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US:Mustang has clutch on psyche of America

Todd McInturf / The Detroit News
Tom Holzer Ford says Mike Light, 48, of Commerce Township called every day before he took delivery of his car last month. Light, an electrician, says it was more like a few times a week.

Mustang has clutch on psyche of America

The wait on custom orders is six months; anxious customers will stop at nothing.

By Eric Mayne / The Detroit News

Mustang facts
• Named after the P51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II
• Debuted at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., on April 17, 1964
• Generated 22,000 orders the first day of sales; first-year sales tallied 417,000; total sales since 1964 more than 8 million
• Redesigned with retro style for 2005; production moved from famed Rouge plant to Flat Rock

Sean Sperry / Associated Press
Rachel Emmons, 35, had the Mustang logo tattooed on her leg before her 2005 arrived. "I ordered mine sight unseen," says Emmons, a 35-year-old lobbyist from Montana.

Rachel Emmons of Montana had a Mustang pony logo tattooed on her leg way before she took delivery of the redesigned 2005 sports car. Another woman from Texas was so eager to get her new '05 Mustang, she paid to have it picked up at a Kansas City rail yard 550 miles away.

Then there's the Fort Worth, Texas, man who was mistaken for a nighttime prowler when he staked out a local dealership just to get a look at his new car.

It's no secret or surprise that the latest evolution of the Ford Mustang is a hot seller. But enthusiasts are going to extreme measures to get their hands on the muscle sports car with the galloping horse on its grille.

Hundreds of customers placed orders months before production began and then badgered dealers to learn when their Mustangs would be built. Some buyers even are leaving the factory shrink wrap on the car to keep it a pristine collector's piece.

The Mustang has held a special grip on the American psyche since its debut 40 years ago at the World's Fair in New York. Consumers immediately swamped Ford dealerships across the country. Some slept outside showrooms to buy a Mustang. Both Time and Newsweek featured the Mustang on their covers in the same week.

Within two years, Mustang sales had passed the 1 million mark.

In 1966, Wilson Pickett immortalized it in his hit record, "Mustang Sally." Two years later, Steve McQueen roared through the streets of San Francisco in a 1968 Mustang GT Fastback in the movie "Bullitt."

The car's pedigree has spawned generations of Mustang fans ready to pounce when the new 2005 model debuted. Just three months after Ford began building the new Mustang, it has 6,000 special orders. Dealers have so many pre-orders they haven't been able to build up a decent stockpile on their lots.

"We haven't had a Mustang GT available as what we would call a stock unit," said Dean Sellers, new car sales manager of Dean Sellers Ford in Troy. "Everything that we've gotten in has been ordered."

Many buyers -- teased by widespread news reports about the car -- placed orders before production began in September. That's "extraordinary" for a mainstream car, said Scott Reas, general manager of Jerome Duncan Ford in Sterling Heights, which is waiting for Ford to deliver 39 Mustangs specially ordered by customers.

When Volkswagen AG revived the Beetle with a fresh design in 1998, it took more than two years before production caught up with demand. The Chrysler PT Cruiser also required long waiting periods when it debuted.

Many customers are personalizing their Mustang -- even if it means waiting weeks or months for delivery.

Ford said the wait is up to six months, depending on a dealership's location and other factors.

"I ordered mine sight unseen," said Emmons, a 35-year-old Washington lobbyist who telecommutes from her new home in Montana. She took possession of a mineral gray 2005 Mustang in November, five months after she placed her order.

While every new version of the Mustang sparks a run on sales, the latest version is more than a facelift. It's the first top-to-bottom redesign of the car since the late 1970s.

"We have a lot of pent-up demand," said Paul Russell, Ford's Mustang marketing manager.

Ford expects to sell more than 140,000 Mustang next year. More than half of all 2005 Mustang buyers have traded in vehicles built by Ford's competition, Russell said.

Anxious Mustang buyers, it seems, will stop at nothing to expedite delivery of the car.

They've managed to track down Mike Thornton, president of United Auto Workers Local 3000, which represents workers at the Flat Rock plant where the new Mustang is built.

Thornton has been contacted by would-be buyers seeking access to the plant or inside information about quality, production and delivery.

"They want to be part of the experience and see it go down the line," Thornton said. "I had an e-mail from a lady in California a couple of months ago who said, 'I've ordered a Mustang and it hasn't come in yet. Can you tell me why?'"

Buyers are responding to the Mustang's styling, said collector Mark Dupuis. Its long hood, short deck, sculpted sides and three-paneled taillights harken back to the '60s.

"They hit that retro button right on the target," said Dupuis, a 50-year-old insurance broker from Charlevoix, who owns more than a dozen classic muscle cars.

"That's why people are waiting. Rather than picking something up off the showroom floor, they're getting exactly what they want."

True fanatics leave the sticker price on a new car window, keep the seats covered in plastic and never drive the car, Dupuis said. Classic Mustangs in mint condition have been known to quadruple in value over time.

Despite their desire to stand out, owners of the 2005 Mustang still can expect to see clones of their cars on the road. Because options are sold as packages, customers have less flexibility to spec out their vehicles than they did years ago, when options were available individually.

That means color has become a top priority, said Mike Waitkus, general manager of Texas Motors Ford in Fort Worth. So customers are holding out for their first choices.

"There is so much interest in making it 'my vehicle,' " Waitkus said. "In other words, personalizing. It's really more of a pride factor."

Ford says black is the most popular color, followed by silver and red.

While Ford won't allow buyers inside the Flat Rock plant, Waitkus and other dealers are accommodating fanatical customers in other ways. Waitkus has a customer who couldn't wait for the transport truck to arrive at the dealership, so she arranged for pickup at a rail yard in Kansas City -- one of Ford's vehicle distribution centers.

"They literally took the train off-line, pulled it in the rail yard, unhooked the rail car, unloaded that one Mustang, reconfigured the train and sent it on its way back here to Texas," he said. "And we had a gentleman sitting there with a flatbed trailer to pick the vehicle up and drive it down here the next day."

Customers also have skirted the law in their rush to get behind the wheel. After a businessman was advised his Mustang had been delivered to Texas Motors, he embarked on a moonlight vigil.

"According to Fort Worth police, he was observed here a little after 1 o'clock in the morning, eyeing his vehicle," Waitkus said. Without the dealership's intervention, the customer might have found himself in jail, because police had begun questioning him.

"The next morning, I walked in at quarter-to-eight and he was sitting outside my office and he said, 'Well, how soon can I get my car?' " Waitkus said.

Brian Burke, sales manager at Tom Holzer Ford in Farmington Hills, said Mustang buyer Mike Light was calling every day before he took delivery of his car last month. Light, a 48-year-old electrician from Commerce Township, said the dealership was exaggerating -- slightly.

"I don't know if I called them every day," Light said. "I called them maybe once a week, or maybe a couple times a week. And if I was within five miles of the place, I'd stop in to cause a ruckus and find out when it was coming in."

Sean Sperry / Associated Press
Rachel Emmons is a 35-year-old Washington lobbyist who telecommutes from her new home in Montana. Her mineral gray 2005 Mustang arrived in November, five months after she placed her order. She had the Mustang logo tattooed on her leg before the vehicle arrived.

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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