The Widespread Mustang Epidemic - My Mustang Experience
How Readers Caught The Fever
The Mustang is one of the only collector vehicles that is multigenerational on such a mammoth scale. Few cars have ever been able to lay claim to such a boast. People from seemingly every age group and economical and racial background populate our hobby. But what seems to galvanize us is not just the car. The relational stories that have brought us where we are seem to be what make us who we are. There are stories of triumph and woe, good parts, bad installs, Sunday drives, and last requests. Stories-thousands of them-are out there. And every day we receive letters from proud owners telling us about their car and, more importantly, about themselves. Some of these have moved us, some have made us laugh, and others have made us shake our heads in disbelief. But all of them are special to us.
What we have here are some of the stories sent in by your fellow readers. These aren't professionally written, though you'd never know it by reading them. Everyone has a story about how he or she caught the fever-how it either pulled them in a twinkling of an eye or slowly drew them in. Some are funny, some are sad, and some share a ray of hope about what is and what will be. All of them are great because all of them come from the heart of an enthusiast.
There are many things that can come into a young boy's life to change him-particularly if he is around the age of 6. There are things that, at the time, seemingly have little importance, but which can grow into strange and wonderful consequences as the boy matures into manhood. I am like so many enthusiasts for whom that galvanizing moment revolved around a Mustang. What is most stunning is that until I looked at a photo taken in the winter of '68, I didn't have a recollection of the car.
That photo was of my cousin Janet's new Mustang hardtop buried up to the wheels in snow. Though this is not unusual for say New York, in South Carolina it is profoundly traffic-stopping. I remembered the snow and suddenly that car. I was thunderstruck. Here was the original car that began my obsession, and through the years, I had pushed the obsession into a back corner of my mind like any 6-year-old would, but it obviously had its impact on me.
Of course, were it not for Janet, I might still be working in the ad biz designing brochures and print ads. My fondness for Mustangs might only be a passing fancy rather than an all-consuming passion. She drove the wheels off that car, and brought it over to our house so often the Mustang spent as much time in front of our house as it did hers. I now remember being fascinated by the glovebox door on the console and the trick blinkers in the hood. I also remember the gleam of the white top and that the car was painted my favorite color-blue.
All of that would have meant nothing if a mean old man had owned the car. Instead, it was owned by a pretty teenager who took time out of her day for a 6-year-old boy. That really meant something to a kid with no siblings to emulate. I can't say that there are memories of the hardtop's blazing speed or nimble handling. All I can say is that I was young, and she and that hardtop made an impression. That impression grew into the fever I have today-a fever that makes me do what I do. If this is a sickness, then let me never recover.
I have been a fan of Mustangs since around the age of 5, even though I can't remember what exactly caught my attention. I like all things automotive, but Mustangs are the most appealing to me. It's safe to say my fondness for these cars only gets stronger with time.
My first Mustang was an '8511/42 SVO. It was purchased when I was 15 from a local used car lot that had no idea what it was, which translates to a low, low, low asking price. I'm the second owner of the car, and after a successful search for the original owner, I found out the entire history.
My second Mustang, an '85 five-speed GT hatchback (pictured in Mustang Monthly's Sept. '98 Readers' Best issue, p. 26) was purchased mainly because I needed a car for college, which was a year away at the time, and I have always liked the last of the carbureted H.O. models. So with my very limited funds in hand, I went out on my search.
After about four months of looking, I found a two-owner Bright Red GT hatch with 46,000 miles on it that had spent the past five years sitting in a barn. The reason was the second owner did some kind of heavy work and when it came time to drive home after a long hard day, operating a clutch and shifting did not appeal to him. So after a few weeks of daily driving, the car was parked and a Thunderbird took its place.
After making the seller an offer, and then waiting two weeks for him to make up his mind, the car became mine. We brought it home on September 21, 1996, which was about seven hours round- trip. I was 17 at the time. Fortunately or unfortunately-depending on how you look at it-the GT never became my daily driver. I just could not bring myself to put it in snow, slush, and salt. At present, the car still sports its original Bright Red paint and has about 52,600 miles on the odometer.
I try to take this car to as many shows as I can fit into my schedule. So far, I've attended the '97, '98, and '99 Carlisle All-Ford Nationals, and have won a Third, First, and Third Place, respectively. I've recently begun to participate in MCA regional judged Mustang shows and of the three events I have gone to so far, I picked up a First, Second, and First Place in their street-driven classes.
