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Beginning of the Mustang

Dearborn, Michigan: The Beginning of the Mustang

Of all the great loves throughout history, not one is more actively celebrated than the love affair of America and its automobiles. Think of the Mustang. In your mind’s eye, you see the pure blue sky of a summer afternoon cut against brilliant eruptions of clouds along the horizon and mountains in the far distance.

You hear the graceful, hungry rumbling of the engine, and you smell hot steel, fine leather and gasoline. You watch as the miles of sizzling asphalt are swept away beneath your wheels. The Ford Mustang is, if any car at all can be, legendary. Beyond a simple means of conveyance, the Mustang symbolizes the American spirit and the American appetite for power and elegance. Instead of being produced in the West among the wild pony herds and the sprawling, tumbling acres of sage, the Mustang was manufactured in the northern part of the country, in a place called Dearborn, Michigan.

Ford Returns to His Roots

Dearborn, Michigan had been around for a long while; it was first founded in 1786 and was finally incorporated as a city in 1929. The land surrounding the city was as it had always been: a temperate climate weathered through harsh winters. A day’s high temperature might be a single digit and a pleasant summer of roughly eighty degrees. Green leaves sprung from many trees, only to fall away again in autumn. Rivers meandered through the landscape and eventually gave way to the massive Great Lakes the area is famous for. Located just south of Detroit, it’s only natural that Dearborn became the birthing ground of Mustang production.

If Henry Ford can be called the father of the American automotive industry, Michigan can be called its epicenter. If you are thinking that Henry Ford’s favorite Michigan locale was Detroit, however, you may be surprised to learn that he held a special place in his heart for Dearborn, Michigan. He was born on his father’s farm in the rural, pastoral setting of what is now Dearborn, and while the beginning of Ford’s career took place in Detroit, Dearborn was never far away — literally or figuratively. While Detroit went on to become the industrial capital that it has become, Dearborn remained very much as it always had — undeveloped, untamed, and wild, resulting in the  perfect landscape to contribute to the identity of the Mustang car itself.

Ford returned to his childhood stomping grounds and purchased much of the unsullied Dearborn area to build his personal estate and establish the headquarters of the Ford Motor Company. He also built the Ford River Rogue Complex, a series of assembly plants built in Dearborn along the Rogue River. It was used to produce anything from anti-submarine boats for use in the First World War to tractors and ovens that were used in everyday life. Eventually, the Ford River Rogue Complex would be an integral aspect of the production of the Mustang, as the demand for the iconic car soared.

The Rogue Complex had been producing Ford vehicles since its completion in 1928. The year of the Mustang, however, was 1964. It was an era that has become famous for cultivating the future of America’s tastes. The Surgeon General of the United States said, for the first time, that cigarettes may be harmful to one’s heath. The Beatles reached the top of the U.S. charts, the Vietnam War raged on and the Civil Rights movement intensified. To add to the grit of American character, the first of the Mustangs drove off the assembly line in March of that same year.

Dearborn Michigan Mustang Plant

Mustang: A New Breed

Henry Ford was, without a doubt, a forward-thinking man. He is often credited with revolutionizing the way that cars — and machines in general — were made. He incorporated the production process into an assembly line, where no single worker creates a car. Instead, he or she has one specific task and then passes the construction to the next worker. Ford cars have always been about the people who make them. Dearborn, Michigan is the home town of Henry Ford, and today, the Ford Motor Company houses its world headquarters in Dearborn. It’s also responsible for employing nearly 8,000 people, making it the number one employer in the area.

When the Mustang came to be, Dearborn was a city much like any other in America. It was a working man’s city, and it was a city where the working man made cars. The Mustang came to reflect that sentiment. The first models were considered extremely sleek for that era. They were powerful, and they were designed for utility and speed. Keeping in mind with what the working man needed in an automobile, the Mustang was designed with affordability in mind. A Mustang owner could get the most style out of his hard-earned money; in the early 60s, a savvy car aficionado could have purchased a brand-new Mustang for roughly $2,000.

The Mustang logo also captures the essence of the brand. The name of the Ford Mustang comes not only from the name of the beautiful, untamable horse, but also from the P-51 Mustang plane — an American-made fighter that served a crucial role in the aerial battles of World War II and the Korean War. Indeed, the German Luftwaffe came to recognize the Mustang fighter plane as one of the most deadly aircrafts to ever take to the skies. While the Ford Mustang car did not endeavor toward lethality, the designers of the car did seek to borrow speed from the famous plane.

P-51 Mustang Plane

Surprise Hit

Originally, Ford planned on selling roughly 100,000 units of the new car. As it turned out, they sold over 20,000 Mustangs in the first week. Mustang first year sales totaled nearly half a million units, and Mustang sales hit the vaulted seven-digit mark within two years. The American people — as well as auto enthusiasts from all around the world — were decidedly interested in the new breed of muscle car.

Famed British ladies’ man, killer and spy, James Bond, even had a taste of the Mustang car in the film Goldfinger which was released in 1964. It was no wonder that dealers began to sell Mustang cars nearly as fast as they could get them. Despite the sudden world-famous status of the car, it was the Ford auto plant in Dearborn, Michigan that continued to assemble the cars.

While it has been said that time heals all wounds, time can also bring all good things to an end. As the nature of automobile production changed throughout the world, The Ford Motor Company, the Rogue Complex, and Dearborn, Michigan changed as well. The Rogue Complex was downsized, as its famous docks were sold off to different commercial interests.

The Ford Motor Company was becoming more modern, and that change meant that Ford would use different methods of assembly and construction. Their work became decentralized and spread across the country, in some cases very far from the small points in Michigan where it all began. It was the Mustang that kept Dearborn in assembly for as long as it was; in the late 1980s, the fourth-generation Mustang proved to be a huge success, so Ford needed a place where more Mustangs could be built.

The End of an Era

Last Mustang

As influential as the Mustang has been to the world of cars and as integral as Dearborn, Michigan has been to the Mustang, the last Ford Mustang to be built at the Dearborn Assembly Plant — one of six plants within the Rogue Complex — rolled off the assembly line on May 10th, 2004. A Ford employee by the name of Oscar Hovsepian had the distinct honor of being not only the employee who drove the first Mustang off of the Dearborn Assembly Plant line, but the last one — 40 years and four generations of Mustangs later as well.

As with most products these days, Mustangs are built of components that are made in different countries all across the globe. They are then assembled in the United States. While Mustangs are still assembled in parts of Michigan, most notably in the city of Flat Rock, south of Dearborn, the Dearborn Plant has no current role in the life of the Mustang except by holding a place in the automobile’s history.


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