As summer fades into fall, there’s nothing better than going for a pony ride.
So it should come as no shock that more than 1,000 Ford Mustang pony cars (and more than 1,600 owners and passengers) are headed to the Motor City as part of a cross-country stampede that ends at Hart Plaza in downtown Detroit late Wednesday. And those are just the people who officially registered with Ford.
“You can’t call it a convoy. It is literally a stampede,” said Diane Flis-Schneider of America’s Automotive Trust, who is leading six generations of Mustangs from Tacoma, Washington, plus a camouflaged seventh generation Mustang (that will be unveiled Wednesday) driven by a Ford engineer.
Word spread of the convoy within the Mustang community and fans have planned ahead to join the celebration from around the country.
Crowds of hundreds have gathered at each stop and Mustang owners have even driven a portion of the route, which has gone from Tacoma to Yakima in Washington; Boise to Salt Lake City; Cheyenne, Wyoming, to Kearney, Nebraska, and Kansas City, Missouri, to Auburn, Indiana, with arrival in Michigan on Wednesday.
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“We had a car that needed to be put into the trailer, a pony that needed to go into the stable” when temps hovered around 100 degrees, said Flis-Schneider, whose title is “road boss” for this operation.
Three of the classic Mustangs have no air-conditioning but that doesn’t seem to bother anyone.
They began their journey on Sept. 6.
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Ford Motor Co. capped registration for its official stampede scheduled to go Wednesday night from Ford World Headquarters in Dearborn to downtown Detroit as part of the North American International Auto Show — to be followed by the big reveal of the2024 Mustang.
Mustang owners registered from almost every state, coast to coast. They’re flying in. And they’re driving in from all over the U.S. And this isn’t just a domestic crowd. People are coming from Spain, France, Germany, Australia and India, Ford said.
“To some, the stampede is just a PR event for Ford. For Mustang enthusiasts, it’s truly a celebration of the Mustang. How many other companies and other product launches will have every major generation on stage when they roll out the new one?” asked Bradley Belcher, 24, of Swayzee, Indiana.
The operations specialist at a textbook company is founder and president of the Millennial Mustang Registry, and he’s driving his black 1965 Mustang Fastback GT to be displayed at the launch.
“You hear that millennials don’t like cars. I really got tired of going to car shows in my 1965 Mustang and being told, ‘Nobody your age likes cars.’ I founded the group to prove everybody wrong,” Belcher said.
Since 2018, the group has grown to more than 500 members from almost every state in the U.S., as well as other countries.
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“Most companies are focused on this is what we’re selling now,” Belcher said. “Mustang is more than a car. Mustang is family. Mustang is a feeling.”
Belcher grew up in the back seat of his father’s red 1969 Mustang convertible. When the boy was 12, he asked his father what kind of Mustang he should one day own. The two agreed to get him a Mustang and the banker dad would pay half. After mowing lawns and cleaning pools, the boy saved $3,500 and bought a shell of a Mustang with his $7,000 budget at auction. They went to swap meets and found parts to rebuild the vehicle together, with help from people they met who taught them.
“I can sit in the driver’s seat and tell you who got me the knobs for Christmas, where dad and I found the steering wheel,” Belcher said.
The road to Detroit
Connie Trine, 66, a retired school secretary from Kirkland, Washington, and her husband, a Boeing retiree, are driving her 2004 Mustang Mach 1 cross-country “on the road back to Detroit” with the team led by Flis-Schneider.
Her car represents the fourth generation Mustang, built from 1994 to 2004.
The retired school secretary and her husband of 47 years, a retired schedule planner for Boeing, also own a 1965 Mustang convertible, a 1966 Mustang Fastback and a 2014 Mustang GT.
“People come up and talk to you. Just everyday people, not hoity-toity people.” Trine said.
Kundan Nasir, 38, of southern New Jersey, is headed to Detroit for the big reveal, too.
The hospital chaplain also runs a YouTube channel for Mustang junkies.
“Mustang was my first car in high school. It felt like me. I was able to be free. My mom’s (Toyota) Corolla just didn’t have the same feeling,” Nasir said. “I felt like I was putting on a superhero persona.”
