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Our Cars Week: "The Ford Mustang: Can you go home again?"

(Submitted by Car Lust reader and Carspotting: Auto Archeology Editor Michael E. Gouge)

Mustang guest post
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.

Mustang guest post 2

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.

--Michael Gouge

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Beautiful, sir, beautiful.

No, you can't go home again, in the sense of returning to the way things were exactly, and would you really want to? I'd love to have my old '85 CRX back. When I owned it, I was 24 and single, and somewhat immature, and certainly less experienced at living. Would I really want to trade away my wife, my two boys, my dog, and all that I've gained (including the friends I've made here at Car Lust) and commit to living through two and a half decades all over again, just to get back the CRX and some youthful energy? No, not really--but it would be nice to go back and visit now and then.

Kinda like many of the cars pictured, I long for a body of days gone by. But I wouldn't go back for similar reasons that Cookie elucidates above.

And I know it makes me a freak, but I didn't like most of the Mustangs ever built. A few of the late 60's early 70's, but I'd pass on the rest. I always had my eyes on the Corvettes so couldn't spare a lot of time or lust for the Mustangs!

"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?"

Personally, it sounds cool to me. Heck, I would do it! :D

"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."

That to me is retro done right.

BTW, you (Michael) might want to consider doing a now-and-then photo, recreating the old Mustang photo with the new Mustang and the now-older you.

My first car...my first new car...had to be a Mustang.
I was a college freshman and with the gas crisis still fresh in our memories, the new Mustang II looked to be the answer.

The local Ford dealer had a nice 1974 red coupe with white interior and body side moldings. Nice looking car.
Best of all it was cheap with a sticker of about $3100. It's only options were an AM radio and automatic. Still, not a bad car.

In the intervening years the Mustang II has gotten a bad rap, basically because it wasn't powered by a Windsor or Cleveland.
But for what I needed it for it was great. It got good mileage for the time, but was dreadfully underpowered. If you were at the bottom of a hill at a stoplight, it would take ages to get up to speed.
It served me well for 5 years and 50,000 miles. I hated to see it go. My next car? One the new "Fox platform" 79 Mustangs, a Ghia hatchback. It was a good car for the time, but it never captured my heart like my first.

Yesterday I drove by an elementary school. Out front was a late model red coupe. Judging from its badging and built in driving lights in the grille, I guessed it was a V-6.
I imagined it belonging to a young teacher, just out of college.
I can't think of a better car for anyone who wants a bit of sportiness while having a car well suited for the real world (as opposed to car magazine tests). A couple of minutes later, I saw another late Mustang, this time a GT. It had Shelby stripes and several bolt-on mods...a new billet grille and front facia.
Another example of the Mustang being whatever its owner wanted it to be.

If America ever names a national car, I'll nominate the Mustang.

Thanks to everyone for the comments. Hope you enjoyed my article. You can read similar tales of my life adorning the automobile on my blog: http://autoarcheology.tumblr.com/ Also, check out Carspotting: Auto Archeology on Facebook.
-- Michael

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