Boomers were born to love cars. We are the post-war generation that grew up in suburbia with the modern automobile. We love the nostalgic rides designed and produced in the middle of the 20th Century. Do you remember when showroom windows were papered and we waited in great anticipation of the new models? We couldn’t wait to crack open mainstream car magazines to see the new models.
The paper came down and shiny new rides were positioned strategically across the showroom floor under banners and lights. Buyers flocked in by the thousands. Car haulers and dealer back lots were always good for a sneak peek at what was hot off the assembly line. We’d walk the back lots and take in the rush of Gotta Have It Red.
I remember Ford’s sporty Mustang introduction the evening of April 16, 1964 on all three television networks. A herd of wild horses galloping across the screen with the spirit of the American West followed by those dreamy Walter Mitty commercials. Buy a Mustang and rewrite your life—and it did! Mustang was an affordable sporty car priced competitively with Falcon, Comet, Valiant, Barracuda, Chevy II, and Corvair. We got style for less money.
Mustang had the market advantage because it had virtually no competition until the Camaro and Firebird arrived in 1967 three years later. Barracuda remained little more than a rebodied Valiant in several body styles. AMC’s Javelin and two-seat AMX sports car were hot competitors for 1968. Despite the competition, Mustang continued to outsell everything in its class.
There was nothing like Mustang in the marketplace in 1964 with the exception being Studebaker’s high end “Avanti” luxury sport coupe, which was priced way out of reach for most buyers. Few could afford one. Friday, April 17th, Ford dealers rolled out Mustang priced under $2,500. Buyer enthusiasm was unequaled. There hadn’t been anything like it since the Model A and T.
People snapped up Mustangs just to have one. We bought them because we just had to be seen in one. We’d profile in front of downtown store windows just to see ourselves in the window glass driving one. Mustang was a huge rush of euphoria. Ford anticipated 100,000 Mustangs that first year. It sold nearly 600,000! Demand for Mustangs was so extreme Ford had to tool up two more assembly plants in California and New Jersey to satisfy demand.
Ironically, Iacocca had a tough time selling the “Sporty Ford Car” concept to Henry Ford II, who wasn’t interested in marketing exercises that could potentially cripple the company financially. Remember, at the time Ford was still recovering from the Edsel fiasco. Ford ultimately agreed and gave Iacocca the go ahead.
However—if it flopped, he’d be out the door.
Mustang is but one example of the love we have for automobiles. The 1955-57 Chevys are iconic automotive love machines. The same can be said for Camaro, Chevelle and Nova. Over at Pontiac, GM’s outlaw performance division, there was the brute GTO and luxurious Gran Prix. Olds followed suit with the 4-4-2. Even Buick, GM’s upscale luxury car division, brought us the high-end Riviera and mid-size GS sport models with powerful Nail Head V-8s.
Chrysler delivered the most powerful muscle cars from Detroit—all but unbeatable in drag and stock car racing. Automakers competed in all forms of racing to convey a message of performance. What won on Sunday sold on Monday.
Cars have been an integral part of boomer lifestyle since we were coming of age in the late 1950s. We just can’t help it because this is who we are. We couldn’t wait to get our driver’s licenses and counted the days. We spawned the cruises and hung out at the drive ins on Friday and Saturday nights. A good many of us cruised the main drags in cities and towns from coast to coast. We ventured out onto Airport Road to see who had the fastest cars. Summer evenings were spent washing and polishing the cars we loved most.
If you’re truly fortunate, you still have your first car and continue to treasure it today. If you’re like the rest of us, you have memories of that first car, which is long gone and but a memory. And with any luck you will find another one just like it.