He has a 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500 (known as “Hulk”) and a 2018 Mustang GT (nicknamed Black Mamba). His “belle of the ball,” however, is his 2006 Mustang V6 convertible owned since college. It has 200,000 miles “and feels like an old soldier I’ve been through life with – college, children. It was the first car I financed. When I needed to buy a house, I sold that car and cried like a baby. The dealership I sold it to, the mechanic came out and gave me a hug.”
He looked and looked to try to get that old car back and struck gold in 2019 on Facebook marketplace. He knew it was the real deal because he had a batman symbol in the trunk, and the batman symbol was still there. He paid $25,000 the first time and $3,000 the second time.
“It marks moments in my life – moments of sadness and opportunity and triumph,” Nasir said. “I’ve grown and matured as a human being, as a parent, a friend and a son. The car is a living document of where you’ve been. It tells my story. My daughter is 10 now. She comes with me to events, and I want her to learn to drive a stick shift. She’s got six or seven years to go.”
Meanwhile, he’ll be filing reports on his YouTube Channel “StangMode,” which is followed by about 160,000 fans plus 60,000 others on Instagram. Mustang creates private memories for Nasir as well as content for the public now.
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End of an era
As Ford launches the latest Mustang, one of its competitors is fading. Dodge is bidding farewell to its Challenger. It closed out 2021 as the No. 1 muscle car in total sales in the U.S., giving the brand its first crown in the segment.
“We are celebrating the end of an era,” said Tim Kuniskis, Dodge brand chief executive officer.
Kevin Kelly, spokesman for Chevrolet, said Camaro remains a part of the company’s lineup. There is nothing to announce in terms of next-generation Camaro right now, he said.
Swansong for a dreamer
Behind the scenes, engineer Hau Thai-Tang is watching with a smile.
These are his final days at Ford as a top executive after nearly 35 years. The launch of the newest Mustang will be his swan song, as someone who has worked on the past four versions of Mustang – keeping to the essence of a car he describes as simply fast, fun and affordable.
“It embodies all the things that we think are great about America – whether it’s freedom, the vast open spaces that we have, the idea of power,” he told the Free Press. “You’ve got your pony cars, muscle cars, like Mustang and (Dodge) Challenger and (Chevy) Camaro.”
Mustang has sold more than 10 million vehicles over the years.
“Like many others, I joined Ford because of the Mustang,” Thai-Tang said. “But my story is a bit unique. I was a child growing up in Vietnam during the war.”
He saw the high-performance Mustangs taken to Vietnam during a USO tour to build up morale for the troops and to promote driver safety. Seatbelts would be coming out as standard equipment and a lot of soldiers, home from the war, were getting into car accidents, Thai-Tang recalled.
The young boy in Saigon was used to seeing small cars, growing up in what was a French colony.
“The Mustang was different than anything I’d seen. It reinforced all those imageries I thought about America, right? All that power, the performance, the wide-open spaces. I just fell in love,” Thai-Tang said.
“We were evacuated out of Saigon into Guam and then Camp Pendleton in California. We settled in New York City. My mother worked for Chase Manhattan Bank. We were evacuated by the bank in April 1975.”
He added, “Having a chance to work on the fifth-generation Mustang as the chief engineer was a dream come true.”
That’s model years 2005 to 2014. And that vehicle was taken to Iraq on tour for the troops, too. Over the years, Thai-Tang has been directly involved with the creation and evolution of Mustang.
“We are going to be the last person standing in this segment. I think that’s fitting, given we invented the segment almost 60 years ago,” he said. “I’m grateful to (Ford CEO) Jim (Farley) and Bill Ford for giving me the opportunity to end on a high note. I couldn’t think of a better capstone on my career than this project.”
He was promoted to chief industrial platform officer earlier this year, and plans to leave in October.
Thai-Tang is looking forward to vacation and retirement with his wife, and just taking time off to unwind.
Who knows, they may be found on a back road with the top down — driving a Mustang.
Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-618-1034 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid.