The Family Mustang Falls to Me

Laura McCausland

April 17 marks sixty years since the Ford Mustang’s public debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The original pony car immediately became a pop-culture and automotive phenom, and it remains one of the most impactful cars in history. We’re celebrating with stories of the events surrounding the Mustang’s launch, the history of the early cars, and tales from owners. Click here to follow along with our multi-week 60 Years of Mustang coverage. -Ed.

Of all the months in the calendar, April is forever aligned with the Ford Mustang. Mustang aficionados may already know April 17 as National Mustang Day, with this year’s date marking the 60th anniversary of the pony car’s splash debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair.

The connections are stronger yet within my own family. April 22, 2024, marks 36 years to the day that my dad first parked a Rangoon Red ’65 Mustang convertible in his garage. This April, in an incredibly emotional and devastating turn of events, was also the first time I’ve parked it in my own garage.

You probably have some sense of the Mustang’s history, how Ford product planners and designers captured lightning in a bottle. This sporty yet attainable car resonated with young (and young-at-heart) buyers and sparked an absolute sales frenzy. Twelve months after its introduction, Ford had built and sold over 400,000 Mustangs. By March of 1966, that figure eclipsed the million-car mark.

In 1965 alone, Ford built 559,451 Mustangs, with convertibles accounting for roughly 13 percent of that sum. By those numbers alone, my dad’s car isn’t anything particularly special. Data, however, doesn’t capture what this car means to me.

I don’t know when Dad first felt the call of the Mustang. Maybe it was exposure to Ford’s ad blitz that hit when he was just nine years old. Maybe it happened much later, when he helped my uncle wrench on a rather downtrodden example. Or through riding around in a Mustang owned by his good friend Clark. All I know is that he finally heeded the call in April of 1988—a month after my second birthday and only a few months before my younger brother entered the world.

At first glance, Dad’s Mustang looks like a Mustang GT equipped with the high-revving K-code 289 “Hi-Po” V-8, deluxe interior package, and other desirable options. The reality: It’s enough of a Frankenstang to make a Mustang Club of America concours judge erupt with palpitations.

Hagerty’s 1964-1966 Mustang buyers guide notes that, should concours-grade purity not be a personal goal, the early Mustang’s robust aftermarket parts support (and relatively simple design on which to wrench) make retroactively spec’ing a car to taste a fairly straightforward affair. Heck, in late 1965, Ford was itself running ads suggesting Mustang owners head to their local FoMoCo parts counter and retrofit some GT gear.

1965 Ford GT parts advertisement
Numbers-matching be damned; we have parts and accessories to sell!Ford

That’s exactly what our previous owner did, starting with a standard-grade Rangoon Red 289 convertible as the foundation. In went the Pony Interior and the Rally Pac. On went the styled steel wheels, the exhaust trumpets, the fog lamps, and the rocker striping. The mix-and-match didn’t stop with cosmetics, either: the four-speed toploader manual transmission was pulled from a ’66 car, the 8-inch rear axle salvaged from a ’67 Mustang, and the aluminum bell housing cribbed from some Ford product made in the early 1970s.

Dad may not have had all those date codes mapped when he bought the car, but he knew full well that it wasn’t a bonafide GT on his hands. That lack of provenance did not bother him one bit. I suspect that, with a growing family at home, a true numbers-matching K-code car would have been out of his reach. If it wasn’t, the provenance and value of such a thing might have spooked him out of regularly driving the car.

I’m grateful that we ended up with a pick-a-part pony car, because our family sure drove this Mustang.

My brother and I have—quite literally—a lifetime of memories with Dad and his car. Quick summer trips to the Dairy Queen on a hot summer’s night. Saturday afternoon road trips, exploring the winding back roads of northern Oakland County in Michigan as we snaked past inland lakes, apple orchards, abandoned gravel quarries, and Ford’s own proving grounds. My brother and I got our hands dirty helping Dad replace the rear leaf springs and trying, but ultimately failing, to grasp the intricate, dark art of carburetor tuning.

In later years, after patiently teaching both sons how to operate a manual transmission, Dad began regularly passing driving duties to us, the next generation. Initially he’d toss us the keys on our weekend rambles together, and over time, that led to trusting us enough to venture out on our own. He was gracious enough to repeatedly loan me the car, whether it was to incorporate it into my day job as an auto journalist or simply take my now-wife out for a cruise down Woodward Avenue.

The memories of this car are deeply ingrained in me, so much so that when I ordered a red Ford drop-top of my own—a 2022 Bronco—I picked a similar shade of red paint and added a handful of retro touches to visually tie the two cars together. Dad and I were looking forward to staging our two red Ford convertibles together for a quick photo shoot.

As it so often does, life had other plans. He passed unexpectedly last October, leaving an enormous gap in our hearts. And, per his wishes, the Mustang found its first new custodian in four decades—me. Bittersweet to say the very least.


These days, I find myself asking questions to which there are no clear answers. Do I really deserve this car? Am I worthy of being the caretaker for our family’s red Mustang? Who can I turn to for advice and for help swinging wrenches, now that my go-to guy isn’t around? What would Dad want me to do with his car, anyway?

The best answer I have for that last question: Just go. Drive it. Enjoy it.

I want to do all of that, but I also want to protect the car from harm. Maintenance comes first, then.

