A colleague asked me to help load a box into her car the other day. Slight and middle aged, she mentioned her back had been bothering her, so I was glad to help. When we got to the parking lot, I was pleasantly surprised to drop the box into a Mustang GT convertible. A late model, tan, S-197, to be exact. I like to consider myself a woke, white male, but I had to bite my tongue so as not to ask if the car was her husband’s or son’s. As my brain threatened to short-circuit, she just smiled and fired up the Coyote engine. It sounded like Angus Young striking a power chord. She looked out the window as she pulled away, clearly about to rock. I saluted her.

I haven’t been in a Mustang since I drove a 2017 a while back. As a nascent American car enthusiast, I was attracted to big, fast, and loud. Naturally, I had to drive one. The sales guy and I hit the highway and opened it up. He must have been bored that day because he implored me to floor it. When it took too long to hit triple digits, he called me a chicken. Guess he never got a chance himself. The drive was all sweat, exhaust, and front end. So rock and roll.

When we returned to the dealership–both of us feeling a sort of catharsis–the sales manager ruined it. He sat me down to impose his own version of the Mustang Story on me: “Imagine yourself driving down the road, top down, on a summer’s day. All the girls want to be with you. All the guys want to be you.” Dejected, I left and never went back. He also mentioned randomly that he was a bass player. Figures.

While researching this piece, I heard that the Mustang GT is most frequently cross-shopped with the Jeep Wrangler. Learning that helped everything to come together. Who do you see having the most fun in those vehicles throughout the summer? Generally those looking to let their hair down. Yes, track rats and dirt junkies will seek out GT350s and Rubicons, but mostly folks buy these things to have a laid-back good time.

Another girl-in-car story. In college, I was taking a walk with one of my roommates when a red fourth gen rumbled up alongside us. This girl smiled at us, lowered her shades, drawled “Hi, boys,” and sped off. I say girl for a reason, not to denigrate (woke, remember!). See, I knew her in elementary school: she used to dress all girly and participate in the talent show with her mom. I hadn’t really seen her since then, but I knew we ended up attending the same college. I’ve never been one to equate a car with an image, but, at that moment, she was glorious. I really wish I knew her story. How did she go from Shirley Temple to Joan Jett?

The answer is pretty simple. The Ford Mustang is the automotive equivalent of a classic rock song. Like all good songs from that era, it’s brash and rebellious yet somehow comfortable and familiar. If you wanted to start a riot, you wouldn’t hit the streets playing Aerosmith on your boom box. You would just be persuading people to party. If someone wanted to tell you what you should drive, you could just leave them in a smokey burnout. Or you could tell them to take shotgun. You’d be fine either way.

If the persistent popularity of bands like Zeppelin, GNR, and Boston can serve as a Mustang metaphor, then this hard, melodic auto represents a lifestyle worthy of the tattoos your parents said you’d regret. When all you want to do is ride around, don’t let people try to put you down. The Mustang is more than a feeling.

The kid gets it.

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