The Mustang Owner’s Museum is thriving in one of America’s car-craziest cities
Befitting of the moniker “The Queen City,” Charlotte, North Carolina’s crown contains more gems than that of the Britain’s Royal Family. It’s the second-largest banking center behind New York, for one, and is home to the second-largest financial institution by total assets, Bank of America. It’s also a growing hub for energy-sector jobs, not to mention trucking and freight transportation.
For car fans, though, Charlotte is NASCAR country. Not only do most of the organization’s teams in the three major national series have operations in and around the growing metropolis, but NASCAR’s offices are headquartered there. There’s also, of course, Charlotte Motor Speedway in nearby Concord, home to NASCAR’s longest race, the Coca-Cola 600, as well as the Bank of America Roval 400. Beyond that, Haas F1—the only Formula 1 team based in the United States—lives in Charlotte, and the four-lane spectacle that is zMAX Dragway is such a big hit with NHRA teams that more than a few have relocated to America’s new center of racing.
In an unassuming building about two miles from Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMAX Dragway is another jewel in Charlotte’s crown: the Mustang Owner’s Museum. The collection is to America’s pony car as the National Corvette Museum in Bowling Green, Kentucky is to America’s sports car: a place to experience and bond with one of the biggest icons of the automotive world.
I recently rolled into Charlotte to learn more about how the Mustang Owner’s Museum came to be. My host was founder Steve Hall, who explained how the museum weaved through the COVID-19 pandemic and what comes next down the open road of time.
“[The Mustang] was the first car I bought on my own,” said Hall. “My dad was a GM guy. My grandfather was a Ford guy. It was one of those things where, ‘Well, you’re a Ford guy, I’m gonna get GMs.’ I had always gotten my dad’s hand-me-downs, those GM cars.”
Upon graduating from high school, Hall needed his own ride to take to college. His dad surprised him with news of a car up for sale near his then-home in Northern California. The surprises kept adding up when they pulled up next to a red ‘66 Mustang fastback with a manual and a black interior. From that point on, he was hooked on America’s pony car, while going from viewing cars as a way to get from A to B to becoming a car guy. He would go on to own “four to five” Mustangs in his life, including a Shelby GT500 (which would be the last manually-shifted horse he’d drive, due to Atlanta traffic taking a toll on his left knee) and an ice blue 2006 Mustang that’s still in the family, owned by Hall’s daughter.
It wasn’t too hard for him to take his passion for America’s beloved horse and turn it into something more, which began with the 50th anniversary celebration of the Mustang in 2014.
“I was one of the two directors that did the Mustang 50th Anniversary in Charlotte and Las Vegas,” said Hall. “One of the exhibits I wanted to create for the event was an impromptu museum celebrating 50 years of memorabilia of the Mustang […] And then Ford came along with this humongous display of ‘50 Years of Mustang,’ one car of every year, memorabilia, things of the timeframe of the history of the Mustang, and also current events.”
Hall noted that there was no dedicated museum for the Mustang anywhere in the world. There were Mustangs in plenty of museums, but no single site dedicated to the pony car alone. Hall and his fellow Mustang fans learned that there was one attempt to rectify that omission, right around the time of the National Corvette Museum’s opening in 1994. Plenty of money was to the cause, but nothing ultimately came to fruition.
“My goal was [to] basically learn from those mistakes and go from there to see if it’s possible to build a museum,” said Hall. “Donations from the hobby was not gonna happen again; they already done it once, got burned. We figured, ‘Can we do it privately? How would we do it? What would be the details?’ We felt comfortable we could make this happen.”
The Mustang Owner’s Museum came to be in 2016 in Charlotte. Hall says it was the perfect location, due to the city’s car culture and especially the big herd of Mustangs that frequently roll through the streets. The first version was a free museum “in a small spot with seven cars” and memorabilia to “start the conversation” around a more permanent temple to America’s pony car. The grand opening for the museum took place in 2019 at its current location, near the aforementioned Charlotte Motor Speedway and zMAX Dragway. Also nearby are The Dirt Track at Charlotte as well as many car clubs.
