the wheel well seam, trickling into the outer fenders and out the drain holes there, and our stuff in the trunk stayed dry.

I grabbed a towel from the hotel and threw it into the passenger foot well in an attempt to mop up as much of the water as I could. Then we headed out towards Charlotte Motor Speedway for the 50th celebration.

Parking the Mustang at the 50th Birthday celebration.


Once there, I was surprised to see so many late model and Fox body Mustangs. For all the prejudice I had against the first gen Mustang as the Fisher Price “My First Classic Car,” there were far fewer vintage Mustangs there than I thought there would be.

Under wraps: the 50th Anniversary Edition of the new Mustang.


We parked the Mustang alongside its younger siblings, and headed towards the Ford booth. There, along both sides of the tent, were vehicles from Ford’s current line up that were, to be blunt, not what we came there to see. Directly in the middle of the tent was a special anniversary edition of the all-new 2015 Mustang, wrapped tightly in black fabric, awaiting the arrival of its big reveal. A new S550 Mustang sat naked next to the outgoing Mustang nearby.

The new S550 Mustang displayed with its previous generation incarnations.


After poking around in the Ford tent, we went off to the garages to see what was there. All of the special Mustangs — Shelbys, rare trims, etc. — were in the garages, hiding out from the rain.

In another building were a bunch of vendors and sellers of all the Mustang memorabilia you could ever want.

Checking out the competition Mustangs in the paddock.


Because it was raining, there wasn’t much activity going on at the track. Pat and I wondered through the paddock, inspecting the competition Mustangs waiting for a break in the weather.

By 3pm, we had seen everything we had wanted to see. We hopped back in the Mustang and headed into Charlotte, meeting up with one of Pat’s friends who had moved to Charlotte from Detroit for work.

On Sunday morning, after a night of bar hopping and a fitful night’s rest in the hotel, Pat and I pointed the car north and headed back home to Michigan, completing the 10 hour drive stopping only for fuel.

Future road trip plans

The Mustang had acquitted itself so well during the road trip that I was already thinking about the next big trip I could do with the car.

What I really wanted to do was a road trip similar to the one I did in the Miata before I moved to Michigan. I had daydreams of my little V8 car, roaring across vast expanses of the American West, where I’d hop between National Parks on my way to California, visiting friends on the West Coast, before turning east and hopping between National Parks on the way back. It’d be the Great American Road Trip, the sequel.

The road trip to Charlotte laid bare two things that I had to address before taking the Mustang on a cross-country road trip. First, I needed a sound system in the car. Second, I needed cruise control.

I would figure out both things before embarking on my next cross-country road trip. That adventure is for a future COAL post…