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Anticipation, anxiety as Ford nears Mustang reveal

Felix Henrichs
Mustang club member

On Thursday,  Ford Motor Company will pull the veil off the redesigned Mustang. For the first time in its nearly 50-year history, the iconic pony car will be sold in every region of the world.

Talk to just about any Mustang owner, and you'll get a story about how their love affair with the car began.

Laura Slider of Ann Arbor says she's wanted one ever since she was fifteen, the day a red Mustang appeared in the driveway across the street.

"It was owned by a very cute boy that I liked.  And then we rode in it and it was very fast and sporty and fun and pretty, and I thought, I want one, someday."

Decades later, Slider was at a dealership looking for a good used car, and she took a 1995 Mustang - red - for a test drive.  Deal. 

Americans are not the only ones who love the Mustang. 

In Siegen, Germany, about an hour from Cologne, sits a small office that serves as the headquarters for the Mustang Club of Germany.

While Michael Sommer, Moygib Soori, and Timo Schneider wait for the meal of grilled wurst, courtesy of Club President Ralf Wurm, they talk about their first love.

"For me, it started in childhood," says Sommer.  "That Mustang Mach 1 from 1973, I think, that's a dream car, that's the dream!"  Soori:  "I saw a picture from 1966 - a Mustang - and that was it."

Schneider says the point to owning a Mustang is not going fast.  It's all about the cruise.  "You put the window down, and the arm outside, and you hear the V-8 engine......it's very cool."

If many American Mustang fans are hungry to see the new version, European fans are starved. Ford hasn't sold the Mustang there since 1979. Club member Susan Wurm, wife of Ralf Wurm, says the Mustang is different from most of the cars on the road today.

"Mustang gives the emotions," she says.  "It's an emotion to drive the Mustang.  It's special."

The passionate attachment that many people have to the Mustang puts Ford Motor Company between a rock and a hard place when it comes to redesigning the car.

"It is a danger," says Bill Visnic of Edmunds.com.  "It's a difficult, difficult thing to redesign an icon. The Mustang is really the one car that Ford has to get right."

But Visnic says the Mustang also has to evolve to stay relevant. Coupes like the Mustang have a naturally short shelf life, he says, and Ford has to attract younger buyers who may not have a classic Mustang memory from their childhoods.

"The biggest cautionary tale for Ford designers is alienating people with way too drastic of a change."

Some purists are howling at the rumor that the new Mustang borrows some design cues from the Ford Fusion. But Visnic says you could do worse than echo elements from another pretty car.

Ford officials are acting like "loose lips, sink Mustangs."  So almost no details about the car have leaked.

But they say there is one thing they did not do and will never do - downplay the Mustang's American roots. Roelant de Waard is with Ford of Europe.

"The Mustang's appeal was always because it was an American icon," says de Waard.  "And it stood for American freedom, and of course also American performance."

So the important stuff - a V-8 engine with a throaty growl, the rear-wheel drive, the long, expressive hood - that's all here to stay.

On Thursday, the Mustang goes on a global stage, with simultaneous reveals in Shanghai, Sydney, Barcelona, L.A., New York, and Dearborn.

It will be a test of whether an icon created 50 years ago still has the power to spark dreams.

Tracy Samilton covers energy and transportation, including the auto industry and the business response to climate change for Michigan Public. She began her career at Michigan Public as an intern, where she was promptly “bitten by the radio bug,” and never recovered.