A Hoon's Journey to the First Mustang


April 17th, 1964 is known officially as the birthday of the Ford Mustang and is a date that saw the launch of what is perhaps the most iconic vehicle ever made. 50 years ago today, Ford launched more than just a new car aimed at younger souls or those who just wished they were; they launched an entirely new class of car, a new automotive philosophy, and they helped launch one of the most exciting eras in automotive history that we still reminisce about today, even if not all of us were around for it.

So on today, the Mustang’s 50th birthday, allow me to reminisce a bit myself about when I got to see the beginnings of a legend, including the original 1962 Ford Mustang I concept, the first Mustang which Ford accidentally sold, and where they were all built. Along the way I also finally got to experience the legend from behind the wheel and fell in love with a car much in the same way as America did starting on this day 50 years ago.

Fortunately I won’t have to think back very far for this rambling of words I’m attempting to publish. It was March of 2013, I was on Spring Break, and while everyone else was escaping to Florida, my father and I decided we should leave Atlanta’s warm-ish spring weather and head to Detroit where it wasn’t exactly warm. At all. There was a good reason for it though, other than to witness the automotive presence in Detroit and experience the mecca-like status it has to us car lovers.

One of the main reasons we went was for a museum in Dearborn that was founded by Henry Ford himself and contains what has to be the most impressive collection of our history I’ve ever seen, including the car Ford officially recognizes as the first Mustang sold, the original Mustang I concept, and so many other important cars from decades ago. The other reason was to see the factory that also started it all, The Rouge, which utilized Ford’s assembly line concept on a colossal scale and then built the Mustang for four decades. And there was an Air Force museum in Ohio we wanted to see as well, but this is a professionally accredited automotive site so I won’t talk about that… very much.

Before we could get to the Henry Ford museum or The Rouge, we had to get a car. As we flew into Detroit I couldn’t help but notice that Lake Erie was frozen and that there was this weird white powder on the ground that I’ve hardly seen before in Atlanta (not including that one time about two months ago when I did but I really don’t want to talk about that). The nice lady at the rental car place could sense we weren’t northerners when she asked what our plans were as she checked our reservation. She must have thought we were insane. The snow in Detroit had just fallen that morning and much more was on the way in Ohio where we would be in two days. We had reserved a compact.

“You’re gonna need something bigger”, she said and to which my father replied “You got any Mustangs?”


So that’s the story behind why two Georgia residents were driving around in mostly snowy, 20 degree weather in Detroit with a rented 2013 Mustang Convertible and the top down.

My first taste of the automotive mecca that is Detroit and neighboring Dearborn was on the way to the hotel, which was across the highway from Ford’s global headquarters. Ford has always been a brand that I’ve loved, so to be sleeping within sight of the illuminated blue-oval on their building was more than cool. As we drove (top down of course) to The Rouge and Henry Ford museum, we unknowingly drove right through the middle of the entire company. On one side of the road we took to get there was the Ford Product Development Center, technology centers, a prototype vehicle delivery center, and engine builders – and on the other side, Ford’s private test track. If we had stayed around long enough we probably could have seen the 2015 Mustang all camo’d up.

Where the first Mustangs were built


Our first stop was the famous Ford River Rouge Complex, or The Rouge. A “city without residents”, The Rouge complex was arguably Henry Ford’s finest achievement. Construction began in 1917 but didn’t “finish” until 1927 when it was finally producing whole automobiles on site. From ore to a complete car, every aspect of the car’s assembly took place in this one enormous location.

At its peak, The Rouge had over fifteen million square feet of floor space among 93 buildings, 120 miles of conveyors, 100 miles of railroad track, and its own bus network. The first car they built completely on site was the Model A but it was eventually responsible for the first Mercury, the Thunderbird, and eventually the Mustang. The very first Mustang rolled off the assembly line at The Rouge in 1964 and now conveniently resides just up the road at the Henry Ford museum.


The original complex was replaced with a newer facility which now produces the F-150 and is more or less open to the public for tours. The tour covers the history in a big movie theater that sprays water at you, shows a nice timeline of the cars produced there, and then concludes with a walk around the newer F-150 assembly plant. They didn’t let us take pictures of the factory floor, but all you need to know is that it’s massive.

The original Mustangs


Once we had left the factory, drove past the test track without trying to peek over the fence more than six times, and arrived at the Henry Ford museum, we stumbled upon one of the rarest cars I had ever laid eyes on. The original Mustang – the 1962 Mustang I concept which was the first car to carry the Mustang name.


The project was led by Lee Iacocca himself and it was known as the first real example of the Mustang’s idea; a low-cost sports car that combined good performance, good looks, and personality. Other than the name, very few parts of this car actually carried over to the production Mustang which would debut two years later, but that doesn’t stop it from being a huge stepping stone in the Mustang’s history.

