Cars

At Portland’s Cars & Coffee, the Ford Mustang still means America

At a gas stop at a Chevron in Lakehead, California, I stop in the middle of the candy aisle to read email.

“Hey! Why does your license plate say DIE?” The voice from the front of the store asks.

He says it again, then again, before I realize he’s talking to me.

“It doesn’t,” I explain. It’s a Michigan manufacturer’s license plate with a special code. “It says DTE and then some numbers.”

I burrow back into email next to the Snickers. He calls out again, and this time he wants to know what’s really going on with the blood-red Mustang parked outside.

“So, how’s that thing drive?”

The cashier’s name is Mike Spencer, and he’s a car guy. A car guy, not normally a Ford guy. His brother has a Dodge Challenger Hellcat, his dad has a 1966 Chevrolet Chevelle with a 396 small-block V-8, and he has a 1979 Chevrolet Camaro Berlinetta with a 350 small-block.

The 2018 Ford Mustang GT I parked in front of his gas station has earned his attention.

In the more than 50 years since the Ford Mustang was born, it’s become more than just a muscle car. It’s become an icon.

2018 Ford Mustang GT

2018 Ford Mustang GT

The Mustang still draws the envious glances of other drivers, even after more than five decades. Within minutes of pointing Motor Authority’s Mustang GT north from San Francisco, headed toward Portland Cars & Coffee’s Mustang Day in Portland, Oregon, our Mustang GT made itself known.

Other drivers made it clear: When you drive a Mustang, you’re part of a uniquely American institution. It’s not an exclusive club by any means. The only requirement for acceptance into this club is a pony on the grille.

I blasted up Interstate 5, and random Mustang drivers would honk and flash their lights. I downshifted into second from fourth on exit ramps, floored it out of parking lots, and rang the 5.0-liter V-8 all the way to its 7,400-rpm redline on nearly every single on-ramp with the exhaust in borderline obnoxious Track Mode. Almost all of them a thumbs-up with a huge smile.

Sometimes the thumbs up would come from non-Ford owners, and that’s when it hit me: The Mustang isn’t just a seat in the grandstands, it’s a perennial spot in the automotive enthusiast parade.

Between cashiering and directing spandex-clad bicyclists to the restrooms, Mike goes on about the Mustang.

While not a Ford guy, Mike said he likes the way the new Mustangs “sit and look.” He “loves the rappy sound, kind of sounds like a Spintech exhaust.”

As I leave, he braces himself to inform a customer that their U-Haul moving van might be too tall to clear the station’s overhang.

Ford’s muscle car is a connector of people. At that stop, a gearhead who owns other American muscle cars struck up a random conversation with someone, just because of the Mustang. That happened, time, and time, and time again.

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

Derek Vlcko's 2001 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Derek Vlcko’s 2001 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

Portland Cars & Coffee Mustang Day

By the time the Mustang GT pulled into Portland Cars & Coffee for Mustang Day, the chorus of family grew into a full-fledged reunion. Fellow Mustang drivers walk over instantly to start checking out the refreshed 2018 Mustang.

Portland Cars & Coffee Ground Control volunteer Jim, a fit military veteran, barely let me out of the car before he asked how it rode. Zhenya, a teenage event volunteer, asked if he could sit in it and play with the controls. Shelby GT500 owner Derek Vlcko in his Mustang jacket wanted to know what options the car had, pricing, power output, and what’s different from the 2017 model.

They weren’t alone.

I wandered the event and mingled with my impromptu Mustang family, and asked people why the Mustang’s still so important to America and car culture. Here’s what I heard.

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