Mustang Monthly magazine turns 40!
Taking a look at four decades of Mustang Monthly history
Four decades is a long time for anything. Owning the same car, being married to the same person, heck, working at the same job even! So it’s no easy feat when you celebrate 40 years of something. In this case, we’re celebrating 40 years of the magazine you’re holding in your hands right now (and if you’re reading this on Mustang-360.com, we’re referring to 40 years of publishing Mustang Monthly magazine).
Mustang Monthly rose up from humble beginnings in 1977 to become one of the most widely known and respected monthly Mustang-based magazines ever published. Other Mustang magazines have come along and joined our corporate family as sister titles through various buyouts and mergers, and still others only lasted a few years trying to steal a slice of the Mustang pie, only to find out Mustang Monthly is one tough cookie to crack!
Larry Dobbs, an advertising sales exec at Lakeland newspaper The Ledger, was an avid Mustang fan. He envisioned a Hemmings-like magazine for cars and parts classifieds that was focused solely on Mustangs. Creating a buy-sell-trade magazine called the Mustang Exchange Newsletter, he gained 92 subscribers by the time the first issue went out. The subscription money barely paid the print bill and mailing, but Larry knew he had something. He came home from his Ledger advertising job to his wife Judy, who had just given birth to their first son, and announced he had quit his job to build the magazine business! To say Judy was shocked would be the understatement of 1978. She had recently resigned her position as well to be a full-time stay-at-home mom, and now they had no income to speak of with three mouths to feed, along with a mortgage and all the other bills a growing home has. With a $5,000 second mortgage on their home, Larry set out on a path that would find him, time and time again, in the right place at the right time.
That first issue of the Mustang Exchange Newsletter, dated February 1978, was the beginning of what would eventually become Mustang Monthly. The magazine was a classified-type book, having mostly ads for Mustangs for sale, Mustang parts, and events. Remember, this was the late 1970s, and there was no such thing as Craigslist or eBay then. You had to subscribe to or buy a magazine to find parts you needed. Larry’s magazine offered free classified ads to subscribers, which helped the subscriber list grow, but after hearing about a similar classified book, John Paradise’s Super Ford Parts Exchange, Larry changed the name to Mustang Monthly to prevent any confusion between the two books. Later, as Larry’s publishing empire grew, one of his acquisitions was that very title, which became Super Ford magazine.
After the first 20 issues had been printed on a newsprint-type format Larry made the next big leap, converting Mustang Monthly to a true magazine style with a color cover and glossy magazine paper inside. The change also introduced true car feature stories, event coverage, and more. However, as Larry’s publishing company grew he found little time to run the day-to-day of Mustang Monthly, and felt it was time to hire a full-time editor. He didn’t have to look much further than his first major writing contributor at the time—Donald Farr. Larry asked Donald to move to Florida and be Mustang Monthly’s first editor. As you will see in the editor sidebars elsewhere in this 40-year retrospective, Donald would be called back to run Mustang Monthly from the editor’s chair several times over the next three decades. Donald’s story on Mustang Monthly’s 35th anniversary in 2013 can be viewed here, and is a great read since Donald was personally there for so much of it: Defining Moments In Mustang Monthly History.
Donald, currently the editor for the Mustang Club of America’s Mustang Times, would later move into the role of editorial director for Dobbs Publishing Group (DPG), opening the Mustang Monthly editor’s chair for a second time in 1984. Jim Smart would fill the position for roughly 2½ years before moving on to bigger and better things. Ironically, Jim returned on staff for Mustang Monthly in the early 2000s (splitting his work schedule with sister title Mustang & Fords), and today is back with TEN as a staff editor for Super Chevy—of all things!
When Jim vacated the role of editor for Mustang Monthly, Donald stepped in to keep things moving forward. With production and printing deadlines being hard and fast with little room for delays, it was imperative someone with experience fill in the gaps between editors. Donald was the perfect person to do so, even though at times he was the editor of a different Dobbs title such as Super Ford or Mustang & Fords. Once again, Larry, and now Donald as well, found their new editor by looking at a current contributor to Mustang Monthly—Tom Corcoran.
Tom was a well-traveled photographer and author at the time, having spent time on Jimmy Buffet’s tours as a photographer, co-writing song lyrics, and generally living a life we’d all kill for. However, as the owner of a classic Mustang he enjoyed Mustang Monthly, and enjoyed his time contributing to it. So it was only natural to bring him in as Mustang Monthly’s next editor. Tom would take the magazine forward with a classy and formal feel to the writing style, giving the magazine an upscale feel as it showcased concours Mustangs. Yours truly came on board in 1992 under Corcoran’s editorship, and I remember fondly his talks about how to be a better writer and what Mustang Monthly meant to its readers. Tom would leave Mustang Monthly in 1994 to pursue self-published works, with his main work being the “Alex Rutledge” Key West mystery series. (Rutledge drives a classic Shelby Mustang by the way!)
After another short stint keeping Mustang Monthly moving ahead, Donald Farr once again handed the editor’s chair over. This time it was to Jerry Pitt. Jerry came from the “eight-hundred-pound gorilla” that was Petersen Publishing. Yep, THAT Petersen Publishing—home to Hot Rod, Motor Trend, and countless others that defined automotive magazine publishing. Jerry had recently moved into the editor’s chair for Petersen’s Mustang & Fords magazine when the Northridge earthquake of 1994 scared Jerry’s wife enough to consider moving out of California. DPG just so happened to have an open editor’s chair at Mustang Monthly when Jerry came calling, and the rest is history. Jerry brought many great ideas with him from Petersen, and after just nine months as editor of Mustang Monthly he would move into the editorial director role for DPG.