My initial, cursory exploration beneath the car revealed it to be remarkably solid, considering the Mustang spent its entire life in Michigan. Dad cared more about regular service and maintenance than cosmetic perfection, and my intent is to continue this approach. What it deserves is to be a basic driver treated with respect—nothing fancy.

Above all, I feel compelled to introduce the Mustang to the next generation. Much like Dad found himself 36 years ago, I’m now the parent of a car-crazy two-year-old who is incessantly asking “Dada, we go Mustang ride now?” I’m not overly fond of tradition, but this seems like the best kind to carry on.

That might take a bit of work. This car is rapidly approaching 60 years old, last had a substantial overhaul roughly 40 years ago, and wears its fair share of nicks, dents, scratches, and other imperfections. Having essentially sat for at least a year and a half, it’s going to need a little bit of TLC before we start using it even for short jaunts.

McCausland Mustang tire swap
High time for new tires.Evan McCausland

Despite knowing this car like the back of my hand, I’ve continued to discover new details or learn new things about our Mustang in the months since Dad’s passing. Scanned copies of National Parts Depot receipts, indicating what work he performed in recent years. A yellow folder holding the original bill of sale from 1988. (Interestingly, his most recent insurance policy continued to cite that original purchase price for its agreed value—a sum Mustang values have far eclipsed in recent years.) A printed email chain from two years ago shows the work Dad put into refurbishing the brake system, including adding a dual-reservoir master cylinder, but a random receipt in another folder indicates that the last time it received new tires was in 2012. New rubber is a necessity at this point.

So that’s the task at hand. If you find yourself in Michigan this summer, staring at a red Mustang convertible that’s a little rough around the edges—to say nothing of its driver—be sure to wave and say hi. And if you’re open to swinging a wrench and helping me tackle a growing to-do list? Well, that’d be great, too.


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    Who didn’t play mix and match back then? So much so that an upgraded car is in a way more original than an as from the factory. You know they made an 8 inch traction-lok, so while you’re at it. But I won’t be coming to Michigan. Love those 289 ‘Hi-Po’ fender emblems.

    I am very sorry for your loss. Don’t worry about it being rough around the edges; enjoy it and use it like your Dad would have. Make it right mechanically, and then get out in it and enjoy it.

    In April 1965 my wife and I took delivery of our first Mustang and first new car. It was a coupe and I ordered it well optioned and it went out the dealership door for $ 2,504. The color was silver blue metallic on the main body with a white vinyl top and white interior. I never saw another like it despite the large quantity of first year Mustangs built.

    We kept it until 1976 and it was used as a commuter, autocross and hillclimb car, and rally course car. We later had two other Mustangs, both of which gave many years of reliable service.

    Fond memories.

    The car looks great from where I’m sitting. Maintain it, preserve it, but most of all enjoy it. Keep the old memories with your dad, but have fun making new ones with your own family.

    I am always up to help out with maintenance on a mustang, email me and I will send you my cell number.

    Fantastic Story and I know exactly how you feel. Your dad would want you to enjoy it as much as he did. Take care of it, maintain it, and drive it. That is exactly what he would have done. You know he will be in the co-pilot seat with you all the way.

    In early
    1966 my parents ordered a new Mustang. It left the factory on December 17th We took delivery on the. 22nd. I was a senior in high school. The car now resides in my garage. One day it will be my daughter’s. There are many, many stories it can tell and I know all of them

    I joined the Early Ford Car Club of South Africa back in about 1983 but as I didn’t own a Ford I would only go on events with my modern car until I were to own a Ford. A little later I was offered a 1967 Mustang Coupe for 4K but figured I didn’t want an old Mustang that had a terrible paint job and a gas guzzling 289 V8 so I declined. About 2 months later the guy contacted me again and offered the car for 2K as that was how much he had paid for it to give to his son who now wanted to buy a newer car as he was now married. I took the car for a test drive in order to be able to come back and tell him that it was a POS. That didn’t work and I paid him before the engine was switched off. It was a faded orange when I bought it but after a light water papering day and a high grade polish it was sparkling like new again. It was the love of my life for the next ten years, did thousands of miles all over SA, a lot of the time towing a 20ft caravan, before selling it for 5K due to the Indian Ocean rust beginning to take hold of it. The buyer lived much further North up towards the Zimbabwe border and when I left South Africa in 2015 he still had it and all he had done to it apart from general maintenance was to paint it red. One of my favourite cars out of about 300 that have passed through my hands. Wish I had it now!

    I bought my first car in 1971. It was a red 65 fastback with a six and a three speed. I paid $475 for it. It had power nothing, but it did have 289 fender badges. Good times.

    Keep the car a”driver” way more interesting than the run of thill absolutely perfect $10000 paint job rotisserie cars,. Only way to collect memories is yo drive them.

    what a wonderful emotional and material gift from your Dad. I’m sure you will think of him every second behind the wheel or turning wrenches. Sorry for your loss.

    Evan… that’s why we love our cars, esp our Stangs. I have a 67 Inline 6 convertible that’s now a show car but I great looking and running daily driver. Acapulco Blue. I think cars like ours resonator cuz they look like they did when they were new. The joy the car brings to our family is immeasurable. Car people get it. Thanks for sharing.

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