The concept was mid-engine, carried a 1.5-liter V4 (not a typo), and was built as a race car for the road. It took them team 100 days to go from clay models to two fully-functional cars, both of which were tested in the Dearborn area and one of which made its public debut at the 1962 United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen with a guy named Dan Gurney at the wheel. That car which he drove notoriously hard that day is the one that’s been on display here since 1982, but not after going from glamorous auto show tours to a dusty basement.


Getting to  see this car in person was totally worth getting the frozen face to drive there.

In the same exhibit but in its own special area is the other Mustang that you could say started it all, the Mustang with serial number one and is credited by Ford as being the first one sold even when it wasn’t supposed to. This Wimbledon white Mustang convertible with a black interior and black cloth top was part of a pre-production batch which was dispersed among dealerships to show off to the locals and build hype before it officially went on sale.


This one, however, was a bit of a trouble-maker. On April 14th, 1964, a Mr. Stanley Tucker of St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada bought the car for $3,334 from his local dealership. The problem here is that this Mustang wasn’t sent to dealership so they could sell it, let alone sell it three days before the official launch of the car. Two years later, Tucker agreed to exchange his Mustang number one for the one-millionth Mustang, sending this one back to Ford and eventually to this secluded room in the Henry Ford museum where it is now.


It’s a very special car, this Mustang. When it launched it was one of the most popular cars America had seen thus far, which became evident when the millionth Mustang sold just two years later. But since then, the Mustang never stopped being special or loved by so many people all over the world (that statement ignores that one period of time in the middle when it got… uh, not special or loved). To think of all the Mustangs that have followed since this first Mustang and everything else we’ve gotten from it since – like the Snakes, the Bosses, the Mach 1, the hero car in Bullitt, and much more – and have that one, that first Mustang, sitting just right there, was an amazing feeling. A feeling of respect.


My first experience in the Mustang

After the entire museum was under our belts by the second day there, we hopped into our white over black Mustang convertible with a black cloth top (funny how that works) and set a course for a frozen Ohio to gawk over some aircraft – top down, of course. Shortly after crossing into Ohio, and after reverting to our Georgia roots by raising the top and blasting the heat, I got to take the wheel of a Mustang for the first time.


As I drove us down interstate 75 from dusk till midnight, I wondered why it had taken me twenty one years to finally drive a Mustang. I’ve loved them for as long as I’ve loved cars and it’s always been a goal to buy one, but waiting till the day I got to see the Mustang’s roots in person and understand more about it was the right choice. In that abused rental Mustang, which had “JP” engraved in the steering column and smelled a bit like cabbage, I not only got the experience I had been waiting for, but I got the experience I had been expecting.

When I got in and put it in drive, I expected to want to drive the thing forever. I expected to not care about the old-fashioned suspension, lack of a telescoping steering wheel, the blind spots, how poorly it handled compared to something from Germany, or any kind of number associated with it. I only expected to care about how I felt behind the wheel, which was as free as a working college student on Spring Break with a Mustang in a town that has Angry Orchard on draught.

Driving on a lonely interstate through the rust belt at night in a Mustang was close to nirvana. I was exploring a new part of world from behind that long hood, glancing at those sharp ice blue gauges illuminating the dark cabin, and having that badge on the steering wheel to constantly remind me that I was in something special. For the first time I felt the urge to just simply keep driving that thing until one of us died. The interstate we were on would eventually take us back to Atlanta, and as much as I loved our time in Michigan and Ohio, I was just dying to take that car as far south as I could go until the road ended where I would then find another highway to explore. It’s an experience which I could best describe as addicting for someone like us.

This journey into my soul came to an abrupt end when I had to lift off of the throttle and pull off the freeway to our hotel in Dayton. Our Mustang had been running continuously for several hours but still felt like it hadn’t had enough. The car wanted more and I wanted to give it just that. Not even the $180,000 Porsche Panamera Turbo Executive I drove a few months ago left me feeling like that.


To wrap this up, happy birthday to the Mustang – the car that helped proved to the world that cars could be cool and that driving was way more than just a chore. In my fairly quick experience with it, I fell in love with a car faster than I ever have before (maybe not quicker than the M3, but still quick). It’s also the only rental car that I can remember and not shake my head in shame. Just thinking about it a year later makes me laugh a bit because of just how much fun we had wit hit. We drove it to Ford’s global headquarters, one of the most famous factories of the American industrial age, past the offices where it was designed, past the track where it was tested, and ultimately on a lonely interstate which would be boring in anything else. We also happened to drive it up in front of Henry Ford’s Fair Lane estate, his personal house, which we only found by chance among all of Dearborn’s hidden treasures. It was a damn fun car.

When you drive a Mustang, you feel as free as those wild horses out west which gave the car its name, and out of all the cars on sale today, I’m thrilled that the Mustang is still one of them after 50 (mostly) amazing years. Now blow out your candles and wish that nobody tries to repeat the Mustang II.

[Images Copyright 2014 Hooniverse/Greg Kachadurian]

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