I liked Editor Ford's Hoofbeats column "Viva La Revolution, Baby!" (Aug. '99, p. 4) about younger Mustang owners. Also, I enjoyed reading about 17-year-old Joshua Green and his '66 hardtop featured in the July '99 issue (p. 63), and I wouldn't mind seeing more cars owned by younger enthusiasts in your magazine. Nudge, nudge, wink, wink! At any rate, keep up the good work.
I used to think I came into this world with a passion for Mustangs. Then one day, I came across this photograph. I felt as if I'd stepped back in time. I remember it was a bright, sunny day. My family and I were at an automobile auction in Chicago (I am front right in the picture. I was about 8 years old). We walked leisurely through the auction previewing the cars, when suddenly something caught my eye. The car of my dreams! It was a bright red '65 Mustang convertible go-cart. The Pony sported a single-wheel disc brake, 8hp Briggs and Stratton engine, bench front seat (for one) and radio delete. We went home that day without the car, but I never forgot about it. I wanted that car so badly that I can still "taste" it today. Thinking back, I know this is the point at which my Mustang journey began.
Automobiles have always been a big part of my life. While I was growing up, my father owned several automotive businesses in Chicago. I enjoyed going to work with him every chance I got. I loved being with my father and seeing all the cars. He taught me many things about automobiles. It seemed as though every type of car went through his shop at one time or another. I saw several Mustangs come into the shop, but I still did not have one I could call my own.
When I was fast approaching age 16, I couldn't wait to drive, but even more, I couldn't wait to own a Mustang. After lengthy negotiation, my father agreed to purchase a car if we found the right one. I came close to owning a '65 Vintage Burgundy hardtop, but the deal fell through. I read the classifieds more than my schoolbooks at that time in my life, and my father and I went to look at countless Mustangs. The more cars I looked at, the more I knew what I wanted in a Mustang. My thoughts kept going back to the little go-cart from years ago. It had to be red, and it had to be a convertible.
Then one day, I came across an ad for a '70 red Mustang convertible. Well it wasn't a '65, but it was red and it was a convertible, so we went to see it. When I saw the car, I knew this was it. My father and I checked it out. The car had a 302ci engine backed by a C4 automatic, power steering, power brakes, red exterior, white interior, and a white power top. My dad offered him a little less than he was asking, but the owner held firm to his price. We drove away, and I couldn't believe I'd come so close to my dream.
A few days later, the owner called and agreed to the price my dad offered. My dad did not tell me right away. He wrote out a message on his desk stating, "The owner of the Mustang called and agreed to price. Come get the car." My dad sent me to his desk to retrieve an item underneath this message. He intended for me to read the message, but I dutifully brought the item without reading the message. My dad couldn't believe it. He sent me back to read the message. You could say that was one of the happier days of my life. I drove it home with the top down all the way.
I drove this car throughout high school and college. During that time, I met and married my high school sweetheart. We went on many dates in the 'Stang. Of course, the "Just Married" sign looked real good on the back of the Mustang. We took this car on our honeymoon to Sanibel Island, Florida. Our first apartment was in Florida. I took a job at Sitton's Towing and Repair. Although I had tinkered with cars nearly all my life, it was Steve Sitton who took me under his wing and taught me much more about auto repair. Steve was a Ford man. He liked the big-block Fairlanes. However, since I left, I have found several Mustangs in his stable.
I am now 27 years old. I am married with one son. I am employed as a machinist. I have since added a white '65 Mustang hardtop to my corral. I have retired the convertible for sunny weekends. I use the '65 as my daily driver. Trying to find time to work on my cars is not as easy as it used to be. However, the other day I was outside working under one of my cars, and I heard my 3-year-old suddenly become very excited. He said, "Daddy, Daddy, look! Look! A Mustang convertible- a red one!"
I stood up next to him as we watched a '67 red convertible cruise by. We waved to them, and I was struck by the excitement in my son's voice. I remembered the excitement I felt about the little red go-cart a long time ago, and I am glad I can pass this dream on to my son.
Editor's Note: When we received this story, the original envelope and accompanying letter were misplaced. If you are responsible for this fun trip to Charlotte, please write us so that we can give credit where credit is due.
