Of Mustangs and Men: Road Tripping the USA in the People's Sports Car

Since its introduction in 1964, the Ford Motor Company has produced and sold over 9 million. Let that sink in for a moment. For 50 years, thousands of Americans have made their livelihood designing and manufacturing this humble coupe. The Mustang has likely traversed every American street. The impact of this car can not be overstated. This vehicle has transcended its economy-car roots to become something far greater: an icon. The idea of the Mustang has infiltrated our national consciousness to the point where it is viewed an an embodiment of this country. A reason for this car's massive cultural clout is its staying power. For fifty years, while Challengers and Camaros have rose and fell, the Mustang soldiered on. Since its introduction, there has never been a day here in America where you can't buy a Mustang. It has become a link between generations. Sure there may be a huge gulf of differences between those who experienced the Summer of Love and those who experienced the summer of 2014, but the Mustang serves as common ground. Grandfathers, Fathers, and Sons alike have enjoyed and bonded over this rolling symbol. And what does the Mustang symbolize? Well its right there in the name: a sense of adventure, the wild and the untamed. Freedom.

Often, the Mustang serves as a first car for many a young American man. And why not? It is cheap, reliable, swift and practical. So too is the case for the Mustang in my life, a silver V6 bullet purchased new in 2010 by my good friend Mahan. A first generation American, for Mahan, the Mustang was a realization of his family's success in this land of opportunity. When the time came for Mahan to buy his first car, he weighed the options. Although he leaned heavily towards a 4runner, the allure of the Mustang eventually broke him. Its funny, but the Mustang is so embedded in our pop culture, that it is the car that nearly every American can identify. Just like many other young men, Mahan had toy Mustangs as a child, and even a poster. As he grew older, the purchase just made more and more sense. In his words, when better to own a Mustang than as a first car? For generations, ownership of a Mustang has served as a gateway into adulthood, a coming of age ritual that grants upon the driver the blessings of liberty. How many Americans first experienced unbridled freedom behind the wheel of a Mustang? How many American experienced their first kiss, their first trip out of state, their first sprint above 100 MPH? Such questions only add to the mystique of this steel horse.

Of Mustangs and Men: Road Tripping the USA in the People's Sports Car

2010 seems far away now. In that time, the bone stock 2011 Mustang has amassed over 38,000 miles. With it, Mahan has traversed much of the Western United States. The car has served a portal to a great many destinations its owner never would have experienced otherwise. When Mahan invited me to accompany him on an epic trip from Seattle, WA to Phoenix, AZ, I jumped at the opportunity. As an auto journalist, I too yearned to venture across the lands of Lady Columbia at the helm of a 'Stang.

I flew in to Seattle during the late afternoon on Friday the 15th. Earlier that day, I had sneaked into a few of the more exclusive Pebble Beach auctions, stories of which will be written soon. Although I have lived on the West Coast all my life, the Pacific Northwest has always been a far off concept in my head. A foreign land, filled with orderly streets and all the evergreen trees you could ever want. It did not disappoint. As I landed at SeaTac airport, I was taken aback by all the water that could be seen from the air. As a Californian, who is currently living through one of the worst droughts ever recorded in the United States, the sight of all this water filled me with envy. But envy soon lapsed into appreciation. Washington is a land blessed with an abundance of natural resources, and the raw beauty of the state is breathtaking. But the land is not all that is beautiful up there. As I collected my baggage the sun waned over the alien city. The final hour of the day. I stepped outside and was overcome by the fresh, clean air. This city was full of hope, I could smell it in the air. While California has been scorned by a wrathful god, its lakes dried and its crops withered on vine and stalk, Seattle revels in its blessings. I found my way to light rail station, where I found the interior of the train to be a spotless and sterile environment. Here, even the public transit was clean. What's more, it was filled with smiling faces. Strangers openly approached one another and spoke together, sharing stories of dreams and hardships. As I boarded, a pretty girl in black caught my eye. We fed off each other's smiles for a moment and I took my seat, gazing out the window at the sweeping cityscape before me. Suddenly, sweet music filled my ears. I turned and to my surprise, it was the girl in black. She was singing! Singing the sweet songs of Bill Withers. Curious travelers gathered around and pretty soon, a few began unpacking instruments from their various bags. Before she knew it, the lady soon found herself accompanied by guitar, trumpet, tambourine, and maracas. This train was alive! It was alive and it was singing! Complete strangers spontaneously erupting in music and laughter was surely a sign of good things to come.

