August 12, 2014 at 1:00 am

Mustang cruises through 50th year

Jerry Cuper ordered his first new car, a Plymouth Fury, in 1963. But when the car came in, the dealership wanted $200 more than what they originally quoted him and his father wouldn’t let him buy it.

Cuper was disappointed, but it was all for the best. Soon he saw a picture of a newly developed sports car, the 1965 Mustang 2+2 fastback. He decided to wait for that one.

Almost 50 years later, Cuper, 68, is about to get his 22nd Mustang. He’s had every generation and every style, from convertibles to T-tops to notchbacks to his current 2013 Mustang GT with a glass roof and “Gotta Have It” green paint.

This fall, the Canton resident will lease the all-new 2015 Mustang fastback coupe, the pony car’s sixth generation.

He’s become a bit of a fanatic.

“I’ve driven my convertible with the top down in the winter,” Cuper said. “I’ve had to vacuum snow out of the car.”

As Ford Motor Co. celebrates the 50th anniversary of its iconic muscle car, the automaker is offering a plethora of activities and events for diehard fans, including a bigger-than-ever Mustang Alley display this weekend in downtown Ferndale during the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Cuper will be therewith his lime-green ’13. For him, there is no other car worth having besides the Mustang.

“It’s got that fun spirit, the looks, the way it handles,” said Cuper. “It’s got heritage.”

Ford has pledged $50,000 to sponsor the cruise and host Mustang Alley, which will feature 1,200 Mustangs lined up on East Nine Mile.

“Normally we get between 700 and 800 vehicles,” said Michael Lary, director of special events for Ferndale and the vice president of the Woodward Dream Cruise board. “The Mustang enthusiasts are very excited for the 50th anniversary.”

Ferndale becomes Ford Country during the third Saturday in August. In addition to the biggest display in 16 years, the company is going to be raffling off a one-of-a-kind Mustang.

Dave Pericak, chief engineer for the Mustang and the man who spearheaded the design of the sixth-generation pony car, said the Dream Cruise has become a unique marketing opportunity for Ford, particularly with the Mustang.

“It does allow us to market it in a way where we can get up close and personal with the people who love our machine,” said Pericak. “Whenever we have events like this, we can come back with advice. We do listen to the customer. Every feature, styling cue, color change is from listening to the customer.”

Mustang Alley, a popular destination for all classic car fans during the Dream Cruise, takes over Ferndale starting Friday and continues throughout Saturday.

When he attends, Pericak brings his personal 2012 Boss 302 Laguna Seca Mustang to the cruise. As the chief engineer, he enjoys a bit of celebrity at the event.

“People will bring in car parts for me to sign,” he said. “I will literally get out of the car at the beginning of the day and not move five feet. It’s crazy.”

In honor of the 50th anniversary, Ford is producing 1,964 limited edition Mustang coupes, white or blue, with special styling and trim. At the Dream Cruise, one lucky member of the public will win the only convertible version.

Ford will raffle off the one-of-a-kind Mustang, drawing the winning ticket Saturday evening.

“We wanted to make sure everyone can have the opportunity to get this car,” said Pericak.

Tickets cost $20 each and the funds raised will go toward the National Multiple Sclerosis Society. They can be purchased at www.Ford4MS.com.

When it comes to the Mustang, the festivities aren’t just limited to the Dream Cruise itself. Mustang owners who signed up online — and were lucky enough to be chosen — will be invited Friday to the Ford test track in Dearborn, where they will drag race and run hot laps with professionals.

Later in the evening, the Mustang Heroes Banquet will be held on the Ford campus, bringing together engineers, designers and others who helped to craft the various versions of the sports car over the years.

Ford released the first Mustang on April 17, 1964, five months before its 1965 production year, leading enthusiasts to dub it the “1964 1/2 model.” Since then, the pony car has earned a place in popular culture and captivated fans of all its various models along the way.

John Clor, enthusiast communications manager at Ford Racing and the author of “The Mustang Dynasty” and “Ford Mustang 2015: The New Generation,” is an unusual Mustang lover.

His machine of choice: the much-maligned Mustang II of the 1970s oil-crisis era.

“Back then, it wasn’t about horsepower and racing, it was ‘you’re lucky if you can buy gas,’ ” the 61-year-old Harper Woods resident said. “But Mustang was still Mustang, so it had to be fun and exciting.”

The Mustang II was often considered small and weak, in part because the 1974 version was the first of the models to be offered without a V-8 engine. But Clor said its lack of power is an “urban legend.”

“It was a huge success as a seller,” said Clor. “It started out slow. But as gasoline became unobtainable, people were parking their big muscle cars behind the garage.”

When he slips his old Foghat 8-track into his 1977 Mustang Cobra II T-top and heads off to the Dream Cruise or other car shows, Clor knows he’s going to get some strange looks. But he loves the attention.

“If I’m a true Ford Mustang person, I’m going to keep the timeline going,” he said. “I don’t want that piece of history to be lost.”

lrazzaq@detroitnews.com
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Jerry Cuper of Canton shows off his 2013 Mustang GT with a glass roof and 'Gotta Have It' green paint. / Max Ortiz / The Detroit News