CONCORD, N.C. – Galloping across the streets of America for the past 55 years, the pony car that created an automotive segment and brought sporty fun to the masses is worthy of celebration. Somehow the Ford Mustang made it this far without having a place for fans to converge and honor its history -- until now.
In the past there have been attempts to create a Mustang museum, but after being inspired at the last birthday celebration, executive 50th event director Ron Bramlett and deputy director Steve Hall corralled a small group of enthusiasts who finally made it happen, with a unique twist. This brand-new museum is dedicated to the people who made the pony car legend live on. Its name says it all: The Mustang Owner’s Museum is dedicated to the car and its fans.
“The start of the idea was at the Mustang 50th celebration, when Ron Bramlett (of Mustangs Plus) and I talked about having a display with memorabilia from 50 years of Mustang because there was no museum,” Hall explained. “We started looking into it and I realized it would be quite a task, and about that time Ford Motor Company did a timeline garage that was so far superior -- so we tabled the idea of having our own little 50th museum at that event.
“After about a year, we started talking about it and said, ‘Well, you know, there is still no museum,’ and we thought we should create a business plan that made sense,” Hall continued. “…I talked to a couple well-known people in the Mustang hobby to see if they thought it was a good idea, and to a person they all said yes and even wanted to chip in. They all said, ‘There needs to be one [a museum]’ . . .”
As the plan came together the name and location changed over time, but finally the stars began to align and the week of National Mustang Day 2019 -- April 16-20 -- became the target for the museum’s grand opening. As such, the museum’s brain trust decided to celebrate Mustang’s birthday in grand style with 55th anniversary events spanning five days and offering everything from tours of the museum and guest speakers to open-track runs and car shows.
When the Mustang’s big day, April 17, finally arrived there was magic in the air, and a massive crowd of Mustang loyalists crowded around the entry of the new museum in Concord, North Carolina. There, a man who played a huge role in making this all possible stood in front of the ceremonial ribbon with a large pair of scissors. Gale Halderman not only designed the original Mustang, but he also provided sage advice to the team creating the Mustang museum. It was only fitting that he was there to slice the ribbon and officially open the shrine to his creation.
Halderman, along with Kevin and Shelli Marti (of Marti Report fame), and Ford’s own John Clor were inducted into the museum’s inaugural Hall of Fame at one of the banquets that was hosted each night of the event. They also gave presentations during the event, along with Jerry Fleszar (Clay Modeler on the early Mustangs), Bud Magaldi (Design Director for the SN-95 Mustang), Justin Pawlak (Roush Professional Drift Driver), Tom Cotter (Certified Car Geek), Lee Mansell (1964 New York World’s Fair Mustang), Art Hyde (Chief Engineer of SN-95, Bullitt & Mach 1 plus S-197), Lee Holman (of Holman and Moody), and Jerry Heasley (Barn Find Hunter).
“A lot of people have always been concerned that Mustang is our most iconic brand, enduring 55 years with one nameplate, and we have never had a national shrine for it,” Ford Performance Enthusiast Communications Manager John Clor explained. “…Several people attempted to create one but it never really happened, so it is kind of fitting that Mustang owners themselves got together to have an owner’s museum. Let’s face it, the reason why the Mustang is so popular and still going 55 years later is the owners. They hold the history of this car in their hands, and they have made the legacy for Mustang as much as Ford Motor Company has.”
Along with the cavalcade of Mustang celebrities, hundreds of Mustangs filled the infield of Charlotte Motor Speedway, which is just down the road from the Mustang Owner’s Museum. From the latest factory fresh machines to restomod classics, there was something for every Mustang fan to appreciate in the show, and its non-judged format made it relaxed and easy for fans to come and go between the show and the museum.
Within the throngs of cars on the show field were Mustangs representing countries from across the globe. We spotted cars from Australia, Belgium, Brazil, New Zealand, and many more. There is something about the Mustang that pulls at the heartstrings of enthusiasts across the globe like no other automobile, and it was heartwarming to see people from all over the United States and the world in town to celebrate its birthday.
“I was shocked at how many people from overseas put their Mustangs in a crate and shipped it over here just to be with other owners for this event,” Clor added. “…I was on the show field yesterday with Gale (Halderman) who was doing a book signing and a Mustang club from France came up to us and said, ‘We made a special flag for this event and want you to have it.’ They hung it on my Ford Performance Transit van. What car gets people to do those things?”
