The Mustang Turning 40

Ford Mustang
AP
Craig Hutain has kept his Mustang for a long time.

He bought a 1965 model while in high school, and over the past four years he's spent $17,000 and devoted about 1,500 hours to restoring its original look - right down to the "springtime yellow" paint and the tachometer mounted on the steering column.

He's one of thousands of Mustang owners gathering this weekend at the Nashville Superspeedway to celebrate Mustang's 40th anniversary. The event began Thursday.

The Mustang made its debut in April 1964 at the World's Fair in New York. Since then, about 8 million people, including many enthusiasts like Hutain, have bought a Mustang.

The 44-year-old commercial pilot from Montgomery, Texas, considers his work a "tasteful restoration." His long-suffering wife, Lori, would say only, "It takes a lot of patience."

The Mustang was devised by Lee Iacocca, then Ford division chief, and product manager Donald Frey. The early models were little more than Ford's family sedan, the Falcon, with a new body.

But the car's image appealed to performance enthusiasts, and the Mustang became an American icon.

Frey, now 81, attended the Nashville event and signed autographs like a rock star. One man proclaimed him a "true genius" - an accolade that drew a snort from Frey.

"The original team didn't have a lot of people or money," he said. "We did everything on the cheap. ... The first car had only one light that flashed when the turn indictor was on."

Frey said the first Mustang rolled out only 18 months after getting the go-ahead from top management.

"I remember that we hoped to sell 86,000 units because we made a little money at that level," he said. "We sold over 400,000 in the first year and more than a million in the second."

Frey now teaches engineering at Northwestern University, and his students frequently ask how he launched the Mustang.

"I tell them to understand their market," Frey said. "It's important to know what people want."

But Ford launched the Mustang with little market research. Names considered for the new car included Cheetah, Puma, Cougar, Colt and Special Falcon.

Paul J. Russell, the current marketing manager for the Mustang, said a new V-6 lists at less than $20,000 and a loaded GT Coupe sells for slightly more than $30,000.

The Mustang sells well among aging baby boomers, but also among people younger than 30, Russell said. And about half its buyers are women.

Hutain's 1965 model had about 126,000 miles on it when he started the restoration. He's added just a few because he rarely drives it on city streets. He and his wife towed it on a trailer from their home near Houston to the Nashville Superspeedway.

His next project is the restoration a 1969 Mustang Mach 1, but he'll never part with his 1965 coupe.

"When I wash the tires, I take the wheels off," he said. "My car has never had a hose on it."