Of Mustangs and Men: Road Tripping the USA in the People's Sports Car

My first night in Seattle was humdrum, followed by a day of exploring the city and its many wonderful museums. Seriously, the museums alone are worth a trip, and I will post pictures from the Museum of Flight for Planeopnik soon. Eventually, the time came to depart in our steel horse. And so we began.

A little bit about the car: the 2011 Mustang was the second iteration of the body style introduced for the 2010 model year. However, under the similar skin, different hearts lurk. The 2011 Mustang is powered by 3.7L Aluminum block V6 that produced 305hp, returning 32 highway MPGs. I was always impressed by these figures, especially considering that my 5.0L V8 in my '68 Cougar pushes out 350hp while returning a measly 12 MPG. In many ways, this Mustang is an ideal roadtrip car. The automatic transmission means long stretches of cruising are a breeze and its fuel-sipping character means that its a breeze on your wallet too. People hate on the V6 Mustang, and I understand, I used to be one of those people. But this ignores one of the great features of the Mustang: that it is infinitely customization to suit the owner's needs. You want an economical car that won't get you into to much trouble when you slide it around a corner on a rainy day? Boom, Mustang V6. You want a luxury Grand Tourer with enough power to run an African village? Bam, have some Shelby GT500, why don't you. Track day bro? Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca aught to fit the bill. The Mustang is often a reflection of the personality of its owner. Mahan is straight laced fellow with a practical mind, so, V6 it is. And with over 9 million produced, there are so many Mustangs that reflect the personalities of so many people.

So how does it drive? Well, that 305hp doesn't quite feel like it, I'll say that much. The engine could be torquier, but the car is plenty zippy, and its acceleration saved us from being pancaked against the median by trailer trucks more than once. Inside, the Mustang isn't exactly refined, but it was never supposed to be, except for the oddball Mustang Grande. Yes, the interior is loud, and the plastics cheap. But dammit, they work. Everything in this car works, and works well, and the Ford designers should applaud themselves on the ergonomical layout that both hearkens back to Mustangs of yore while keeping the design refreshingly modern. It is definitely not the most comfortable ride that I have ever roadtripped in, but I seriously have no complaints. I have driven everything from 4-cylinder japanese appliances to v12 German sharks, and I have to say that the 2011 Mustang is not only satisfying, it actually impresses.

Never was the ride to jarring or the brakes frightening. The Mustang obediently obeys all direction given by the driver and delivered us safely and serenely to our destination. And since the Mustang is such a formidable cultural institution in this country, it garners a lot of respect on the road. Children stared with agape mouths as we passed by, drivers readily waved us into their lane, and truckers were quick to get out of the way of this wild American mechanical beast. When I drive my BMW, I am only ever treated to this much respect by fellow BMW drivers. But in the Mustang, everyone loves you! And no matter what town you arrive in, the Mustang immediately feels at home. It truly is America's car. We stopped for lunch in a small and sleepy little farm town named Jefferson, in the Oregon country side. Had we arrived in a German luxobarge or some unibody Japanese CUV, we likely would have been treated with scorn. But in the Mustang, we were accepted readily by the townsfolk as a members of the tribe. Before we knew it, our lunch break turned into a day at the river with the local yokels, who provided us with Budweiser and Pork Rinds, which we consumed eagerly. If you have ever wanted to trek across our nation's highways and byways, the Mustang, in any of its iterations, is a solid choice. Like its wild namesake, the Mustang has a personality all of its own. Its history far surpasses our own, and when behind that wheel, you may find it leading you.

Of Mustangs and Men: Road Tripping the USA in the People's Sports Car