"Eddie, I hope you don't mind" and with those polite words my uncle stood in silence as his garden loving brother-in-law loaded a sack full of water hyacinth and loti (lotuses?) fresh off the swamps of Candaba, - into the trunk of his bright red 289 V-8 1965 Ford Mustang.
In the early 70's, I grew up witnessing the icons of men, as sacred as Sunday. Their cars. Their shared hobbies. And, the "bonding" time among themselves. These grown men, buddies of my father, shared a passion for hunting during the migratory snipe and mallard season. These flocks usually ride on the "Amihan" or the cool northeast trade winds. The chosen day? Sunday. I've always wondered how the many buddies, mostly doctors of the ABM Sison Hospital, manage never to have any medical emergencies on that day.
They would always assemble in the old ancestral home and leave their cars there in order to transfer to more rugged vehicles to take them to their favored hunting grounds. Recall, that during the 70's, there were only 6 brands of cars one can choose from. Over the years I would ogle at their not so ordinary cars; an XK-E Jaguar, a 4 door MG, a tarted up Corolla, a Bronco, other Mustangs, a Volvo, a Chevy II Nova, a BMW, an Oldsmobile and their other city to country transport, but the red '66 Mustang was memorable, and not only because of that stinking loti that flooded its trunk.
As an unlicensed, under height kid, I used to sit in it and do the "vroom-vroom" bit, barely seeing anything above the steering wheel horn boss. That Mustang had 60's "wet look" black vinyl interior and welcoming foot lights, a novelty for me then. It had lots of chrome inside but not as much as the older late 50's cars. It had circular dials and eyeball vents that mimicked what was to be the tail end of Detroit's fascination with jet engine styling themes.
Impressed I was, anything authoritative I read then said, that apart from the sexy styling, there was nothing special about the Mustang. It was based on the plebian Ford Falcon. The fact that my Orthodontist, not a very exciting fellow, drove nothing but ex-US Base Falcons till the day he retired meant I needed no further proof.
My early driving career started with a crash box 1951 1200cc VW Kombi and a 35hp 1961 Mercedes 180D. Later, I would sneak out into to the traffic free rural roads in the Cadillac Fleetwood, a Buick Electra, two Ford Fairlanes and a Rambler Classic 770. But no Ford Mustang. Until a cousin, retired and blew his entire retirement pay on what he said was a rare '65 260 cubic inch V-8 convertible, also ex-Base, in pale metallic gold.
Now this cousin of mine lived in a house on a very narrow street next to a 400 year old church and he did not have a garage. So he would park it in the street with the fabric top in place and was quite a well-known character in his neighborhood so his Mustang was never touched much less leaned on. When we took it out for a spin, I suggested that we bring the top down but he demurred saying that he doesn't know the state of the folding mechanism and the condition of the fabric roof so we just had to settle for driving with the roof up. Driving impressions? There was this nice pull of a small block V-8, raising the prow a bit, just like a pony raising its head, getting ready to run and... well, nothing else. Oh, it was good in a straight line. Only.
My next ride in a Mustang was in an early 70's Boss 302 fastback. I was with the local spoiled brat and he was showing off to me how fast it goes on the still fresh North Diversion Road. I remember the noise, the smoking tires, and how fast it went (according to him) but, again nothing great. By that time, I had been hopelessly enthralled by European cars with independent suspensions and high revving 4 cylinders, so no childhood memory was going to change my mind.
The next time I gave my old acquaintance a try was in the mid 70's, when the downsized Mustang II arrived on the scene. Smaller body, emission controlled V-8 engine, still sunken driving position, no-feel steering, weak brakes and floppy suspension on skinny tires. This white handling nightmare was so unbalanced in anything less than arrow straight roads, that I performed a 180-degree turn on a narrow village road, without even pulling the hand brake. Inside were all garish frosted red vinyl and shag pile carpeting. So much for visual relief.
Soon, I began to ask myself, why I fell in love with the Mustang (that's easy, I was just an impressionable kid then) but even after being disappointed driving it, I still kept coming back for more. Was it because I wanted to keep giving it another chance? And another? It was only when I started renting convertible Mustangs in the 80's and 90's and cruised the by ways and freeways of California, that I finally understood what its appeal was.
You see, California is the most egalitarian of the already egalitarian USA, but nowhere is it top-of-mind to stand out from the crowd. Even if Ford sold a thousand Mustangs a day back in '65, the context that mattered is that you believed that you stood out from the crowd, never mind the numbers, never mind the reality. Yes, you can burn rubber in front of the local drug store but I never found fun in that. It was the combination of the California (or Arizona, or Hawaii or Florida) weather, that golden sun, balmy weather, well paved roads, a gentle pace and hair blowing in the wind that made me make sense of it all. It never bothered me that the more sinister black Mustangs of the California Highway Patrol were watching, up on the hills of I-280 or keeping distance in the back, tracking every mile per hour on the wrong side of 55 or 65.
Thanks to the design team of J. C. Mays, today's turn of the century Ford Mustang, along with the period T-bird, Custom and Lincoln Continental, have that 21st century blend of modern lines incorporating clear references to the original. That team is really fantastic at re-creation rather than mere imitation.
Then, less than a year ago, I took a ride in a speed demon's red '08 Caroll Shelby 'Stang [Shelvy as spelled by the speed demon's Colombian tuner]. The quarter mile, at the peak of ring road rush hour traffic with Tears for Fears' "Everybody wants to rule the world" as background music, was truly stupendous as the thing claims to develop XXXX horsepower at the wheel. Still, despite my American barge experience [but no drag strip exposure] I just ain't impressed.
So it didn't feel like I was felled by a ton of bricks when Ford Philippines President Rick Baker announced early this year that the Mustang will not be imported into the Philippines, even as a one off "halo" model, as it is not a fit with Ford's future image in Asia.
To find closure, I look back to my "vrroom-vroom" days behind the wheel of a static 'Stang. Of them all, I still like the original '65 Mustang, and never mind if I couldn't drive it then, much less put the roof down.
Whatever the dynamic nightmare a Mustang can or cannot be, when it comes to open top motoring, a Ford Mustang convertible will be waiting for me, the next time I fly to the sunny parts of the USA. Besides, the unlimited mileage long-term rental is relatively cheap. The dream was a lot less dearer.