April 17, 2018
Where Were You In ’62?
Ford Thunderbird. Chevy Corvette. Volkswagen Beetle. Ford Mustang.
Just saying the name of each of these particular cars evokes instant pictures in the brains of people who grew up in the 1960’s and 70’s in the United States. One could claim each of these cars is iconic and hearkens back to a time when turning 16 and getting to drive your first car were rites of passage.
The line “Where were you in ’62?” is in reference to the movie American Graffiti where then unknown actor Richard Dreyfuss becomes obsessed with finding the blonde who is driving the white Thunderbird. He never does but the already iconic Thunderbird is cemented in legend and, for his character, is what defines his final teenage experience.
The Ford Mustang was that car for me. Introduced mid-year 1964 – it’s initial release is known as the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang – it sold over 120,000 cars in its first six months and an additional 600,000 in 1965 catapulting the vehicle to fame. It was introduced on April 17, 1964 and was Ford’s most successful car launch since the Model A.
From the infallible Wikipedia:
“The Ford Mustang was brought out five months before the normal start of the 1965 production year. The early production versions are often referred to as ‘1964½ models’ but all Mustangs were advertised, VIN coded and titled by Ford as 1965 models, though minor design updates for fall 1965 contribute to tracking 1964½ production data separately from 1965 data (see data below). with production beginning in Dearborn, Michigan, on March 9, 1964; the new car was introduced to the public on April 17, 1964 at the New York World’s Fair.
Executive stylist John Najjar, who was a fan of the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane, is credited by Ford to have suggested the name. Najjar co-designed the first prototype of the Ford Mustang known as Ford Mustang I in 1961, working jointly with fellow Ford stylist Philip T. Clark. The Mustang I made its formal debut at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, New York, on October 7, 1962, where test driver and contemporary Formula One race driver Dan Gurney lapped the track in a demonstration using the second “race” prototype. His lap times were only slightly off the pace of the F1 race cars.”
In thinking about the Mustang, memories from a four year span – from age 14 to 18 – seem to have that car as a part of them.
First, a description of the car. It’s a 1964 1/2. White with a black convertible rag top. Red leather seats. Pretty much every teenager’s dream as the coolest car. I know it was mine.
One memory is particularly strong. I had just gotten my driver’s license earlier in the day, my 16th birthday. It’s August and it’s hot. Around 8 p.m. I find some reason why I absolutely need to borrow the car and go someplace. The store? Who knows. What I do know is that when you are 16 and have the freedom of a car for the first time in your life there’s a heady moment when you feel the world belongs to you. That was my moment.
I drove the car to the appointed place and did my errand. After that I did the ONE thing my parents told me I was NOT to do. I headed to downtown Yakima to cruise the “Ave.” Yakima Avenue was, for years, the go to spot for teens looking to see and be seen, as American Graffiti-like as Modesto California in the early 1960’s. It was there that guys and girls would talk from car window to car window and, if there was mutual interest, meet in the parking lot of Shultz Furniture, and get to know one another.
Another thing about Yakima Avenue is that the street lighting was really, really good. So good, in fact, that one might not notice that they had failed to illuminate their headlights.
In my 16 year old brain I think ‘what harm can come from one run on the Ave?’ I drive east without incident and then head back west. So far so good. My parents’ warning resonates in my head and I don’t stop or talk to anyone but dutifully head for home. Then, behind me, blue and red lights come on. My heart pounds. Oh crap.
I’ve had my license less than 24 hours and I’m about to get my first ticket. My hand shakes as I hand the officer my license. He asks if I know why he pulled me over. I say no.
“You’re driving without your lights on.”
He goes back to his patrol car and I wait, on the verge of tears, for the bad news.
A minute later he hands me back a paper – a warning – and my license.
“We just want you to be safe. Keep your lights on,” he says.
I make it home, the car intact and me without a ticket and never did tell my parents about it. Some secrets are best kept to oneself for forty some years.
The next day I purchased a keychain with a little plastic light bulb and kept my set of car keys on it for several years, a reminder to turn my lights on at night. I’ve never once forgotten since that incident.
There are other memories associated with the Mustang including being taught to drive by my dad and, during the very first lesson, accidentally driving up and over a snow bank on our street… My first kiss while riding in the back seat. My sister was at the wheel that night and we were giving my boyfriend a ride to his house… New Year’s Eve the winter before I graduate college and it’s 15 below zero and I vow to never again live in a place where it can get that cold… The top down and sitting up on the edge of the back seat to wave at people while riding in the Sunfair parade. Yes, all of them American Graffiti type moments never to be re-lived.
It was a sad day when I learned my dad had sold that car (Washington license plate number EEE 161) and an important piece of my teen years.
For more information, here’s the Wikipedia link to the Mustang and, for those who have never seen American Graffiti, it’s a classic movie worth the time it takes to watch.