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The Ford Mustang has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. A 1966 Fastback was the family car since before I was born, and I remember countless trips (in the days before seatbelt laws) lying in the folded down back seat, looking up at the sky through the sloped window.
When we got older, my family purchased a big, ugly sedan to accommodate the need for more practical family travel, but the Mustang was still regularly driven. My brother and I learned to drive on it, and on occasion, my dad let each of us drive it to school.
Even my grandmother drove a pink Mustang with a white roof and interior, but don’t let the color fool you… that car was fast! For some reason, she traded it in for a huge and boxy LTD, and I have no idea where that Mustang is today.
My father, at age 79, still owns his Mustang, and it still runs like a jewel. My dad bought the car new when he got his first job as a teacher and drove it to school on his first day. More than 50 years later, he drove it to work on his last day in education before his retirement.
This year, the classic 1960s era Mustangs are getting some more attention, as Ford recently announced the release of a new Mustang based on Steve McQueen’s famous ride in the 1968 cult classic action film Bullitt, just in time for the 50th anniversary of the film.
In celebration of this intersection between movies and cars, here are some more geeky facts about the definitive muscle car:
1. Mustang lovers know the Ford Mustang was introduced to the world in “1964 1/2” because it didn’t come out until mid-year, but the original concept car, Ford Mustang I, was designed as a two-seater in 1962. Created by a committee led by Lee Iacocca, this original model looked nothing like the Mustang the world fell in love with. The one operating model of this car was donated to the Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation in Michigan in 1982.
2. Also on view at the museum is Mustang Number One, the first 1964 Mustang created, which was purchased by a Canadian airline pilot named Stanley Tucker. After several attempts to buy back this now historic piece of automotive history, Tucker finally let Ford have the car in exchange for the 1 millionth Mustang created, free of charge. The original base price for Mustangs in 1964 was around $2,300.
3. The new 2019 Limited Edition Ford Mustang Bullitt is based on the 2018 Mustang GT Premium. This means it has all the current features of a modern Mustang, but includes many design elements celebrating the nostalgic attraction of McQueen’s car. The car goes on sale in the summer, but will only be available for a limited time.
4. As a “third generation” limited edition Bullitt car, the new Mustang was introduced in a short chase film featuring Steve McQueen’s granddaughter, Molly, behind the wheel. The cost of this model hasn’t yet been announced, although one car lover purchased the very first one produced at a car auction this month for $300,000. Money from the auction sale went to charity.
5. The actual car used in the film, Bullitt has also recently come out of hiding. It re-entered the public eye at the Detroit Auto Show, in conjunction with the 50th anniversary and launch of the new Mustang. The car is owned by a car lover named Sean Kiernan, whose father purchased the car in 1974 from an ad in Road & Track Magazine for $6,000. McQueen himself even asked to buy the car back in 1977, but as Mustang owners know, it is easy to become attached to the vehicle. While the whereabouts of this car became a sort of mystery to enthusiasts everywhere, it remained, although primarily unused, with the Kiernan family the entire time. Although the car is estimated to now be worth around $5 million, it is not for sale. Kiernan says he will share it with other car lovers via a “World Tour” and museum appearances.
6. Mustangs of all makes and years have been seen in movies, including many geeky favorites. There was a “futurized” 1980s Mustang in Back to the Future II, a gold-painted 1964 Mustang in the James Bond classic Goldfinger, a Shelby GT starred as the new “KITT” in the 2008 revamp of Knight Rider, and a post-apocalyptic “Frankenstein’s Monster” killer car was featured in Death Race just to name of few. In all, sources such as the Internet Movie Cars Database estimate Mustangs have been featured in more than 500 movies from John Wick to The Princess Diaries. If you add television shows, according to Automotive News, it has made more than 3,300 appearances on-screen.
7. In 2016, the latest film in the Transformers franchise, Transformers: The Last Knight, introduced the new look for the “Bad Cop” car, Barricade, featuring a 2015 Mustang body. When Barricade made his appearance in the original film, he was a 2005 Saleen Mustang. The car used in the film sold at auction in 2009 for around $30,000.
8. There is much speculation as to the inspiration for the name “Mustang.” One plausible inspiration was the World War II-era fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang. Another rumor in car circles concerns naming the car in honor of the mascot of Southern Methodist University, others say it was simply named for the swift horse, or perhaps it was just picked out of a list of names. According to Automotive News, one executive said the name “Mustang” rose to the top because “because it had the excitement of wide open spaces and was American as all hell.” Whatever it’s origin, the name Mustang inspired an entire style of muscle cars of several makes dubbed collectively as “Pony Cars.”
9.The 50th anniversary of the Mustang inspired a documentary based on the Mustang’s place in Americana, A Faster Horse. The documentary is directed by David Gelb, who directed and produced the Netflix series Chef’s Table.
10. Fans of automotive designer Carroll Shelby, known for his work helping to create Shelby Mustangs and Ford Cobras, can purchase another of his creations for less than $5, but they have to go to a grocery to store. Carroll Shelby’s Chili Mix is based on the chili recipe he used during his racing days.
11. In 2016, the car site CarWow came up with their choices of what cars Marvel’s and DC’s superheroes might drive, a list that circulated throughout several car and pop culture sites. The one who got the Mustang was Captain America, a GT350R to be exact. Wonder Woman, by the way, would drive a Lamborghini Huracán, and Deadpool a Ford Fusion.
12. Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally,” is probably the most famous Mustang song written, but USA Today found at least 50 songs about or mentioning the Mustang as of 2014, ranging from Chuck Berry (“My Ford Mustang”) to Primus (“De Anza Jig”).
13. McQueen, who was so into cars and motorcycles he once said “I’m not sure whether I’m an actor who races or a racer who acts,” was the obvious choice for the name of Pixar’s Cars franchise leading man, Lightning McQueen, but Lighting wasn’t directly based on any particular make. There is a classic 1964½ Mustang found in Cars 2, however, via the character Brent Mustangburger (voiced by sports broadcaster Brent Musburger). Yes, you can buy a toy figure of him.
14. In 2015 Mustang parts company CJ Pony Parts released a video speculating what cars each of the classic Star Wars characters would drive. Han Solo, of course, would drive the “old school muscle” of a beat up 1967 Mustang. “She may not look like much, but she’s go it where it counts, kid.”
15. CJ Pony Parts updated the list in December 2017, just before the release of The Last Jedi, to include the rides of choice for new characters such as Rey (who has a Jeep Wrangler), Finn (an Audi), Captain Phasma (an F-350 truck), and BB-8, who, for some reason, likes Fiats. Many of the characters in the original list have even changed their rides of choice, but Han would still drive the Mustang.
Some people may think Mustangs are overrated, others have an allegiance to another car make, and some simply can’t fathom anyone geeking out about cars in any way at all.
That’s okay. At the very least I hoped you learned some fun things.
As McQueen said in Bullitt: “You believe what you want. You work your side of the street and I’ll work mine.”