Alas, 2020 rolled around, and with it the pandemic. With live events upended by COVID-19 for months, not to mention the many people and businesses that suffered, the Mustang Owner’s Museum had to close its doors to the public for a while. The free time allowed Hall and his crew to make it even better.
“We ended up basically just saying, ‘Well, what do we need to do to weather the storm?’” said Hall. “Fortunately, we have a membership program […] We were getting members to sign up, which, of course, helps […] I think that’s when people realized that we were here to stay. We weren’t going to flake out.”
The strong support through the worst of the pandemic allowed Hall and the rest of the Mustang Owner’s Museum staff to expand the museum’s original footprint within its building, expanding to the entire facility. The milestone was celebrated in April 2022 on the weekend of the Mustang’s birthday, April 17. Ford Motor Company joined in to throw its weight behind the museum, as well, helping with exhibits, displays, and memorabilia from its own collection.
“When I was over [at the 50th Anniversary celebration], we were talking about [how] it would be nice if there was a way to make it more of an annual event than an anniversary event. We started [on] April 17, making it National Mustang Day on a yearly basis.”
The plan for every National Mustang Day? For owners and clubs around the world to take their Mustangs out on the road, doing everything from taking the kids to school and driving to work to participating in their local shows, the idea being that if the general public saw more Mustangs on the street than usual, it may convince more than a few to bring theirs out, or, even better, buy a Mustang of their own. In the six years since the first National Mustang Day, over 100,000 NMD decals have gone out to nearly every corner of the world except Antarctica.
Hall says nearly all of the Mustangs on display are all on loan from their owners, while one is purchased by the museum annually for raffles. Current cars include one of two 1964 World’s Fair cars, plus No. 211, a barn find ‘64 that probably will never see the road again, but because of where it was on the production line, is very important to the Mustang history books. Hall says the cars are changed out every April and October to keep things fresh, to keep members and non-members alike coming back, and to give more Mustangs a chance to shine in Charlotte. A few of the cars at the museum, like the World’s Fair car, have never seen a car show due to their rarity and the effort that is needed to protect in transit and on location.
“Some of these cars here that we have will never go to car shows; the owner’s not into that,” said Hall. “Yet, they’ve got a car that’s very important to the hobby […] We’ve got some cars here that I think are beyond car show connections.”
As for the memorabilia, a lot of it comes from Hall’s own collection. Plenty more is from Mustang fans downsizing their collections and from Mustang clubs from all over the globe. Such bits include obvious items like die-cast cars, magazines, metal signs and so on, as well as items that could never be produced today: Mustang decanters, for instance, with Jim Beam bourbon and Mustang-branded cigarettes.
Where does Hall see the Mustang Owner’s Museum going in the next few years? Adoption of technology, such as using QR codes linking to short videos about the museum’s Mustangs from the owners, along with the aforementioned cycling of displays and the museum’s growing relationship with Ford. All of it will guarantee this special place will continue to thrive for the long term.
Just don’t expect a MOM Motorsports Park to be among the attractions, in the way NCM Motorsports Park was built alongside the Corvette Museum.
“As far as the museum having some involvement with a race track, not gonna happen,” said Hall. “The reason I say that is for us, we can’t be everything to everybody. What we do best is to try to give the guest the experience about Mustangs here. I look at [track days] as a great experience, autocross is great. They are great groups of guys that can put those things on. I let them do it because I know they’re better at that than I am. I just kinda step back.”
Of course, that doesn’t mean the Mustang Owner’s Museum hasn’t involved itself in the motorsports side of the Mustang. Hall says they’ve held events at Charlotte Motor Speedway, but with different groups handling the speedier end of things.
“We’re here just to showcase the Mustangs,” said Hall. “From the way we look at it, we have two types of customers. One is the general public. Maybe someone in their family had a Mustang, an aunt or uncle or grandfather, but it’s not an important vehicle to them. And then you have those who are enthusiasts, and the Mustang is an important [car] to them. We try to cater to both. We try to show things so that people can come in and learn something about Mustangs. And then those that do know something about Mustangs can maybe learn a little bit more, or even in some cases add to what we know.
“The idea is to just have a great experience, to come and enjoy [the museum]. It’s not your everyday museum type [of experience]. We really go beyond that, and I think we have.”