Rob Reaser began his Dobbs career in the company’s in-house photo developing lab. Handling black-and-white film processing, printing, and even photography needs, Rob was an indispensable staffer for all of the DPG titles. However, with a journalism background as well, he yearned to be on the content side of things creating stories. He moved into the managing editor role of Mustang Monthly in the early ’90s, and had enough experience to tackle the editor’s chair when Pitt moved up the ladder. Rob’s down-home demeanor meant he got along with everyone, and he worked the editor’s chair well. He probably would have been in the chair longer than the15 months that he was if it wasn’t for Rob following his other big passion—off-roading adventures in Jeeps. He formulated a business plan to launch a Jeep-only magazine, titled Jp Magazine, and went to Larry Dobbs with it. Larry, always looking for new publishing ideas, liked Rob’s plan and let him run with it. Today, Jp Magazine is still part of TEN’s long list of brands, but it meant Rob would vacate the editor’s chair at Mustang Monthly.
With the chair open once again, Pitt and others put out the word that Dobbs was looking for an editor for Mustang Monthly. One of DPG’s sales reps mentioned the opening to Jeff Ford. Jeff had an art background, and had been building ads for one of his clients to place in a DPG magazine. Jeff was a huge Mustang enthusiast and had read Mustang Monthly since the early ’80s as a teenager. Much like the movie Rock Star, Jeff would apply for his dream job as editor of Mustang Monthly—even though he felt there were others more qualified, both within DPG and abroad, and was hired mainly due to his enthusiasm. It was just another way Larry Dobbs grew his company with hardworking and enthusiastic people with a passion for Mustangs (or Corvettes, or Mopars, etc.). Larry would often say you can teach a person to take a photo or to write a story, but you can’t teach someone passion or enthusiasm.
Jeff had a nice, long, comfortable stint as editor for Mustang Monthly. Over the years his personal build of his 1972 Mach 1 was welcomed as something new (the 1971-1973 Mustangs had a polar following at the time), and Jeff also introduced the “Pony Trails” concept of getting out and driving your Mustang, either to a larger event or just a round-trip from one location to another and back. Soon Jeff was flying all over the United States to major events like the Carlisle Ford Nationals, Mid-America Ford and Shelby Nationals, Mustangs Northwest’s show, and he did more planning and executing Pony Trail driving events, which would then be published in future issues of Mustang Monthly. To this day Pony Trail events are still happening at many of these events. Jeff would later move to the editor’s chair of Mustang & Fords so that Donald, who had left the company to pursue other interests, could return as the editor of Mustang Monthly again in 2003.
Donald would remain at Mustang Monthly until 2014 when our Tampa, Florida, office was shuttered in a round of layoffs and brand mergers. After over 20 years with the company, most of them on Mustang Monthly, I finally became the editor of Mustang Monthly myself in February 2014. I would only be editor for eight months due to corporate mandates on management positions being staffed in California (I was still in Florida and declined to move), and I stepped down in September 2014 when they hired Rob Kinnan, a former Petersen editor who was past editor of Hot Rod and other titles. Rob’s time as editor comes at an interesting time when we push all content to our website and social channels while working to produce more video content as well, though the print product is still a very important aspect of what Mustang Monthly is due to our demographics.
It was April 1, 1998, when the Dobbs employees were asked to meet at a local hotel conference center for a companywide meeting. It was there that Larry announced that he had sold Dobbs Publishing Group to Petersen Publishing. Being April 1, we all assumed it was an April Fool’s joke of some sort, as Larry was always quite proud of the fact that the big publishing companies were always chasing after us and trying to play “catch-up,” to the point of even launching their own Mustang titles. Sadly, the decision was made at a personal level since neither of his two sons had any interest in the company, and Larry was looking towards retirement. The sale to Petersen was just the beginning of a string of buyouts over the next decade and a half.
Emap (East Midland Allied Press), a huge British publishing company founded in 1947, was looking to get into the U.S. market. Emap purchased Petersen Publishing in 1999 and branded it Emap Petersen. Yes, Mustang Monthly was owned by the British group that sells men’s magazines like FHM. Two years later in 2001, hemorrhaging money as it failed to understand the U.S. magazine buyer, Emap sold its U.S. division to Primedia (who had already purchased automotive niche publisher McMullen/Argus).
By 2007, Primedia, who had put a lot of money, time, and effort into the whole “dot.com” craze, decided to sell what it called its “Enthusiast Media” division to Source Interlink Co., unloading its traditional print titles in an effort to regroup (once again) and make some money for its shareholders. Source Interlink Co. launched Source Interlink Media to run its new purchase. In 2014, Source Interlink Media rebranded itself TEN: The Enthusiast Network, as it restructured and folded similar magazines together while launching combined online networks versus an individual website for each print title.
Today, just three years into the new TEN, a joint venture to build new digital content including streaming and on-demand services with Discovery Communications has launched, with a big announcement and co-branded display booths at the 2017 SEMA Show. Mustang Monthly’s print brand is still part of TEN, while the content production side is part of TEN: A Discovery Communications Company. Mustang Monthly is certainly one of the stronger brands that has survived several buyouts and mergers, and is still going strong today—and with Discovery’s resources alongside, who knows, maybe we’ll see a “Mustang TV” on Discovery or Velocity some day? I for one would love to see Mustang Monthly present that!