I had no idea he was going to Charlotte, but then how would I? I'd met him only twice briefly-this 21-year-old son of a legendary Mustang suspension and fiberglass wizard-yet I recognized his lanky build, youthful looks, and apple-red dyed hair as I sat one row in front of him on the eastbound jet. I reintroduced myself as the buddy of one of his open-track Shelby customers. We chatted a bit, and the person next to me offered to switch seats.
Geez, I thought, other than the word Mustang, what could we have in common? I was more than twice his age, and into the concours restoration of a '70 Boss 302. He was into custom suspensions on 5.0s and SN-95s. Charlotte-to me-meant hard-to-find bits and pieces, a sea of '65-'73 cars, and scribbling notes on the finer points of undercarriage detailing. His Charlotte must surely be something very different. Our common denominator was my open-track buddy, who had nicknamed him Q-Tip for unknown reasons.
Once landed, I met up with Bruce, a longtime friend with a similar mission-get to the track and go treasure hunting. Q-Tip had no ride, so we hauled him to the track, expecting to turn him loose. He had no plans and tagged along. We watched as cars arrived and vendors set up. We studied the cars. We scoured the swap areas. Bruce-a noted '70-'71 authority-talked part numbers and paint codes until my eyes watered. Q-Tip had a glazed look in his eyes.
When the roar of the open-track cars bellowed through the speedway, I found myself wanting to get a closer look. Bruce had his agenda, so Q-Tip and I went trackside. Once there, our conversation turned to sway bars, control arm bushings, rollcages, and center of gravity. He really knew his stuff. He shared stories about his well-known father's exploits with vintage Mustangs, Carroll Shelby, and early Trans-Am racing.
At day's end, we escorted Q-Tip to his hotel, only to find no friends or room waiting for him. So it was off to our hotel for showers, and then out for steaks and beers. We swapped stories and shared jokes. Back at our hotel, Bruce called for an extra bed for our impromptu guest but, finally around 11 p.m., his friends called and off he went.
The next day yielded better weather, more cars, more swappers, and more parts scrounging. I picked up a washer bottle, N.O.S. lights, and scored a reverse lockout rod. Bruce got some sheetmetal and interior bits. As we wandered through the 5.0s on our way to lunch, someone called after me. I looked around. He called again. It was Q-Tip. I thought he'd been through enough of "Doze and Dizz" so as to hide from us.
Instead, he introduced Bruce and me to his buddies and enthusiastically began to educate us on the finer points of modern suspension systems. He welcomed us into his world. The sun was high over head, the open-track cars were at it again, and the massive crowd was energized. After a couple hours, we parted again in search of more goodies, leaving Q-Tip and his pals to ponder the benefits of oversize throttle bodies and after-cat exhaust systems. Later, missed connections made for a quiet dinner.
Saturday-our last-yielded more parts, more new friends, more reunions, and more excitement as the event grew still larger. Notably absent was the thunder of the open-trackers as their events concluded. Also absent was the youthful exuberance, wit, and humor of Q-Tip, as he was off to parts unknown. As we sat savoring a cold beer under the hot, dipping sun, we realized we had become fans of the new-generation cars and the new generation of Mustang enthusiasts. Our enthusiasm for date codes and bolt finishes was matched by theirs for intakes, injectors, and superchargers. They were the evolution of the Mustang hobby, and never before had the lines of distinction seemed so blurred.
The 6 a.m. wake-up call came all too soon for our West Coast body clocks, but we dutifully got up and prepared to leave. As we were finishing packing, someone knocked on the door. It was Q-Tip looking for a lift to the airport.
He had no ride. Bruce and I grinned as we helped him with his bags. Our buddy was here, and we had a few more hours to hang with Q-Tip.
In early 1966, when I was 3, my dad took me to the local Ford dealer to see about a new car. His first thoughts were for a Falcon, but a '66 Mustang hardtop in the showroom caught his eye. As the story is told, I climbed into the Mustang and exclaimed, "Let's just buy this one and go home!"
That's exactly what he did-he literally drove it off the showroom floor. The car was a base model Wimbledon White six-cylinder hardtop. He was very proud of that car and everyone in town knew us by that little white Mustang. In 1979, I traded a '74 Mustang II that was originally bought for me for the '66, which my sister had been driving. My father and I fixed some minor dents and rust, and gave it new paint and bumpers. The car-restored to almost new-was now mine to drive to high school and college. Often asked if I wanted to sell, I never considered any offers; it was part of my family. Then in the summer of '82 it was stolen from where I worked. My heart sank, and I still remember the long silence on the phone after I broke the news to my dad that his "baby" was gone.