The answer, of course, is the Mustang. In addition to the static car show, there was a robust vendor midway that was in and around one of the track’s garages. Among those promoting their products and services was CJ Pony Parts, Classic Design Concepts, Ford Performance, Fox Mustang Restoration, National Parts Depot, Long Tube Headers, Orlando Mustang, Redline Tuning, Roush Performance, Schrader Performance, TREMEC Transmissions, Vortech Superchargers, and more.
Of course, there was more to the event than just static displays. Corner-carving Mustang enthusiasts bought up all the available garage spaces, and over 140 cars participated in the open-track sessions at the Charlotte Motor Speedway. Run in four groups (A, B, C, & D) to allow for a variety of driver skill levels and car capabilities, these track sessions gave attendees something to watch for much of the event. Mustangs and the odd classic Ford slithered through the road course and up onto the oval, roaring around the cars and displays set up in the infield.
The open-trackers weren’t the only Mustang fans to get up on the oval, however. The event offered parade laps for those inclined to keep a more leisurely pace around the historic track. These opportunities were popular, but none more so than the attempt at breaking the previous world-record 960-Mustang parade set by Ford of Mexico and Centro Dinámico Pegaso S.A. de C.V. The attempt fell short at this 55th show, but the passion and excitement shown by the fans giving it a shot was easily evident.
“The other night I had someone come up to me and say, ‘I know we didn’t make it, but I think you are taking this the wrong way -- You are upset because we didn’t get the world record, but you know what? We own the U.S. record,’” Hall said. “And I realized at that moment that that’s the positive effect that Mustang enthusiasts have on everything they do. They are not looking at the glass half-empty.”
While the weather put a damper on some of the activities on-and-off over the weekend, when the rain did dry up, pro drivers Justin Pawlak and Jonathan Nerren put on a show with some drifting exhibition runs. When the open-track drivers took a break, these two skilled drift drivers took turns wowing the crowd with their car control and billowing plumes of tire smoke.
Not too far out of earshot from the action at the track, the 42,500 square-foot Mustang Owner’s Museum offered its first glimpse inside to the adoring flocks of Mustang fans in attendance. It was a particularly popular stop during Friday’s rainy times, and inside was a wide range of rare and unique Mustangs that are part of the museum’s rotating stock. Cars are displayed for six months at a time, which offers owners a chance to have their special rides displayed there and keeps things interesting for the fans who visit the museum on more than one occasion.
“We want the owners to realize they are a big, big part of this,” Hall said. “They are not just potential visitors, but we want them to be part of the museum. At this point we feel like we are really more like caretakers to make sure that all of the members and Mustang owners feel like this is their home, too. Dearborn is always Mustang’s home, but this is a place for owners to come and celebrate with each other at shows and events. You can see some cool cars here and meet some cool people.”
We saw everything from the final Fox Mustang constructed at Dearborn Assembly to a 1969 Shelby GT500 rolling on a 2014 Shelby GT500 chassis. From early and stock to modern and modified, there were Mustangs to please every enthusiast’s palette, and the vibe of the museum truly made it about the owners, which is a testament to the fans of the car that created this museum.
During the event, there was also a rare opportunity to visit the private collection of the museum’s landlord, Daniel Carpenter. The principal at Mustang Reproduction Parts and Dennis Carpenter Ford Restoration Parts -- which creates many of the reproduction parts you buy from your favorite retailer -- Carpenter is also a true enthusiast at heart. His father, Dennis, created his own museum on-site full of rare Fords and other modes of transportation, while Daniel has a small collection of Fox-era and newer machines in a loft above his namesake company’s main floor. Including a range of rarities -- from a mint 1979 Mustang Indy Pace Car to a 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R -- this collection is small but mighty and offered yet another way to celebrate the car’s lineage.
And that’s just what hundreds of Mustang fans did for the week celebrating Ford’s famed pony car’s special birthday. The grand opening of the Mustang Owner’s Museum and its companion car show set the stage for a future where Mustangs will have a second place to call home. Yes, Dearborn will always be their hometown, but in the years to come they will have a second home in Concord, North Carolina (just outside of Charlotte) -- and that’s something definitely worth celebrating.
FORD PERFORMANCE PHOTOS / COURTESY STEVE TURNER