In the early days of publishing Mustang Monthly the cover was often the only color imagery you’d find. Through the decades you’d see more and more car features printed in color, and then eventually the whole magazine, from tech and departments to events and car features, would all be printed in full color. However, it was the cover that was the most important, from a newsstand sales standpoint; that’s what grabbed your potential buyer’s attention. Over the years Mustang Monthly has had some unbelievable covers that have done very well. As you look through the years you’ll see early on the popular theme was static images, often using models holding parts, or a Mustang half sticking out of a garage or shop door. Later, more imaginative covers would come to fruition such as large event photos, and even covers that had nothing but an emblem or Mustang running horse on them.
With the advent of better camera equipment and digital technology, Mustang Monthly moved into the “action cover” realm with car-to-car photography. Images of sharp Mustangs driving down the road, the asphalt and the Mustang’s wheels showing motion; it was a real “get it out and drive” vibe with these covers. You can also see the evolution of the Mustang Monthly logo over the years as well. From the original logo through the “checkerboard flag” logo, and on to today’s logo, you’ll see some common themes and designs that come and go, such as the “logo in a box” design.
The License Plates
Like any magazine at the time, license plates with the magazine’s logo were super popular for events, and were provided to feature car owners when their Mustang was photographed. While never available for sale, those who have been able to score one display them proudly on their garage wall or on the front of their Mustang. Here is a brief history of the Mustang Monthly license plate. How many of them do you have?
Originally, Mustang Monthly catered strictly to the 1965-1973 Mustang crowd. Known as the first-gen Mustang, these Mustangs were barely used cars when Larry started the magazine. The early years featured event coverage, car features, and tech articles on things that some of us may feel are common Mustang knowledge these days, such as telling a 1964½ from a 1965, and other “ID” articles.
Each editor put his own style and spin on the content of course, but each and every one of them were smart enough to listen to Mustang Monthly’s audience and newsstand sales numbers to create the best mix possible of content that readers would enjoy and would ultimately sell magazines. In the late 1980s, a trickle of new late-model content would be featured, mainly comparisons of new versus old, or a review of the then-polarizing 1987 Mustang GT and its new aero nose.
As Mustang Monthly entered its second decade, we saw more pages added along with more color. A dedicated late-model section, titled 5.0 Power, was added to allow more late-model content without upsetting the classic reader. The thought being that they don’t have to read this section and can simply stop on the last page of classic content. For the most part it worked, but as more and more classic owners bought late-model Mustangs as daily drivers, the audience transitioned to wanting more late-model content. Later, going into its third decade, the early Fox cars had been around long enough that Mustang Monthly started restoration-type content on these cars, coming full circle if you will.
Much of the content found in Mustang Monthly has been repurposed over the years in special volumes of Mustang Monthly Presents how-to books and other single-issue publications (SIPs). Today, our Shelby annual, while technically an SIP, features exclusive content only found in the Shelby annual and not anywhere else, not even on Mustang-360.com.
The Next 40 Years
It’s been a long and interesting adventure; that is certain. These last 40 years have seen Mustang fads come and go, modern Mustangs overtake the show field, and classic Mustang owners we’ve known for decades sadly are no longer with us; many with no family members who are interested in taking on the stewardship of owning a classic Mustang. Getting the youth involved at all levels is paramount to not only the hobby’s survival, but the very survival of Mustang Monthly as well. The current generation absorbs content in different ways. While we have seen a decline in print, it is far from dead. Moving forward with digital initiatives like Mustang-360.com, our social channels on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and shooting video with just about everything we do now guarantees that the previous, current, and future generations can all enjoy Mustang Monthly and the Mustang hobby in the way that they prefer. So as long as people own Mustangs we’ll be here for the next 40 years (or more!) to produce the content that they want to read and view in the format that they prefer. We’re still here four decades later, and there’s no pasture in sight for us to be put out to! Forward we go!
Larry Dobbs, February 1978–September 1980
During the1970s the Mustang craze was beginning to sweep the country. I had recently done an amateur restoration on a ’65 Mustang convertible and caught the Mustang fever.
Then, one Sunday morning, our church’s pastor posed a challenge to the young people in the congregation to step out in faith and start their own business. On the way home, I told my wife, “I think he was talking to me. I’m going to quit my job and start a Mustang magazine.” Judy was expecting our first child and had resigned her job to become a full-time mom and homemaker. We had no savings, a mortgage, a van payment, ongoing monthly bills, and now three mouths to feed. She wasn’t nearly as excited as I was.
There was already a Mustang magazine, Mustang News. Nevertheless, I decided to start a second Mustang magazine. Not having any money, I went to the bank and took out a second mortgage on our home. I had faith, courage, and lots of immaturity.
Coming from an advertising background, I knew nothing about writing or photography, so I decided to publish an advertising-only newsletter. I named the new publication, Mustang Exchange Letter. For only $7.00 a year subscribers got 12 monthly issues of a black-and-white, quick-printed newsletter. They could advertise their Mustang or Mustang parts for sale, at no cost. The very first issue was February 1978.
After two issues, I changed the name to Mustang Monthly (April 1978.) It wasn’t until October 1979, that the magazine got a glossy cover and began to look like an actual magazine. Subscribers were increasing, and it appeared the magazine had a future. But it was still rough going financially. We literally lived issue-to-issue to pay the bills.
That’s when I got a call from Bob Page, publisher and owner of Mustang News. Bob told me he wanted to get into the Mustang parts business and said if I’d fulfill the existing subscriptions to Mustang News, he’d give me his magazine. At that time I only had about a thousand subscribers, and Bob’s magazine had nearly 4,000. Some things you don’t have to pray about, so I gladly agreed!
