When an old friend turns 50, you have to attend his birthday party no matter how far you have to travel. So I was happy to make the trip from Madison to Manhattan to attend a gala reception at the top of the Empire State Building for the original pony car’s semi-centennial celebration.
My personal history with the Ford Mustang dates back to March of 1965 when my father surprised my mother with a silver convertible on her birthday. It continued through the early ’70s when we used to spend summer weekends at Road America, Watkins Glen, Lime Rock, Mid Ohio and other tracks watching Tony Delorenzo and Jerry Thompson drive my father’s Troy Promotions and Marathon Oil sponsored Mustangs in the SCCA Trans Am challenge. Then in 1983 and ’84, I wrote ads for Ford including the Mustang GT and SVO models as a copywriter at J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in Detroit.
The Mustang marque has seen some tough times, especially in the mid ’70s with the introduction of the Mustang II which was built on the Pinto platform. During those dark years, there was little to celebrate as there is today. Riding in the elevator with a group of Mustang aficionados and other journalists to the the Observation Deck of the Empire State Building to see the recreation of the 1966 publicity stunt, we all shared stories about our connections to the car and a general approval of both the styling and improved performance of the current model. But the story most were interested in was how Ford managed to get the car atop the iconic art deco landmark.
Obviously there are no cranes tall enough to lift a car 1,200 feet, and the building’s trademark spire makes it impossible to drop the car in from above via helicopter. The Ford Team and their long-time car prep partner DST had to disassemble the car into parts small enough to fit into the Empire State Building’s elevators. The project team began by building a plywood mock up of the smallest of the three elevators that would be used and determining how to break the car down into the fewest number of pieces that would be small enough to fit, yet still allow the team to reassemble the car in the few overnight hours the observation deck was not open to the public.
Once they had the car in pieces, they loaded it on a truck and moved it to New York where they staged it in the basement of the building. At two AM the reassembly began, just as a late-season snowstorm hit the city. While flakes flew around them the team worked feverishly to put the Triple Yellow Mustang together. They completed the job just as the sun broke the horizon, in time for Ford Chairman Bill Ford’s press announcement.
Just two-days later after becoming the subject of thousands of news stories, broadcasts and other accolades from around the world, the Mustang was taken apart and crated back up for the trip home, restoring the observation deck to its original state.
It was a fitting tribute to an iconic car, and an event I was happy to be able to attend.