Steve Turner
Former Editor, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
July 7, 2014
Photos By: Al Rogers

Though they are rare examples of the breed, the modern-day Roush Mustangs are well-established members of the Mustang community. They wear unique bodywork, upgraded suspensions, and some even feature Roush superchargers. These cars have their own fan base, their own web sites, and they are justifiably held in high regard. It's hard to imagine a time when you couldn't buy a Roush-prepped Mustang. However, in the mid-'90s, Roush was just starting to dabble with building Mustang parts for consumers and not just contracting directly for Ford Motor Company. Terry Karges was the company's director of sales and marketing, and he oversaw the development, testing, and marketing of the first Roush Stage 3 Mustang, which you see in front of you.

It was from humble beginnings that the Roush Mustang program was born. The company had developed a unique dual-plenum intake and a trick trunk-mounted tool kit and pitched them to Ford for inclusion on a factory program. At the time Ford was switching gears from pushrod 5.0-liters to the modular engine family, and the Blue Oval ended up passing on both products. It was that fateful decision that encouraged Roush to make a move into selling aftermarket parts.

Unseen, but a major part of the Stage 2 and Stage 3 packages, is the suspension that sets this stance. On production cars it is made up of Koni dampers, Roush springs, and a Roush rear sway bar, but this prototype unit features Bilstein dampers.

As rumblings of this move made the rounds, Terry Karges was working at a manufacturer named Cord Automotive on the West Coast. Cord specialized in OE interior and exterior parts. He had occasion to cross paths with newly minted Roush Director of Business Development, Ed Wayland. The pair discussed the idea of selling the two products, but it was Terry that presented the vision that it was cars that Roush needed to sell, not parts. Of course the former would help sell the latter, but his idea seemed to resonate with Roush. “I decided if Roush was going to get into that business no one could compete with them,” Terry said.

He helped introduce Roush to aftermarket manufacturers that could offer products to complement the Roush offerings. Soon Roush was test-fitting parts on an old V-6, and then they would start working on a prototype vehicle based on a '94 GT. Of course, Terry encouraged them to develop a body kit, as that was in Cord's wheelhouse. However, his introductions also brought the suspension, exhaust, and other parts into the picture to build a complete car. The program took shape much faster than Roush had imagined. “The very first car that we built was Old Blue,” Terry said. “It was used initially to call on dealers to show them what the car was like.”

Along the way, Terry negotiated the rights to the Roush distribution west of the Mississippi. He would eventually join the company as an employee, but in the meantime he traversed western United States from Washington State to Texas selling the Roush vehicle program. He made this trip at least twice in Old Blue. The car served as his daily driver, and in its spare time it was used for demonstration rides and drives.

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The interior of this first Stage 3 is not exactly factory, it’s been upgraded with the later Roush seating, but it still wears its Roush signature plate of authenticity on the dash. The plate labels the car as number 15, but it is actually the first Roush Stage 3 ever constructed. Despite that, the early production numbers were saved for production customer cars. Old Blue is the prototype used for development, testing, media drives, and promotions. The Hurst handle is attached to a Roush shifter base on the factory five-speed.

Tommy Kendall rocketed dealers around Sears Point Raceway in it, and members of the Motor Press Guild gave it a thrashing at their media-day drives in Southern California and around the track at Elkhart Lake. The car even acted as the Pace car for the Los Angeles Gran Prix run through the downtown streets. Old Blue racked up well over 140,000 hard miles before Terry sold it to Jack Miller, owner of the Miller's Ale House restaurant chain. Jack added it to his vast collection, which includes many modern Roush Mustangs, in the aptly named Miller's Mustang Barn in Jupiter, Florida.

Roush must have been onto something, because at the time Terry started pitching Old Blue, the company had no dealers and the biggest tuner at the time had over 100 dealers. By the time Terry left Roush to join the Petersen Museum as its executive director in 2010, the roles had reversed. Roush was the big man on the tuner Mustang campus with over 500 dealers. Terry credits the perseverance of Roush's Evan Lyall and Joe Thompson for seeing the program through from its beginnings with Old Blue though the leaner years and to its success today. However, it's hard to imagine the program reaching the lofty levels it has today without Terry suggesting that it was cars that they really needed to sell.