Mustang 50th Birthday Celebration - The Great American Cruises
Neither rain, snow, ice, nor the threat of tornado warnings could keep the long-haulers away from the Mustang 50th Birthday Celebrations
"Driving" is a relative term. For the majority of Mustang owners, it means commuting to work daily in a newer Mustang or weekend cruising in a vintage model. A few hardy souls even drive their older Mustangs on a daily basis. Others may only move their Mustang a few feet, like from the trailer to their spot for concours judging, while another group drives to the track, puts the pedal to the metal on a road course or quarter-mile, then bolts the street tires back on for the drive home.
Then there are the serious drivers who participate in long-distance cruises, like David Turnbull's Great American Pony Drives or Sam Haymart's Mustangs Across America. It's one thing to commute 15 or 20 minutes to work; it's totally different spending several days crossing this great country of ours while dealing with changing weather conditions, road construction, traffic, and inconsiderate non-enthusiast drivers. And while most Mustang long-haulers these days choose the comfort and reliability of newer models, we have the utmost respect for owners who make such long treks in their older Mustangs, which are prone to convertible top leaks in the rain, overheating, and bucket seats that were never designed for long-distance comfort.
To celebrate the Mustang's 50th Anniversary, both GAPD and MAA staged long-distance cruises last April, plus the Mustang Club of America hosted its own 50th Pony Drives from Norman, Oklahoma's 50th Kick-Off Party to the Mustang 50th Birthday Celebrations in Charlotte and Las Vegas. The GAPD herded Mustangs to Oklahoma for the start of the MCA Pony Drive, while Mustangs Across America made the longest haul of all from Los Angeles to Charlotte.
After spending four days and over 1,100 miles with the MCA's Pony Drive from Oklahoma to Charlotte, we have a new appreciation and admiration for anyone with the stamina to cruise long-distance. As Haymart explains, "Staying in a different hotel each night gives you an idea of what it must be like to be a rock star on tour!"
Resisting the temptation to drive our own '66 Mustang on the multi-state MCA ride, Pam and I accepted Ford's offer to supply a '14 Shelby GT 500 as part of Heacock Classic Insurance's participation in both the Charlotte and Las Vegas legs of the MCA's 50th Pony Drive. For some reason, 662 hp, A/C, and Recaro seats in a brand-new Mustang seemed a tad more tolerable, comfortable, and reliable than a 48-year-old GT hardtop that has barely left the city limits since its restoration two years ago (It's OK Donald, I would have picked the Shelby too!-Ed.).
We picked up our Ruby Red Shelby in Dallas and immediately discovered that 662 hp is useless in rush-hour and construction traffic. Not a good start for a five-day highway adventure. We eventually escaped the I-35 log-jam and tapped the speed control at 80 mph, which translated to a loafing 1,800 rpm for the Shelby's 5.8-liter supercharged DOHC powerplant. At the Oklahoma welcome area, an attendant spotted our GT 500 and mentioned that a long line of Mustangs had zoomed by a couple of hours earlier, a reference to the southeastern leg of Turnbull's Great American Pony Drive that was closing in on Norman after departing Jacksonville, Florida, a few days earlier.
As a pre-cursor to the MCA's Oklahoma Kick-off Party, Turnbull organized seven GAPD cruises from all corners of the country to Oklahoma. In all, the GAPD (not to be confused with the MCA's Pony Drives) delivered over 200 Mustangs to Norman—just so they could reload for the drive to Charlotte or Las Vegas!
By the time our Shelby rolled into Norman, Mustangs filled the parking lots at the NCED Hotel and Conference Center, a resort-style facility that serves as a training center for U.S. Post Office employees. Inside, the MCA set up a registration area and organized a Saturday night banquet, where Heacock Classic Insurance handed out cards with a phone number to call for free towing. We hoped that wasn't an omen.
On Sunday morning, we awoke to the rumbling of Mustangs coming alive before sunrise to line up at the rear of the hotel for the 9:00 a.m. start of the eastern Pony Drive. It was cool and windy when I ran downstairs to position our Heacock-sponsored Shelby near the front. By 8:30, the line of Mustangs stretched around the NCED facility, nearly 200 cars according to Trail Boss Turnbull, who had just completed his Great American Pony Drive to Norman before leading the stampede to Charlotte in his black '64½ convertible with nearly 400,000 miles on the odometer. The on-time departure took us along rural roads to I-40, where Mustangs filled our vision through the windshield and rearview mirror. We were on our way.
And so was a major storm front. It caught up with us just as we arrived in Fort Smith, Arkansas, for our lunch stop at Randall Ford, which had emptied its sales lot to make room for the Pony Drive Mustangs. Out came the umbrellas as Mustang owners scurried across the pavement to the dealership showroom for some Arkansas barbecue.
The big gob of yellow and red followed us on our smartphone's weather radar as we hit I-40 again for the day's last leg to Little Rock. I felt bad for the owners who had spent much of the previous evening cleaning their Mustangs. By the time we arrived at our Little Rock hotel, the rain and wind had picked up, pretty much canceling the best-laid plans for a cruise-in hosted by Central Mustangers of Arkansas at the Shackleford Crossing Shopping Center. When tornado warnings were issued, many Pony Drive participants elected to stay put at their hotels. That's how we learned that the Embassy Suites in Little Rock has great baby-back ribs!
The clouds stayed with us for Monday morning's chilly departure from Crain Ford but the rain stayed away long enough for our Mustang caravan to roll into Memphis, accompanied by a police escort to Beale Street, where Mustang Club of Memphis volunteers staged the Pony Drive cars in a lineup that ran the length of the famous street. By the time the last Mustang arrived, the lane was packed with Mustangs as owners scattered to the various restaurants for lunch. Our return to I-40 was greatly aided by the Memphis Police Department's motorcycle cops who braved a downpour as they escorted us out of town.