The instant growth was a tremendous blessing. I could now afford to hire a real editor, someone who had writing and photography skills. I somehow convinced Donald Farr to resign from his family’s feed, seed, and fertilizer business and move from Union, South Carolina, to Lakeland, Florida, and become the first true editor of Mustang Monthly.
Then late one Friday afternoon, my secretary came into my office and told me there was a fellow in the lobby from Hot Rod magazine who wanted to see me. He told me that the upcoming issue of Hot Rod was going to be a special Mustangs-only issue. (This was before Hot Rod launched their Mustang magazine.) He said the advertiser who had the annual contract for the back cover of Hot Rod didn’t sell Mustang products and wanted to skip the special Mustang issue. He said he was giving me first choice for the back cover. I said, “Sure, how much does it cost?” His answer floored me: “Only $20,000!” Remember, that was nearly forty years ago. “But, not to worry,” he told me, “as you won’t have to pay for the ad until the magazine goes on sale.” I thought, “Man, nearly a million people read Hot Rod! So, I did what any foolish, risk-taking entrepreneur would do; I agreed to purchase Hot Rod’s back cover for $20,000.
Over the next two months, until that special Mustang issue went on sale, my life was filled with prayer and anticipation. On the day it went on sale, I went to the post office with high expectations. Inside my post office box there was only one magazine subscription, with a $10 check enclosed, and a $20,000 invoice from Hot Rod magazine. Needless to say, I was devastated.
Thankfully, a few days later, I got a call from my postman telling me to come to the post office to pick up eight large mailbags. Hallelujah…that day alone, circulation doubled! In the years to come, readership continued to grow and eventually Mustang Monthly became America’s number-one marque-specific automotive magazine.
I, first, credit God for our success. Also, the following editor’s testimonials are possible because of the magnificent team of writers and contributors, superb creative artists, photographers, and production staff, along with excellent advertising sales and circulation professionals, all of whom played a major role in our success. Most of all, thank you! Mustang Monthly’s loyal and dedicated readers! Warm regards, I’ll see you down the road.
—Larry Dobbs, founding editor and publisher of Mustang Monthly magazine
Today Larry does some consulting work and teaches a class on LifeSkills (relationship & leadership training) at his local church.
Donald Farr, October 1980–May 1984, January 1987–August 1987, April 1994–June 1994, May 2003–February 2014
Mustang Monthly changed my life. With one phone call from Larry Dobbs in early 1980, I went from working in my father’s South Carolina feed store to typing articles in central Florida as the editor of a magazine devoted to my favorite car. Without that phone call, I doubt that I would be sitting here today reflecting on a nearly 40-year career as an editor, writer, photographer, and book author specializing in Mustangs.
Accepting Larry’s offer, I ignored the obvious risks of joining a very small, very new publisher of a very niche car magazine with less than 5,000 subscribers at the time. However, I recognized—perhaps unknowingly at the time—Larry’s determination and passion to succeed. Even as I lugged my IBM Selectric into my new Mustang Monthly office, Larry was creating a black-and-white ad for a big-dollar gamble to promote Mustang Monthly in Hot Rod. Apparently, we were at the right place, at the right time, publishing the right magazine. Checks poured in and Mustang Monthly’s circulation doubled in a matter of weeks.
I would be closely involved with Mustang Monthly, as editor or editorial director, for the better part of the next 34 years. While hauling feed in the 1970s, I never imagined that I would one day have the opportunity to interview Lee Iacocca and Carroll Shelby, drive new press cars like the SVO and 5.0-liter Fox Mustangs, dig for original Mustang photos in the basement of Ford World Headquarters, or hobnob with my heroes at the SEMA Show. Some other highlights:
-A Detroit friend snuck me into the Dearborn Assembly Plant as his “electrician’s apprentice.” We spent several hours roaming the plant as partially assembled Fox-body Mustangs and Capris rolled by.
-In 1984, I learned that the first serialized Mustang, VIN 100001, was stored in the basement at the Henry Ford Museum. When I requested a cover photo with a 1984 20th Anniversary Mustang, the Wimbledon White 1964½ convertible was brought out into the light of day for the first time in many years. Twenty years later, I was back in Dearborn to photograph 100001 during the Mustang’s 40th anniversary. The opportunity to drive the historic Mustang is something I’ll never forget.
-Like other Mustang fans, I was outraged in 1987 when word leaked out that Ford was planning to replace the Fox body with a front-wheel-drive Mazda platform. So I wrote a Mustang Monthly editorial, providing an address for then-Ford president Donald Petersen and encouraging readers to send letters with a note: “No Japanese Mustang!” I really don’t know how effective it was, but I was honored when Ford’s John Coletti, who spearheaded the development of the SN-95 Mustang, credited those letters as one of the reasons that Ford changed its mind about the front-wheel-drive Mustang.
Back in 1980, Larry Dobbs couldn’t afford to hire an experienced journalist, and I wasn’t experienced enough to catch on with an established automotive magazine publisher. Like Mustang Monthly, I was in the right place at the right time.
Jim Smart, June 1984–December 1986
In the winter of 1983-1984 I was an aspiring young freelance writer working for Perdue Farms on Maryland’s Eastern Shore as a diesel and refrigeration technician on refrigerated trailers after a stint in the USAF. As I wrenched on Thermo King refrigeration units and kept Perdue chicken rolling to stores and distribution centers all over the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, I had this fantasy about writing for a living. I wanted it badly.
