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U.S.A.:Mustang fans gallop to 40th, lots of pics..

Last weekend, Mike Berardi took his 1968 Shelby GT350 on a road trip to Columbus, Ohio. Today, Berardi heads to the Nashville Superspeedway in Nashville, Tenn. in a '69 Shelby GT350 to get a real Mustang fix.

Owner got the bug with first muscle car he restored

By Phil Berg / Special to The Detroit News
Photos by Morris Richardson II / The Detroit News

If you passed Mike Berardi on the street, you’d never guess he’s an addict, let alone his vice.


At last count, he had a dozen.

Last weekend, the Canton resident took his 1968 Shelby GT350 on a road trip to Columbus, Ohio. Today, he heads to the Nashville Superspeedway in Nashville, Tenn. in a ’69 Shelby GT350 to get a real Mustang fix.

More than 4,500 ‘Stangs belonging to similarly addicted folks will be in Music City to celebrate the fabled pony car’s 40th year. Joining the party will be Mustang legend Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Co. Chairman and CEO Bill Ford Jr.

Since its introduction in 1964, the Mustang has become an American cultural icon, capturing the hearts and souls of legions of drivers. This weekend’s celebration in Nashville, sponsored by The Mustang Club of America, will be a four-day extravaganza honoring the car that essentially defined a generation and, for Berardi and others, became an obsession.

Berardi will arrive in Nashville with his buddy, Mark Storm of Northville, who sampled various forms of Mustangs, including three from the mid-1960s, before settling on a 1970 Boss 302 model two years ago.

“The problem is there are so many to like,” Storm says. “If you had to pin me down to my favorite one today, I’d say it’s a 1970 Shelby GT500 convertible. Tomorrow it might be the Hertz racer.”

Storm’s school-bus-orange 1970 Boss 302 is more affordable than a Shelby, but satisfies his craving nonetheless

“It’s just raw,” he says. “You start it up, and it has the mechanical lifters, so you hear the rattle of the motor, the exhaust. My wife says, Man, that thing stinks.’ I think it smells great.”

Yes, Storm admits, he’s inhaled.

Berardi succumbed to a similar weakness.

“I bought the 1968 convertible because it’s turquoise with a white top,” he says. “All my life , I’ve wanted that car.

George Huisman of Walled Lake is addicted to big-block engine Mustangs. He’s headed for Nashville with three cars, including his 1969 427, for the racing events.

“I’m kind of surprised but Mustang popularity is really going up,” says Huisman, who owns Classic Design Concepts, Inc. in Walled Lake, which specializes in selling Mustang parts.

“Maybe one percent of the world. The Nashville show is above and beyond the regular national meets, a lot of people have made their whole vacation around it.”

He says he can tell Mustang people from Chevy Corvette people just by looking at them, even if he can’t say how they’re different.

Berardi, Storm and Huisman were all introduced to Mustangs while adolescents.

“My very first car was a 1967 coupe that I bought when I was 14 and delivering papers for the Detroit News,” recalls Storm, now 42. I bought it with my paper route money for $150. My dad said it would be a great project, and I worked on it for two years, and made it a nice car.”

Berardi got hooked in high school, too.

“My first car was a 1977 Mustang II,” he said. “That started it.”

Once he graduated from college, Berardi bought a 1970 Mach 1 Cobrajet, restored it, and then bought another one.

Huisman, now 44, bought a 1966 GT when he was 15 years old. “Before I had my driver’s license, I did a restoration and searched out events around the country where I could find parts. You become acquainted with people involved with that.”

All three picked up their habits from older addicts.

“When I worked at a dealership, I got to drive Mustangs,” recalls Storm.

Berardi met a man in 1978 who had a 1971 Mach 1.

“It had black stripes, and I’ll never forget this car,” he says. “I went and bought a couple plastic models and painted them exactly like that.”

Huisman counsels people that they don’t have to have a car to have a Mustang passion. Berardi tries to set an example for Mustang newbies.

“Sometimes I’ll take the GT500 on Michigan Avenue,” he says. “One of the new Mustangs will come up next to me, and I kind of take off and hit the gas a little harder, and then a little harder, and suddenly we’re doing 85, and then we stop at the next light. They just want to know if the old ones can keep up with the new ones.”

