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Fans celebrate Mustang's 40th

April 16, 2004

By SCOTT REEVES / Associated Press

GLADEVILLE, Tenn. – Craig Hutain has kept his Mustang longer than many people hold onto a spouse.

He bought a 1965 model while in high school, and over the past four years he's spent $17,000 and devoted about 1,500 hours to restoring its original look – right down to the "springtime yellow" paint and the tachometer mounted on the steering column.

He's one of thousands of Mustang owners gathering this weekend at the Nashville Superspeedway to celebrate Mustang's 40th anniversary. The event began Thursday.

AP/Ford Motor Co.
The 1964 Ford Mustang, shown here in a Ford promotional photo, essentially was a Ford Falcon clad in a sporty body. Although the car was built on the cheap that first year, it sold about five times more units than Ford had projected and went on to become one of the best-known nameplates in automotive history.

The Mustang made its debut in April 1964 at the World's Fair in New York. Since then, about 8 million people, including many enthusiasts like Hutain, have bought a Mustang.

The 44-year-old commercial pilot from Montgomery, Texas, considers his work a "tasteful restoration." His long-suffering wife, Lori, would say only, "It takes a lot of patience."

The Mustang was devised by Lee Iacocca, then Ford division chief, and product manager Donald Frey. The early models were little more than Ford's family sedan, the Falcon, with a new body.

But the car's image appealed to performance enthusiasts, and the Mustang became an American icon.

Frey, now 81, attended the Nashville event and signed autographs like a rock star. One man proclaimed him a "true genius" – an accolade that drew a snort from Frey.

AP/Ford Motor Co.
Lee A. Iacocca, right, and Donald N. Frey with a 1960 Falcon, left, and a 1965 Mustang in March 1965. The Mustang, built on the Falcon platform, was the brainchild of then-Ford division chief Iacocca and product manager Frey.

"The original team didn't have a lot of people or money," he said. "We did everything on the cheap ... The first car had only one light that flashed when the turn indictor was on. Dealers called me and said, 'You cheap S.O.B. – can't you add a second light?'"

Frey said the first Mustang rolled out only 18 months after getting the go-ahead from top management.

"I remember that we hoped to sell 86,000 units because we made a little money at that level," he said. "We sold over 400,000 in the first year and more than a million in the second."

Frey now teaches engineering at Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., and his students frequently ask how he launched the Mustang.

"I tell them to understand their market," Frey said. "It's important to know what people want."

But Ford launched the Mustang with little market research. Names considered for the new car included Cheetah, Puma, Cougar, Colt and Special Falcon.

Joseph Oros, now 87, set the design standards for the Mustang.

"I told the team that I wanted the car to appeal to women, but I wanted men to desire it, too," he said. "I wanted a Ferrari-like front end, the motif centered on the front – something heavy-looking like a Maseratti, but, please, not a trident – and I wanted air intakes on the side to cool the rear brakes. I said it should be as sporty as possible and look like it was related to European design."

Paul J. Russell, the current marketing manager for the Mustang, said a new V-6 lists at less than $20,000 and a loaded GT Coupe sells for slightly more than $30,000.

The Mustang sells well among aging baby boomers, but also among people younger than 30, Russell said. And about half its buyers are women.

"The car is more about 'psychographics' than demographics," Russell said.

A 1965 ad for the Mustang called it "a car to make weak men strong, strong men invincible." The ad showed a man named Desmond sitting on a bench with a new Mustang in the background. After detailing the car's options, including front disc brakes, a 4-on-the-floor and a V-8 engine, the ad said, "Desmond traded in his Persian kitten for an heiress named Olga. He had to. She followed him home. (It's inevitable ... Mustangers have more fun.)"

Hau Thai-Tang, 37, chief engineer for the current Mustang, got his first look at the car as a child in Vietnam where it served as a prop at USO shows. His family fled in April 1975 after the fall of Saigon and eventually came to the United States.

Hau Thai-Tang stands next to a Ford Mustang at the Ford's headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. As a boy growing up in war-torn South Vietnam, Thai-Tang could barely imagine driving such a car, much less building one. Yet 30 years later, he finds himself steering production of the latest version of the iconic sports car.

"When you look at the 2005 car, you can see the family resemblance, but it's also a new car," he said. "We went through our rich history and looked at what worked and what didn't. We quickly focused on the 1967-1968 models to draw inspiration from."

Hutain's 1965 model had about 126,000 miles on it when he started the restoration. He's added just a few because he rarely drives it on city streets. He and his wife towed it on a trailer from their home near Houston to the Nashville Superspeedway.

His next project is the restoration a 1969 Mustang Mach 1, but he'll never part with his 1965 coupe.

"When I wash the tires, I take the wheels off," he said. "My car has never had a hose on it."



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