Former Mustang Monthly Editor Donald Farr handed me my first paid article, “What to Do If Your Mustang Is Stolen”. He sent me a check for $350. I bought my first 35mm SLR camera with that money and started writing for Donald on a more regular basis. I learned a lot from Donald about how to be a good writer and photographer.
It was both exciting and dreamy. I was becoming a writer.
I was working the night shift at Perdue and was deep asleep when the phone rang the following morning. It was bitter cold outside. My baseboard electric heaters were humming away. I was buried beneath a nice, warm blanket. I answered the phone. It was Donald asking me if I’d like to interview for a position at Mustang Monthly. When the wheels of the Delta DC-9 left Runway 28 at Baltimore’s BWI Airport on a brisk January morning in 1984, I had no idea my life was about to change forever.
Donald picked me up at Tampa Airport. We headed to Lakeland in his Ford Escort wagon. During a brief stop at the Burger King in Plant City, Donald informed me they needed an editor for Mustang Monthly. He was about to launch Popular & Performance Car Review (today Muscle Car Review) and would be vacating the Mustang Monthly’s editor’s chair.
The following Monday, Larry Dobbs, founder of Dobbs Publishing Group and Mustang Monthly, offered me the editor’s job. It was surreal. I was scared to death. What the heck did I know about editing a magazine? I was so frightened I became nauseous on the plane ride back to Baltimore. I just knew I couldn’t do it. And imagine if I hadn’t taken the job.
I would be Mustang Monthly’s editor for two and a half years before moving on to a failed Mustang parts business venture in St. Louis in 1987. The time I spent at Mustang Monthly in the mid-1980s was a terrific learning experience. Donald did his best to share what he knew about publishing with me. I learned a lot from him and our publisher, Howard Buck. Both men have become dear lifelong friends in the years since. I will be forever grateful to both of them for what I’ve learned.
Fast-forward to the late 1990s when Petersen Publishing Company acquired the Dobbs Publishing Group and Mustang Monthly was thrust into the world of a much larger publishing house. At the time I was editor of Mustang & Fords magazine. With the Dobbs acquisition came Donald Farr, who assumed the duties of editor of Mustang & Fords. I stayed on as Senior Editor for both Mustang & Fords and Mustang Monthly.
Donald and I worked closely together for a long time. I also had the good fortune of working with Mustang Monthly Technical Editor Mark Houlahan, who has bailed me out of a lot of messes in more than two decades. Good times with great people came to an end in 2011 when I was laid off and entered the ranks of freelancing, which I did for five years before coming back to The Enthusiast Network as technical editor for the Super Chevy Network, where I remain today.
Mustang Monthly magazine will forever be near and dear to my heart because it is where my career began 34 years ago, under the tutorage of great people who helped mold me and showed me the way. It feels so good to have been associated with such a long-standing and highly respected institution.
Tom Corcoran, September 1987–March 1994
I bought my first resto project in 1980, and immediately subscribed to Mustang Monthly. I had been a freelance writer and photographer for non-automotive magazines in the late 1970s—so, in 1981, I queried Donald Farr at Mustang Monthly. He took a chance with some of my work, and soon I was earning enough to keep my ’66 A-code convertible on functional tires and premium gas. Over the next few years I wrote a few dozen profiles of restorers and their beautiful cars, a couple of How-To articles, and one memorable piece about how to NOT buy a vintage Mustang over the phone. During the mid-1980s, Donald and I met and had come to know each other.
In May 1987, I placed a long-distance call to Lakeland, Florida. I tactfully whined about not having received a check that I needed—for something more urgent than Pony-embossed floor mats. Editor Farr apologized and explained that he had been preoccupied with the start-up of Super Ford Magazine and his search for a new editor for Mustang Monthly.
I asked for the job. One day later, I had the job. My life had changed. Just like that. I hadn’t been subjected to hideous, drawn-out human resources hoop-jumping, a credit check or a background check. There were no awkward, forced-smile, hand-shaking interviews in shined shoes and sport coats. Just like that, I had the job. Three weeks later I moved to Lakeland and went to work.
Instructions? “Use your best judgment,” and “Be sure to make deadline.”
No one hovered over my desk, jammed my brain with suggestions, or peered over my shoulder. When I had questions, I found answers with ease. I was able to travel from New Hampshire to California, Wisconsin to Texas, and Seattle/Vancouver to the Carolinas. Mustang hobbyists were always welcoming, and my co-workers at Dobbs Publishing had brains and creativity. We turned wrenches, ruined our eyes with early, low-res Macintosh SE/30s, and road-tested (white-knuckled) performance cars. Our magazine was the go-to resource for “originality,” and we rode the dual waves of a growing restoration hobby and the popularity of the late-model 5.0L engine. We had fun.
How did I get away with it? I never could have pulled it off without my technical editor, Earl Davis; and when Earl moved to Super Ford, the young Mark Houlahan. I had a great (and brave) art director in Wayne Godfrey, and after a year or two, a managing editor named Rob Reaser who could have done my job three times over. Our regular columnist, Bob Aliberto, was a “Google” for all things Ford, no matter how trivial and arcane. He helped readers with their restoration projects and editors stumped by queries they couldn’t answer. Donald became our editorial director, and he let me run with the magazine, goofs and all. Our company owner, Larry Dobbs, was a genuine automotive enthusiast, and above all, a generous, good-natured man. Looking back, I was just plain lucky.
Only one thing worried me the whole time I worked at the magazine. No one had done that background check. Would someone, somehow, learn about the hijacked bulldozers, the stolen motorcycles, the bank robberies, and that 45 RPM record I shoplifted in 8th grade? Would my dream job cave in? If they knew, they never mentioned it.
