Our Cars Week: "The Ford Mustang: Can you go home again?"
(Submitted by Car Lust reader and Carspotting: Auto Archeology Editor Michael E. Gouge)
For my fellow car lovers, there is no need to explain the bond a 16-year-old has with his first car. Mine was a 1966 Mustang in Nightmist Blue, and it opened up a world of freedom, of escapism, of pleasure in the sound of an engine purring along an open road. In other words, this angst-filled teenager discovered a home, a sanctuary, in a Mustang. Three decades hence, that old pony car--along with my youth and a new-found euphoria for the open road--are but memories.
Thomas Wolfe, the acclaimed Lost Generation author who hailed from my hometown of Asheville, N.C., famously wrote, “You can’t go home again.” The phrase comes from the title of Wolfe’s follow-up novel, published posthumously, to his thinly veiled scathing depiction of Asheville in his classic 1929 work, “Look Homeward Angel.”
Wolfe wrote, “You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and fame … back home to the escapes of Time and Memory.”
I’m offering this brief note on literature because I find myself in some ways journeying back to those youthful dreams and memories Wolfe found are often ruined by time and circumstance. My time machine: A descendant of my long-lost Mustang.
It’s true: Asheville looks much different than it did in my youth, not to mention Wolfe’s time. And the late-model Mustang I purchased a few days ago bears little in common mechanically with my old ’66, which carried me to my first job just a few hundred yards from Wolfe’s homestead. The photo above shows me with my first love. I was just 13 years old when my father purchased it.
But in some ways, I have come home again with this new pony. Behind the wheel of my latest Mustang, subtle design cues stir my memories. Everything is different, modern, even a bit bulky. But a spirit remains. Not a memory, but more like déjà vu. I catch fragments of a sensation.
As an upperclassman in high school, I owned a Mustang II Rallye hatchback profiled previously in CARSPOTTING. Some of its DNA filters into this late model as well, and I’m drawn back to those days of Van Halen and sitting in the corner of a grocery store parking lot with friends waiting for a new adventure to present itself.
As you may know, the Mustang debuted in 1964 and forever changed the automotive landscape, starting the pony car wars and becoming a symbol of youthful freedom for a generation. I grew up fascinated with these beauties, annoying my parents with shouts of “Mustang” whenever one passed. These days, the carspotting thrill becomes seeing them hidden away in barns, junkyards, and fields — like the above collection of photos taken recently across western North Carolina and upstate South Carolina.
The original Mustang sold more than million cars in just a year-and-a-half, so plenty of them survive in one state or another. And I’m willing to bet nearly every one of them were beloved by at least one young owner.
Yes, Mr. Wolfe, it’s not the home I once knew and loved. But it takes a part of me back there with the curve of the dash, the hint of a side scoop, the ‘60s typography on the gauges, and timeless look of a running pony against a tri-colored stripe.
I roll past the places of my youth; as The Beatles used to sing, “Some have gone, and some remain.” Despite being a different decade and different Mustang, the feeling is eerily similar. For a moment, this reverie gives me the urge to pull over just ahead. But how ridiculous would it look for a middle-age man to plant himself on the hood of this Mustang in an abandoned Bi-Lo parking lot with David Lee Roth screaming from the stereo?
Everyone knows you can’t go home again.