On the last day of 2016, I traded a battered Ford Taurus with high mileage for a 2003 Mustang GT with racing stripes, a hood scoop, a spoiler, and—most importantly—a V-8 engine and manual transmission.
People have asked my wife if I’m having some sort of middle-aged crisis, but she has told them, “It’s more like postponed gratification.” Very postponed, I should add.
During the summer of 1971, I bought a Car Craft magazine and became enthralled with drag racing, especially funny cars, supercharged tubular-framed racers with stretched and lowered fiberglass bodies that resembled some of the sportier street vehicles of that era. My favorite was the Blue Max funny car, and when a 1971 Mustang Mach One passed while I was walking down the street, I stared, my mouth agape, thinking it looked a lot like that famous hot rod. I wanted one in the worst kind of way, but was only a kid in junior high and way too young to drive.
In high school, I never had the money for one of those Mustangs, and in the wake of the Arab Oil embargo and subsequent oil crisis, muscle cars more or less went away. Mustangs became anemic Mustang IIs before mutating into boxy abominations that were just plain ugly.
Still, whenever one of those hot rod Mustangs appeared in traffic, an old longing returned, but practical concerns guided my financial decisions. I owned one dull car after another, and at one point, both vehicles my wife and I drove could be found on an Internet list titled “The Ten Best Cars You Can Buy for Under $5,000.”
When a new model Mustang debuted in 1999, I was captivated. Something about that version reminded me of those early 70s Mustangs. My prudent inclinations reigned, so I didn’t buy one, but I wished I could. Just about everyone knew that about me, which in retrospect, is a bit embarrassing. One of my kids even posted her college graduation pictures on Facebook with the declaration, “Dad is closer to his Mustang!”
In 2016, my wife and I downsized our home and lives. Debt free, we even had a bit of money in the bank, and I started saying that we should buy a Mustang. My friends and family agreed. By that time, one of those turn of the century Mustangs was actually quite affordable, so I started looking around on the Internet. Actually, I had been perusing used car sites all along, wistfully viewing pictures of Mustang GTs, which seems slightly pathetic to me now.
Finally, my wife and I drove the old Taurus over one-hundred miles to test drive a Mustang with all my requirements—it was even blue and had racing stripes like the venerable Blue Max. The car handled wonderfully and was in great shape for its age. My wife and I had a price in mind, but the salesman gave us a number $700 dollars higher and explained, “Well, the Kelly Blue Book on your trade is…”
“Don’t take this personally,” I said, “but I always buy used cars and am tired of salesmen telling me what my trade is worth using the Kelly figure. You see, the Bible says ‘differing weights and differing measures are an abomination to God.’ Now, you’re selling a Mustang and saying it’s $500 below NADA, which it is. But you want to only give me the Kelly price for my Taurus. Do you know what your car is worth according to Kelly?”
“Do you know what mine is worth according to NADA?”
“Well, go tell your manager to drop the price by $700, or I’m driving my Taurus back home, and I’m never going to think about a Mustang again.”
When he left, I felt peculiarly free, like I really would leave and cease obsessing about Mustangs.
Then he came back to congratulate me. The car was mine for the price I had offered.
On the way home, everything felt out of sorts and unreal, like, what am I doing with this car, anyway? I have to admit, though, when we took that Mustang out on the interstate, it was cool looking from behind a hood scoop at the road rushing towards us and then noticing how quickly cars became small in the rearview mirror when we passed them.
Since that day, I have listened to less music than usual, because I enjoy hearing the V-8 roar when accelerating from a stoplight, and the robust exhaust burble when downshifting is sweet to my ears as well. Simply looking at my car is a pleasure, but it still seems like that Mustang should really be in someone else’s driveway.
Quite a few people have told me how good it looks, and one day a kid stood on his bike pedals, nearly motionless as I rolled past him. My wife was riding with me and said he tracked us as we went by, turning his head and staring while he appeared to be mouthing the word “wow.”
I told her that was me, way back when I was barely thirteen.
If I ever see that kid again, I’d like to stop and show him my car, then tell him not to think about wanting one too much. After all, it’s just a thing, and while I’m grateful for my car, it hasn’t really made me happier. Sure, it’s fun to drive, but traffic often forces me to maneuver it much like the old Taurus, and when the opportunity arises to drive that Mustang like I stole it, which one should do with such a car, I have to admit that what I’m doing may be technically illegal, possibly immoral, or simply stupid. At times, it’s all three.
It probably won’t be too long before I replace the Mustang with another ride, a practical vehicle much like my former cars, which I will drive with a sense of contentment, rather than a persistent and perhaps even childish yearning for something more.
But then again, maybe I won’t.