Editor’s note: After leaving Mustang Monthly, Tom began a career writing mysteries set in the Florida Keys. There are seven “Alex Rutledge” crime novels, plus a spin-off book in print and on Kindle. It’s a job where paychecks are irregular and deadlines are flexible. While Tom is “forced” to visit the Keys often to research his books, he still lives in Central Florida.
Jerry Pitt, July 1994–March 1995
Back in February of 2013, legendary Mustang author and friend Donald Farr, wrote the article “Defining Moments in Mustang Monthly History” to celebrate the 35th anniversary of Mustang Monthly. In that article Donald cited the history dating back to January 25, 1978, when Larry Dobbs conceived the new magazine, the Mustang Exchange Letter. Soon after the name changed to Mustang Monthly, and Donald and Larry made for quite the team, and the automotive niche media world has never looked back.
When it came to telling how I got involved with Mustang Monthly, Donald accurately noted that on January 17, 1994, Mustang Monthly’s editor Tom Corcoran abruptly resigned—that news must have rocked the Mustang universe, and it also rocked my world, as it was the same day of the 6.7-magnitude earthquake that awoke all of Southern California at 4:31 a.m. While my wife Andrea immediately grabbed our then 7-week-old son Drew from his cradle, I was the one that was wailing over the deafening roar of the quake.
To put it in perspective, after the Los Angeles Riots of 1992, wildfires, and all of my Canyon Country neighbors and I attempting to commute a mere 30 miles on two-lane roads that were the only passage after 10 lanes of highway collapsed, Andrea and I had experienced enough of the City of Angels. Later that week, I reached for the phone to call Donald Farr, and the way I recall it was that when I picked up, there was no dial-tone, just Donald on the other end of the call, asking if I had heard that Tom Corcoran had resigned and if I might be interested in interviewing for the position.
In less than eight weeks, Andrea, Drew, and I were on a red-eye flight through Miami on our way to Lakeland, Florida. I interviewed Friday, was extended the opportunity on Friday night, and before we left to return to Los Angeles, we had purchased our first home (with nearly 90 days of vacation pay I would receive once I resigned from Petersen Publishing) in the same neighborhood as Donald and his wife Pam in Mulberry, Florida.
As remarkable as the first trip was, the next phase was even more remarkable. I had been corresponding with Sam Haymart and his crazy idea to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Mustang with a cross-country trip—Mustang Across America (MAA). My original goal was to get my 10-year-old Fox-body with the 347ci stroker ready for the trip. Unfortunately, I underestimated the amount of work necessary to pull it off, and with cash short due to the reckless home purchase, I took up Sam’s offer to join as a hitchhiker with the 232 cars from all over the U.S., Canada, and even a pair of enthusiasts from Germany and Australia. Starting in Sacramento I begged for rides across the country starting on Friday, April 8, 1994. Rain, snow, and ice marked the trip across the Southwest, but we did all make it. You can enjoy a trip through history with this video of the MAA caravan on YouTube at youtu.be/J0nDq8_wK7U.
As much as I would love to tell all the details of the trip, it certainly must be my CTE and my inability to remember anything before breakfast today. But I can say that the relationships that Andrea, Drew, and I made in those first few months in Lakeland, Florida, solely evolved from Larry Dobbs and the employees of Dobbs Publishing Group, especially when we arrived in Charlotte for the festivities of the 30th Mustang anniversary. Sure, the president showed up with his 1967 Mustang, and we were all vetted by the secret service, but the energy of a new magazine family helped all of us sell more subscriptions than ever at the event thanks to Bill Sr., Billy Turpin, and High Performance Image Marketing & Promotions, and the entire team of DPG staff on hand to celebrate the 30th Mustang anniversary.
Editor’s note: Jerry’s nine-month stint as editor of Mustang Monthly was followed up with his role at Dobbs Publishing Group first as an editorial director across Mustang Monthly, Muscle Car Review, Jp Magazine, Mopar Muscle and Corvette Fever, and later VP, Group Publisher. After Dobbs was acquired by Jerry’s former employer, Petersen Publishing, in April 1998, he transitioned from editor to publisher of Mopar Muscle, Corvette Fever, Muscle Car Review, and Mustang Monthly.
In 2005, Jerry returned to Los Angeles to assume the publisher role of Hot Rod magazine through the 60th anniversary of the flagship title, serving in that role until 2012. Through nine ownership changes, Jerry remains employed by the current iteration of Petersen Publishing, TEN: A Discovery Communications Company. Today he serves as the senior director, marketing/sales for Studio Ten’s Motor Trend OnDemand subscription video, on-demand platform. His video-centric, collaborative role has helped fund the eleven video series produced at TEN including Roadkill, Hot Rod Garage and Dirt Every Day.
Rob Reaser, April 1995–July 1996
Mustang Monthly got me out of the dark...literally! We're all familiar with the saying, “You gotta start from the bottom and work your way up.” Well, in 1989, the bottom was the Dobbs Publishing Group darkroom, where I spent 8-plus hours a day in a closet barely large enough to hold a foot-long sub, processing film, and printing photos that eventually found their way onto the pages of Mustang Monthly.
But I had a dream in those early years of becoming a staff writer and editor for a national publication. At that time, Mustang Monthly editor Tom Corcoran and the late Earl Davis were up to their eyeballs in alligators, trying to crank out an issue every month, so Tom mercifully pulled me out of the mushroom factory, gave me the title of managing editor, and said, “WRITE!” I did, and thanks to his mentoring, I learned the ropes and got to know so many of the wonderful people across the country in the Mustang hobby.
