The Washington Times - December 3, 2008, 06:45AM

I was in college at the time and thought myself mature for the age of 18. I was wrong, of course, but no one at that age comprehends his/her own lack of experience and wisdom. Anyway, I and two friends couldn’t wait, on that April morning, to get over to the local Ford dealer to see the Mustang. We had seen the TV ads, read the magazine features and simply had to see this marvel in person.

It didn’t disappoint. The salesmen were happy to let all the gawkers run their hands over the fender creases, open and shut the doors and slide in behind the wheel. The Mustang was everything a young mind could wish for: style, power, youthfulness and a price that actually seemed affordable, at least to those of our friends who were working at the time. Ninety dollars a month would get you a well equipped, V8 powered convertible with “more options than any other automobile,” as the ads stated.

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At the time this seemed to be true, but looking back on the option list now seems almost silly. There were no FM/CD sound or NAV systems and cupholders were still thirty years away. Air conditioning and power steering/brakes were a big deal and if you really pressed the issue you could get a remote control driver-side mirror. It actually was manually controlled by cables, but it was a novel thing at the time. What mattered more were the rally wheels, dual exhausts and Pony interior, and those few who bought the Rally Pack (podded instruments on top of the steering column) were considered top dogs.

Our young minds didn’t really get the fact that the Mustang was nothing more than a Falcon in a slinky strapless dress. It turned plain Jane into pure sensuality. Just as one would stare at the pretty girl on the dance floor, watching a Mustang drive by made you unconscious of any other automobiles.

A lot has been written about the appeal and longevity of the Mustang and I can’t add to the basic theory that it was simply the right car at the right time in cultural history, much the same as the Beetle. Neither was a particularly good automobile but each was functionally reliable and had an appeal that is only rivaled by puppies and kittens. Whichever one drew you in, you simply had to own one.

Over the years I owned two ‘65 Mustangs, both over a short period of time in the early 70s. Both were convertibles and both were strong and reliable, but by today’s standards they were spindly, noisy, wallowing pigs on the road. It didn’t matter at the time, because there was precious little better automotive machinery with which to compare them. None in my crown owned a Mercedes or other expensive car so ignorance was indeed bliss.

How the Mustang managed to persist during all the changes in the auto industry is beyond me. It has never been a state-of-the-art car. Instead it’s been a basic car that can be had in a variety of packages. It’s still a rear-wheel-drive, solid axle pony car that is a relatively spindly, noisy and mediocre-handling vehicle.

Maybe that’s why it stays so popular. It never shook off its original design intent: style, youthfulness and freedom. That’s pretty cool.