Celebrating Ford's Mustang - A Legend Turns 50
Celebrating Ford’s Mustang in Vegas and Charlotte
Having been in this hobby for nearly 30 years, I’ve attended every major Ford/Mustang event milestone you can think of except for the 100th anniversary of Ford Motor Company back in 2003 (and I still kick myself for not going!). From the Mustang Club of America’s (MCA) own 20th and 30th birthday celebrations to the 30th, 35th, 40th, and 45th birthday events for the Mustang, I’ve been there and taken in the sights, seen the cars, and literally got the T-shirt. I didn’t always bring a car (took my ’90 to the MCA 20th and my ’66 to the 40th in Nashville), but I always enjoyed each event.
So as the books closed on the 45th celebration in Birmingham at Barber Motorsports Park back in 2009, the MCA knew that they had little time for rest with the Mustang’s big Five-O coming in just five years. Five years might sound like an eternity (as we’ve seen restorations take longer!) but from the vast amount of planning, committee meetings, venue decisions, and more that need to take place in order to have these big birthday events every five years, there’s literally no time to waste. From the 50th show chair of Ron Bramlett, through the MCA board members and on down, it is a huge undertaking. Throw in the decision to split the event into two separate locations, with the hopes of alleviating the long drive for some from the west coast to the east coast, working with Ford corporate, and more, these people, all volunteers mind you, had a huge task in front of them.
The 50th event shaped up to be the big show you didn’t want to miss (sort of like the Ford 100th, but I digress). Two huge event venues, both with open track activities, vendors galore, a huge midway of show cars, and several event-specific plans—a half-marathon in Vegas and a Guinness record attempt Mustang cruise in Charlotte. Plans started early, but Ford couldn’t commit until much later in the planning. As Dave Pericak stated at the Charlotte venue’s Saturday evening banquet, five years is a lifetime at Ford and planning/commitments for events often fall into a 12-month or less window. So Ford’s commitment came a bit late in the planning, but once they were on board it was full steam ahead with plans for a 50-year Mustang display, Ford ride-and-drive program, Ford Racing performance vehicle ride-alongs, Vaughn Gittin Jr. drift sessions, and more for each venue. Ford sent many Team Mustang members to both locations along with the 2015 Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition model to be unveiled simultaneously in Vegas and Charlotte (Vegas showed the Kona Blue edition while Charlotte displayed the Wimbledon White model).
Even with five years of planning, no event will be perfect. Though we heard many complaints about long waits for registration—let’s face it, having 3,000 Mustang owners show up on the same day to pick up credentials, there’s bound to be a wait—some things were simply out of the MCA’s control. We heard Vegas was very hot and dry for April, while Charlotte was unseasonably cold and a constant rain that began Friday night literally made Saturday a wash-out. Charlotte Motor Speedway staff even turned away attendees due to lack of asphalt parking spaces in the soggy infield. Read on for reports on both venues from our staff and freelancers who were in attendance, and we’ll see you at the 55th for sure!
Wet and Wild at CharlotteExpecting winter to be over, it was quite a shock to the system to arrive in Charlotte with temperatures in the low-40s. Even some of the Pony Drive participants saw snow at the Asheville, NC stop! The brisk morning air turned a bit warmer Thursday afternoon and show-goers shed their anniversary Mustang jackets in favor of past event or club T-shirts. We heard several complaints at breakfast about hour-plus lines to pick up registration packets. While inconvenient, we understand this is an all-volunteer run venue and it is extremely hard to accommodate such large numbers all arriving on the same day. Perhaps mailing the packets out or staggering arrival dates may help for future events. Though I don’t think we’ll see as big an attendance number at the 55th (maybe the 75th!).
The opening ceremonies on Thursday saw a video welcome message on the track’s jumbo screen from Bob Fria, noted ’64½ historian and published author, as well as Lee Iacocca to get things underway. William Clay Ford arrive trackside in the ’15 Mustang 50 Year Limited Edition model, driven by Chief Engineer for Mustang, Dave Pericak, and noted Ford employees and event officials such as Ron Bramlett, show chairman, and John Clor, Ford Performance Group’s Communications Manager attended.