And that, perhaps, is what I enjoyed most about my tenure as managing editor and ultimately editor, after taking over the helm from the indomitable Jerry Pitt. Mustang Monthly gave me the opportunity to travel the country and meet folks from across the cultural and economic spectrums. Whether high-powered lawyers, aerospace engineers, retired factory workers, or young people like me who had to skimp and save to buy the next performance upgrade, everyone spoke the same language.
I passed the editor torch to Jeff Ford to launch Jp Magazine, and after leaving that post a few years later, I freelanced for numerous automotive titles before taking over as editor of a magazine called Heartland USA.
Today, I work in the outdoor sports industry as the editorial director for a marketing services provider to hunting and shooting, and camping industry manufacturers, allowing me to professionally pursue my outdoor recreation passions. I also write books on these subjects, and hope to wade back into the fiction waters as soon as time permits.
As for the most memorable moment or event during my stint on the Mustang Monthly staff, it would have to be the 30th anniversary shindig in Charlotte, North Carolina. Now THAT was a party. Of course, spending a couple of days with Carroll Shelby in Dallas was a huge WOOHOO!
And then there was the time I went to Edmonton, Alberta, for the International Mustang Meet. It was September; I flew up from blazing-hot Florida only to be greeted with 30-degree temperatures. (Just try to do feature photography of Mustangs with snow flying!) Someone lent me a knitted cap to wear. Another person handed me their coat…You get the idea.
Perhaps that experience best sums up my takeaway from the Mustang community: good people and good friends who never met a stranger in the corral.
Jeff Ford, August 1996-April 2003
Hey, it was the ’90s…
I had desired a seat at the Mustang Monthly table since I found the magazine in 1983 as a fresh-faced teenager. There is even a letter in one of the old issues that I wrote to Donald Farr regarding the existence of the ’71 Boss 302. I ate, slept, and breathed Mustangs. And that magazine was the holy grail of jobs for me. Funny thing? I was then desirous of the art director’s job. Fast-forward through Farr, Smart, Corcoran, and Reaser to a call in 1996 from Matt French, Dobbs Publishing ad sales guy, who told me I should throw my hat into the ring for the editor’s chair. I did, and got the job. Frankly, there were others at Dobb’s, and outside Dobbs, that were more qualified (in my opinion). I was an art director, and a good one, but an editor—that remained to be seen. I hit lots of bumps and brambles while in “the big chair,” but I came away with some of the best friends I have due to my time at the helm.
I was asked about a favorite memory from those days. It would have to be the “Home Improvement” cover that Mark and I did. I still have readers that bring that crazy thing up. The idea all started with a Classic Design Concepts-built Shelby owned by Tim Allen. With that as our base, we decided to do a spoof of the show, call it “Garage Improvements,” and put Mark and I on the cover dressed as the two leading men. Not sure how well it performed, but we had fun!
After leaving the magazine I moved into a job as marketing rep for RRS suspensions out of Australia. From there I helped Colin Date run Legendary Ford Magazine until the market collapsed in 2008 and killed that little gem. At that point I determined to run my own show. And so with one video camera and a wild idea that, “if a picture is worth a 1000 words, what would 24 frames a second be worth”? I jumped off into video doing classic car how-to. I named it Autorestomod, threw it out on to YouTube and watched it cook. That was 2010. Learning curve? Oh, yeah. HUGE; just like the one at Dobb’s. But it all goes back to something that Larry Dobb’s said in our initial meeting way back in 1996: “I can teach you to be a writer and editor; I can’t teach you enthusiasm for the product.” I have that enthusiasm for the product in spades. Of course now we do more than Mustang, filling my show with cars from the Big Three and trying to help enthusiast learn how to help themselves. I dig what I do. I can’t believe that I was a part of something that I stood in awe of as a teenager, nor can I believe on most days that I get to play with cars and help others do the same.
Mark Houlahan, February 2014–September 2014
Though my tenure as editor was quite possibly the shortest of any editor to manage Mustang Monthly, the eight months I was in the “big chair” were some of the best months of my journalism career. Having started with Mustang Monthly as its technical editor way back in 1992, I’ve seen a lot of changes in the Mustang hobby and in magazine content publishing. In 1992 I didn’t even have an email address, and Mustang Monthly did not have a website. If you wanted to get an answer to a tech question, you wrote a letter and waited by your mailbox to see if we used your letter and provided an answer (and that would usually take about three months). Within a year of being on staff and working with then-editor Tom Corcoran, I put together an idea for a “magazine within a magazine” format for the growing late-model Fox Mustang segment. I called it “5.0 Power,” and it had its own cover, table of contents, and specific content within Mustang Monthly. As the late-model segment grew we added more of it to Mustang Monthly, with the 5.0 Power section going away a couple of years later.
Through the various editors and owners, I kept at it, writing tech and event pieces and the occasional car feature until I was given the opportunity to move to 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords in the same position around 2000 or so. I would stay there until 2005 when I was offered my own magazine to edit—Mustang & Fords. I would be Mustang & Fords’ editor through 2010, including a now-famous merger with Modified Mustangs that left a lot of people unhappy with the magazine they found in their mailbox. We rectified some of the issues and regained readership, but I had enough of the drama and stepped down to take my old position as tech editor again. (Once a wrench, always a wrench I guess).
