Jim Smart
September 1, 2004

For as long as there have been Mustangs, there has been Ford's Dearborn, Michigan, assembly plant. The Dearborn Assembly Plant-or D.A.P., as it is affectionately known at Ford-has been building Mustangs ever since production began in early 1964. Few nameplates survive 40 years, much less continue production in the same plant for just as long.

Along the way, there have been two other Mustang assembly plants-Edison (Metuchen), New Jersey, and San Jose (Milpitas), California-both of which are now closed. While Mustang production ended at Metuchen during the '71 model year and San Jose stopped producing Mustangs after 1970, Dearborn continued to produce them at a healthy clip, even in the leanest sales years. During the Mustang's 40-year history, Dearborn has produced some 6.7 million of them. The other 2 million plus were produced at San Jose and Edison. This makes Dearborn the undisputed champ in Mustang manufacturing.

When the Edison assembly plant built its last Ford vehicle, an '04 Ranger, in March of this year, our attention immediately turned to Dearborn, which was scheduled to close in May. A call to Ford SVT boss John Coletti, and a call back from Dearborn Assembly Plant Manager Rob Webber, confirmed our wildest fantasy: We were invited to the closing of one of the greatest chapters in Ford history and the opening of two new ones.

The Dearborn Truck assembly plant, a brand-new, state-of-the-art facility right next to Dearborn Assembly, represents a new chapter in the rich Dearborn Rouge history. The second plant is AutoAlliance, the Ford/Mazda joint venture in Flat Rock, Michigan, where the all-new '05 Mustang will be built. AutoAlliance has been building new cars since 1988, including the Ford Probe, Mazda 626 and 6, and the more recent Mercury Cougar. Mustang quality will be the best it has ever been at AutoAlliance.

Webber graciously invited us into the Dearborn Assembly Plant for an up-close look at the last five days of '04 Mustang production before wrapping it all up at precisely 1:07 p.m. on Monday, May 10, in a crowd of more than 1,000 people. It would prove to be one of the most incredible journeys of our careers as historians and journalists.

The Last Dearborn MustangWhen we asked Plant Manager Rob Webber how we could photo-document the assembly of the last Dearborn Mustang, I didn't realize how challenging my question would be. It's difficult to define the "last" anything when it comes to mass production. There are too many variables: You have the last Cobra, last Mach 1, last GT, last red car, last black car, last yellow car, and so on. Because units get shuffled around during production, it becomes nearly impossible to define the "last" Mustang. Units get sidelined for repairs. And they get pulled from the line when specific parts don't arrive. The last unit out of the body shop might wind up 20 units up the line in the paint plant, then five units from the end of the line in trim and chassis.

Webber and his manufacturing team developed a decisive plan for the last Dearborn Mustang, a red GT convertible ordered internally by Ford for display at its new Dearborn Rouge Visitor's Center. In April, Webber scheduled the last Dearborn Mustang for assembly. The body was built in Redfire Clearcoat paint, then placed in storage and wrapped in a huge plastic bag. But it wouldn't exactly be the last Mustang body Dearborn produced. There would be hundreds more over the next couple of weeks. This teaches us something about the confusion of mass production. "Last" is a loose term at best because it encompasses many variables.

After all of the remaining Mustang orders had been processed into trim and chassis, "Mustang Last" was retrieved from storage and placed on the line. So were all of its components. I would be there to see it happen at 11 o'clock on a Friday night. For the next two days, I would walk the entire length of the Dearborn assembly line with the last vehicle this plant would ever produce.