We purchased a used '79 Mustang as a replacement, but for years we looked for the stolen '66, even to the point we would follow one for miles to see if it was ours.
In the years that followed, my dad and I attended many local shows and talked about the day we would get another '66 Mustang. It wasn't until the end of 1995 (by then my father had retired) that we decided to get serious-but this time it would be a convertible.
After looking at some cars within our budget, I found a '66 convertible, six-cylinder automatic in June 1996. The car needed the major rusted convertible repairs (floors, torque box, and so on), but showed promise, so we decided it would be a good project for us to tackle together. The disassembly began and we assessed what needed replacing. My dad and I headed off to Virginia Mustang to purchase the items for the first phase of restoration-a trip he would make often because birthdays and Christmas always included Mustang parts.
Unfortunately, in 1997 my dad's availability became limited when he was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo treatment. Still finding some time, restoration work continued, but at a slower pace.
Spring of '98 brought a new job for me and major surgery for my father. The restoration came to a temporary halt. As 1998 ended, I decided I didn't want to go another summer without a Mustang to drive and began the search for one that was already restored.
Maybe we could find a Mustang that my dad and I could take to the 35th Anniversary in Charlotte. After several months that included car searches around the country, I nearly gave up until I stumbled across a '66 289 Candyapple Red convertible 20 miles from my home. The car-restored five years earlier-still looked and ran great.
I bought it and couldn't wait to show it to my dad. He was thrilled to see it, and we went for a ride through the old neighborhood. It was too late for Charlotte, but we talked about taking a ride to Virginia Mustang for a few items and maybe taking it to a June Father's Day show. Along the ride, my father expressed how much he liked the car and stated that, when the time came, he wanted the car to lead his funeral procession.
Unfortunately, my father's health took a drastic turn over Memorial Day weekend, and he passed away later that week. We honored his wishes as the Mustang proudly led the procession from the church to the cemetery. The top was down and it was a nice day, so I know he would have enjoyed the ride. Even though we never made the Father's Day show, I can look back on all the fond memories I had with my dad, especially those that involved Mustangs. I still hope to finish the restoration on the other '66 Mustang in his honor.
Mustangs will always be one of those special bonds that I hope to carry on with my two small children, who both love to ride in "Daddy's red Mustang," or help when I work on the other "broken" car.
The first time I heard Art VandenBerg's name was during a morning worship service at Blythefield Hills Baptist Church. Pastor Louie Konopka prayed for God's grace in the VandenBerg family's life because Art had been diagnosed with terminal cancer. I heard that prayer many times over the subsequent months and sympathized with this family that I had never met.
Although I didn't know Art or his family, my 14-year-old daughter, Jennie, was good friends with Art's son Adam. My wife and I encouraged Jennie to stay close to her friend during this difficult time.
One afternoon, Jennie was visiting Adam at his house and called me to come and pick her up. Art was in the driveway work-ing on the family car when I pulled up. We finally met and had an opportunity to talk. As I remember, we stood in Art's drive-way for half an hour or more and immediately began what has become a very close friendship. We were amazed at how much we had in common and disappointed that we hadn't met years before.
I grew up in west Michigan only a few miles away from Art. Our families attended churches that were blocks apart. I'm 50 years old and Art is 48. We attended rival schools but had mutual friends. We are both lifelong car guys. I had a sleek and nimble '64 Triumph Spitfire in high school, while Art went through high school with a love for those noisy American musclecars.
I never lost my interest in British sports cars and began a collection 10 years ago with the purchase of a '78 MGB. I completed a nuts-and-bolts restoration of that car and have driven it every summer since. I continued the hobby with the purchase of a '58 MGA, a '67 MGB-GT, a '70 Jaguar XKE, and a '57 Jaguar XK140 roadster. I quit when the barn was filled. As they say, nature abhors an empty garage.
My new friend Art, on the other hand, has owned numerous musclecars through the years-the most recent of which is a '65 Mustang hardtop. One of the greatest things that can ever happen to a car guy is to find a wife who appreciates his hobby. Art's wonderful wife, Cindy, actually discovered their Mustang two blocks from their home in 1992. She suggested to Art that they buy it and he, of course, agreed. That same day they began a three-year restoration of the VandenBerg Pony.