From 2010 to 2014, I worked on both Modified Mustangs & Fords and Mustang Monthly magazines, writing tech, handling departments like readers’ rides and new products, and so forth. It was great to be connected to Mustang Monthly and be on the masthead next to THE Donald Farr once again; the man that hired me 20 years prior. In February of 2014 Source Interlink Media laid off many well-known and respected editors, including Donald Farr at Mustang Monthly. To say I was in shock was an understatement. Later that day I was given the news I would be replacing Donald as editor. It was a bittersweet moment for me, as I deeply respected Donald (and still do), but was happy the position was going to someone who understood the hobby and the day-to-day of running Mustang Monthly and could hit the ground running versus an outside new hire.
Like I said previously, those eight months as editor were very memorable for me. I transitioned into creating and editing our Shelby annual magazine for the first time (now one of my favorite annual projects to work on), and hit the summer car show circuit with a renewed vigor with the word “Editor” on my business card. Sadly, the position would be short lived, as mid-2014 the automotive media world was rocked by the closure of several Source Interlink Media office locations, major layoffs, and the combining or closing of several magazine brands. 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords became one with Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords while Modified Mustangs & Fords folded into Mustang Monthly. The newly named company, TEN: The Enthusiast Network, mandated all management positions would be located in California with remote staff being allowed only by rare exceptions. It looked like I was about to not only NOT be the editor of Mustang Monthly, but be out of a job completely!
It turns out my fear of being kicked to the curb was for naught, as I was offered my old position as technical editor (for the second time) with the ability to work from my home in Florida. The hunt was on for Mustang Monthly’s next editor; someone willing to move to California or who already lived there. Today, as part of the Mustang-360.com network, I primarily write content for Mustang Monthly, but also contribute to our sister magazine Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords. You can find a lot of my early Mustang Monthly content, including the full restoration build series of my 1966 Mustang, on the Mustang-360 website. After 26 years behind the keyboard writing for Mustang Monthly, Super Ford, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords, Mustang & Fords, and Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords, I’m happy to have survived the ups and downs of the industry and still be here to provide great Mustang- and Ford-powered content for our readers to absorb in whatever way they prefer—print, web, social, or video.
Rob Kinnan, October 2014–Present
I was born a car guy, and my time in study hall wasn’t filled with studying textbooks but rather car magazines. The editors were my heroes and the subject matter my drug, and it never occurred to me that one day I might be able to work for a car magazine. But I lucked into a job as a glorified secretary at the pinnacle of car magazines, Hot Rod, straight out of college in 1989 through persistence, a little bit of aggressiveness, and a complete lack of understanding of how difficult it was to live in Los Angeles on only $16,800 a year (seriously, when I say “bottom rung” I’m not kidding!)—but I wanted in the door so bad the pay didn’t matter. I met the editors and many of the hot rodding heroes they were writing about, and it was pure heaven to a 24-year-old hot rodding wannabe, even if I did have to eat Top Ramen with ketchup for dinner most nights.
That experience and the rest of my time at Petersen Publishing taught me to understand and respect the amazing courage and business and marketing sense of guys like Robert E. Petersen, and of course Larry Dobbs, whose small publishing company in Lakeland, Florida, was making waves in the automotive publishing world. My grandparents always had Fords when I was growing up and my first car was almost a 1965 Mustang fastback (turned out to be too rusty), so I had a proclivity toward Mustangs from day one and saw what Dobbs was doing for that market, with the legendary Donald Farr at Mustang Monthly’s helm.
Fast-forward to the “Acquisition Age” of publishing in the late 1990s when Petersen Publishing bought out Larry’s company. I was editor of 5.0 Mustang at the time and Petersen moved me to Lakeland to group all the Ford-related magazines together. That experience allowed me to get to know Donald (he was also a neighbor for the year I was there), meet Mark Houlahan and Jeff Ford, hire Michael Johnson away from the Corvette magazine he was miserable at, and get to work with my old Petersen pal Jerry Pitt again, who had gone to work for Dobbs to escape Los Angeles. More years at different Petersen magazines and a five-year departure to help form the National Mustang Racers Association (NMRA), then a return to Hot Rod for seven years followed by a few years freelancing on my own, eventually led to a return to the mother ship and the editor’s chair at Mustang Monthly in 2014.
At the time, this magazine was in a tenuous position with a shell game of editors inhabiting the job. In fact, my first issue came right after Mark Crist’s first and last issue—his editor’s column started with “I’m the new guy,” and ended with “By the way, this is my last issue.” This was also the time when the publishing world was well on its way in a decline in print sales in favor of online impressions, and the company made the decision to kill two of the Ford magazines (Modified Mustangs & Fords and my old buddy 5.0 Mustang and Super Fords). That reorganization also made it necessary to remove Fox-body and later content from Monthly’s pages (still a controversial move) and to also absorb some of the Modified Mustangs & Fords restomod content. To say it was a bit chaotic is being kind, but I think we’ve been able straddle the line pretty well between early-model restoration and restomod content. It’s always an evolutionary process however, and Mark and I listen to readers’ comments and try to adjust to meet everyone’s desires as best we can.
In the three years I’ve been here, I’ve gotten to know most of the players in the vintage Mustang world, and my respect for Donald Farr and all the past Mustang Monthly editors has grown immensely. What Donald and Larry started way back in the late ’70s and early ’80s, with basically pennies in their pockets and dreams of bringing glory to our favorite car, is the bedrock of the magazine you’re holding right now. And to all those guys over the years that have sat in this chair—my hat is off to all of you, and I only hope I can continue to add to the legacy of Mustang Monthly.