Still strong: LeMay museum celebrates classic muscle car's 50th birthday in style

Staff writerJune 13, 2014 

The Ford Mustang turns 50 years old in 2014, but this is one pony that still runs like a colt.

In honor of the golden anniversary of the American muscle car, LeMay-America’s Car Museum is opening “Masters of Mustang” on Saturday (June 14).

Museum chief curator Scot Keller has gathered 21 privately owned Mustangs that were built between 1964 and 2014. It wasn’t hard to find them — the car has a massive fan base, he said. But the museum also was aware many other shows and celebrations are honoring the car this year.

“We really wanted to find a way to have a different perspective on the Mustang,” Keller said. The museum decided to focus on the conception and launch of the car.

“The Ford demographers saw a market coming,” Keller said of the company in the early 1960s. That market consisted of young baby boomers ready to flex their muscles and open their wallets. Ford, then headed by Lee Iacocca, challenged its designers to come up with a car that could be built on the platform of the popular but plain Ford Falcon.

Soon after its introduction, Ford brought in racer and high performance auto designer Carroll Shelby to design a line of Mustangs.

“Ford reached out to Carroll Shelby to help them bring muscle to the Mustang,” Keller said.

One of the cars in the show, a black 1966 GT 350 H, was built for the Hertz car rental company as a way for drivers to test a Shelby without having to purchase it. But Hertz didn’t just let anyone take the car out for a spin.

“You had to take a driving test with Hertz to prove you were capable of driving the car,” Keller said.

Like the Corvette and the Camaro, the Mustang has long been a part of American culture — and a Hollywood favorite. Whether it’s been Steve McQueen chasing bad guys through San Francisco in 1968’s “Bullitt,” Sean Connery as Agent 007 outrunning the cops on the Vegas Strip in “Diamonds Are Forever,” or Will Smith and his dog patrolling a zombie-infested New York City in “I Am Legend,” the Mustang has added macho swagger to whomever was driving one.

A replica of one of those cars is in the exhibit. A 1968 fastback owned by Alan Provost is a replica of the green car McQueen used during the epic nine-minute-long chase in “Bullitt.” It has handcuffs hanging from the rearview mirror and a police badge on the dash.

The 21 cars in the show include two from 1964, five Shelby GT models, a 1990 Washington police cruiser, and two from the current 2014 model year. There is a dearth of cars from the middle years when Ford, like other manufacturers, struggled to maintain the vigor of muscle cars while they adopted strict emissions and fuel economy standards.

At 11 a.m. Saturday, Keller will give an “Insider Talk” on the exhibit.

During Father’s Day weekend and through June 20, the museum also will hold its annual “Hoods Up for Father’s Day” event, which features 100 vehicles displayed with their engines exposed. ‘Masters of Mustang’

Craig Sailor: 253-597-8541

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