Friday morning broke with another overcast day and chilly weather, however, unlike Thursday the sun never broke through the clouds and I swore it got colder as the day wore on. Cold or not, the crowds were impressive, and the vendors packed; best of all most seemed to have forgotten about the long registration lines. A visit to the paddock and you could grab a test drive in a new Ford or taken a “right seat” ride in a Ford Racing-equipped product like the Shelby GT 500, Boss 302, or even a Focus ST! The garage was full of track-ready owners driving everything from early hardtops to the latest Mustang GT 500s and Boss 302s.
Friday night the rain began to fall, and come day break on Saturday the clouds were still dropping the wet stuff all over Charlotte, keeping a lot of the Mustang owners off-site. While the foot traffic was light on Saturday, the rain didn’t deter the track action. Most drivers were prepared with optional rain tires on the dedicated race cars (like past MCA President Bill Dillard’s FR500S Mustang) and even Vaughn Gittin, who had blessed the Vegas event with his famous drift Mustang “smoke show” on Friday, was on track Saturday charging hard with his sideways antics in his ’14 Mustang drift car. We were lucky enough (or is that crazy enough?) to get strapped into the passenger seat with Vaughn for one of his drift demos too! You can check out our story and video on that bit of wet fun on our website at www.mustang-360.com.
Sunday was decidedly one of the best weather days of the event with warmer temps and not a rain drop to be had. Sadly, the damage was done with Saturday’s wet and cold. Even with the MORE parking lot attendees moved to inside the speedway, most people would hazard a guess of just 500 cars on Sunday. A far cry from nearly 3,000 cars the event hosted earlier in the week. A true shame, though we do understand that many people use Sunday as a travel day to get back home in time for work on Monday. —Mark Houlahan
Heating up in Las VegasMustang’s 50th Anniversary has been an event so many of us have anticipated for decades. To give perspective, this scriber’s journalism career began at the Mustang’s 20th Anniversary in 1984 at Mustang Monthly magazine when Ford began to take the Mustang’s legacy and following seriously. It did a special limited-production 20th Anniversary Mustang, bucking 5,260 of them at Dearborn. What’s more, Ford took the time to shoot a special 20th anniversary portrait with 5F08F100001 and an ’84 20th Anniversary car to celebrate. This was 30 years ago.
A lot of pavement, untold mileage, and five anniversaries have passed since 1984 and here we are at the 50th—a half-century of Mustang memories where the Mustang means a little something different to each of us. For the very young, a ’65 Mustang is a virtual antique that rolled off a very dated assembly line long before they were born. For those of us with character lines and gray temples, the Mustang’s original introduction remains a slice of genuine American magic that first hit the airwaves in mid-April of 1964. Mustang was an exciting entry into a new kind of sporty car nearly anyone could afford. It was sexy, spirited, and everyone had to have one.
On hand for the festivities in Vegas were Hal Sperlich, the Mustang’s original product planner at Ford who gave spirited, emotional speeches for those of us fortunate enough to see him. Mustang Historian and book author Bob Fria spoke with the same kind of emotion because he is so passionate about the subject. An exhausted event chairman, Ron Bramlett, who had flown back to Charlotte, got trapped in an airport, and finally got back to Vegas, spoke to the masses. Lee Iacocca’s assistant, Norma Saken, spoke on Mr. Iacocca’s behalf along with his granddaughter, Molly. Of course, Carroll Shelby was remembered by many for his vast contributions to the Mustang’s history. Rick Titus, son of the late racing legend Jerry Titus, kept the crowds laughing. Mustang’s 50th at Las Vegas was a long weekend that will long be remembered for as many reasons as there were people in attendance. —Jim Smart
April in Las Vegas proved typically warm, but not hot. The MCA had the entire Las Vegas Motor Speedway for four days, Thursday, April 17 through Sunday the 20th. Thousands of Mustang enthusiasts attended, including people from many different countries. However, the 50th in Vegas was, as one enthusiast told me, “a jaw-dropping, lackluster event.”
Overall, the consensus among Mustang people is organizers really dropped the ball on this show. The arrangement of the cars in the parking lot outside the oval was not much different than going to a cruise night—just no food or entertainment here.
On the positive side the weather was balmy. Parking was ample. There were about 2,000 Mustangs, is my guess. People gathered from different parts of the globe—United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Mexico, Canada, Australia, Puerto Rico, and even Aruba. The open track held Thursday, Friday, and Saturday, was a class act. —Jerry Heasley