It seems an appropriate outlet for a man whose life is consumed by Mustangs.

Last year, he built a 4,000-square-foot building to house his cars. Two nights a week, he reassembles two big-block 1971 Mach 1s. By day, he’s a customer service specialist at Ford Motor Co., where he’s worked all his adult life. Addicts often find creative solutions to pay for their habits and Berardi is no exception.

“I parted out some cars to pay for the building,” he says. “I’m concentrating on selling parts for 1971 to 1973 cars because there are not a lot of reproduction parts available for those. Now I have a hard time keeping up. I only buy a car I know will not lose any money.”

Berardi says he never meant to let Mustangs get the upper hand in his life.

“My intent was not to have 15 of these things,” he says. “My intent was to have one or two.”

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
One of the first Mustangs built, this 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible was fully restored by Phil and Peggy Wolfe of Livonia, Mi. It's number 1875 out of more than 7.5 million Mustangs built since 1964.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This 1965 Mustang convertible is owned by Lee Digue.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This 1966 Mustang convertible with retractable top is owned by Rick Balish of Dearborn Heights, Mich. Ford commissioned Ben Smith to build 18 of the cars with the lightweight fiberglas top in a feasiblity experiment but rejected the design because it had to be operated by hand. A motorized top would have added too much weight to the car. This is No. nine of the 18 cars built.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This 1967 Mustang belongs to Jeff and Vanessa Schembri of Livonia. Its 289 c.i. engine generates 271 horsepower.

Richard A. Wright
This rare 1968 Ford Shelby Mustang is on display at the Volo Museum near Chicago and is also for sale at $74,998. Only 464 of these special Mustangs designed by Carroll Shelby were built.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
Charlie and Mary Lou Buttigieg of Livonia displayed their 1969 Shelby Mustang. The Blue is the car's original color, but the maize striping was added by the Buttigiegs, both of whom profess to be huge University of Michigan football fans.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This 1969 Mustang Mach 1 belongs to Mike and Linda LaRue of Chatham, Ont.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This 1970 Mustang convertible belongs to Thad Pruitt of Ann Arbor.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
This "Grabber Lime" green 1971 429 Super Cobra Jet is owned by Anthony and Dorene Smith.

Dewey G. Norton
This 1978 Mustang II belongs to Greg Sauve of Taylor, Mich.

Richard A. Wright
Colorful '82 Mustang GT is powered by a Ford 306 V-8 with B.D.S. 671 blower. It is owned by Doug Bunten, of Avon, Ind.

Richard A. Wright
This 1984-1/2 Ford Mustang Limited Edition convertible marked the 20th anniversary of the Mustang.

Dewey G. Norton
AJ Grebinski, after driving his 1988 Mustang GT to and from work for three years, wanted to do something special with it. In 1991 he parked it, disassembled it, had Bob's Pro Fab shop build a tube frame, picked up a crate 351 engine, attached a Paxton blower (17in. MP) and for a little extra kick installed nitrous. Now he can be seen cruising in Allen Park on nice days, secure in the knowledge his Pro Street GT can shut down anything in sight with 9.5/142.

Larry Wright/ The Detroit News Online
Jay Barnabei of Belleville did a frame off on this 1989 Mustang 429 Cobra Jet.

Richard A. Wright
This '94 Ford Mustang 5.0-liter V-8 was second off in the '94 model run. First off was delivered to William Clay Ford.

Richard A. Wright
Rare Sunburst 2000 Ford Saleen S281 Supercharged Speedster is a one-of-a-kind car equipped with every option Saleen offered including the carbon fiber interior.

John Grielick / The Detroit News
05 Mustang GT Coupe concept.

Larry Wright / The Detroit News Online
Saleen S281 supercharged Mustang.

Larry Wright / The Detroit News Online
68 Shelby Mustang Cobra Jet 428 which served as inspiration for the Mustang concept.

Larry Wright / The Detroit News Online
2005 Ford Mustang GT

Richard A. Wright
An early Mustang advertisement.

My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.

My next Ford.....
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