Art and Cindy VandenBerg have a wonderful family and everyone joined in on the restoration. Their sons learned mechanical skills from their dad and experienced the pride that can only come from the restoration of a classic automobile. The VandenBergs joined the West Michigan Mustang Club and, for three summers, enjoyed club activities, cruise nights, and car shows in their 'Stang. Unfortunately, the financial realities of Art's health care forced the sale of the prized Mustang and marked the end of Art's enjoyment of the hobby.
My wife, Kathie, and I visited the VandenBergs last August in our '57 Jaguar XK140 roadster-which, by the way, was found by Kathie. As Art and I discussed important car stuff, Kathie watched and listened. As Art and Cindy drove off for a ride around the block in the Jaguar, Kathie noticed the smiles on their faces and the twinkle in Art's eye. As Kathie and I drove home, she told me about her perception of the pain in Art's life over the loss of his Mustang and asked if we could somehow help them get a new car for Art to use while he is able. We had recently sold our XKE, and decided to reinvest in a Mustang for Art's exclusive use.
Although I know a great deal about cars, I knew absolutely nothing about Mustangs. I went to a local cruise night and discussed our plan with a few Mustang club members. I was amazed at their response. I found that Art VandenBerg was highly regarded by everyone, and they would do anything for him. They gave me advice and supported my quest for a car in numerous ways. One man offered to let me-a total stranger-borrow his brand-new 31/44-ton truck and enclosed car hauler to pick up whatever car I found. This was my first encounter with the local Mustang club family. They are great people.
Kathie and I then went to Art and Cindy with our idea and the serious search for a new VandenBerg Mustang began. Art would get off duty as a Michigan state trooper midafternoon and we'd travel around the Midwest to test-drive classic cars. Multiple trips were made to Detroit, Chicago, and Kalamazoo. We covered thousands of miles and spent many hours together cementing a wonderful friendship. Art taught me a great deal about Mustangs because he insisted we invest only in a great car that would maintain its value. Through Art, I learned the subtle differences between a great Mustang and one that's only fairly good. After driving all over the Midwest with no success, a totally restored '65 Mustang fastback appeared at a local cruise night with a For Sale sign in the window. Art and I looked at it and bought it on the spot. It is, indeed, a great Mustang.
I have since had the pleasure of joining Art at many car shows with his new Mustang and have come to appreciate the beauty of this classic automobile. Art says he's in his element as he settles into his lawn chair at the rear of the Mustang and waits for the next person to come and admire his car. I smile as he jumps into action and delivers the history of the car since the day it was restored in 1989. The Mustang has won numerous awards during the summer.
Art and Cindy surprised us with a membership in the West Michigan Mustang Club. We have been welcomed with open arms and appreciate the family atmosphere that reaches out to help members in need. I thank God for the wonderful time Art and I have had together and for Art's role in my life, as he's taught me to be a brand-new Mustang lover. The Mustang is currently occupying the garage stall where the XKE used to park. Maybe I'll invite Art over and we'll peel off the car cover, set up the lawn chairs, and settle into our element one more time while we wait for spring.
To me this Mustang is more than just a car. This car used to belong to my dad. He owned it from the early '70s and sold it in the mid-'80s to a friend down the street. For about 10 years, every time I saw that Mustang, I wanted it. Every time I saw it, I told myself that that car would be mine one day.
In January 1999 I was diagnosed with a brain tumor. The brain tumor was named Meduloblastoma. I had seven weeks of radiation and in May I started chemotherapy. I was to go through 11 cycles of chemo. I do a cycle every month. As you can see, I turned a bad situation into a good one. In August, I bought the car that I always wanted. So if a cancer survivor can follow his dreams, then you can, too.
Marcelino has been given a chance to follow that dream by the Make-A-Wish Foundation of Sacramento, California. What the organization needs is our help in getting Marcelino's '67 fastback restored. Obviously, the foundation does not have the first idea of what to do where the restoration of a '67 fastback is concerned, but we figure that you folks will. Therefore, we are including the foundation's address and contact information below. If you would like to make a monetary donation the address is the same.
Make-A-Wish Foundation of Sacramento
Attn: Gwen Scales
1401 Halyard Dr., Ste. 130
West Sacramento, CA 95691
We would like to do more of these stories in the coming months. But what we need is your words on paper or in an e-mail. The story can be short or long, and what you'll get out of it is the notoriety of having been published in a national magazine in something other than the letters column. Old photos are great, even if your old photos are circa the '90s. Young and old are encouraged to send in their recollections for inclusion in the magazine.