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Fans of Ford Mustang roam far and wide to celebrate 50th anniversary

Visitors have long enjoyed seeing mustangs freely roaming the vast, wide-open spaces of Nevada.

But the horsepower that is being celebrated by thousands of visitors from around the globe this week is all under the hood.

The Mustang Club of America is commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of the Ford Mustang. It’s an opportunity for owners, fans and Mustang aficionados to gather, show off their vehicles and swap stories at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway.

“I’ve been planning this for years,” said Mark Neumann of Newcastle, Australia, who flew into Los Angeles with his wife and daughter, visited Disneyland and San Diego, then made his way to Las Vegas for the Mustang event. He still has side trips to New York and San Francisco on his monthlong itinerary that was built around the Mustang celebration.

For Neumann, it’s all about 50. The Mustang is 50 years old. He turns 50 later this month. And the trip is costing him about $50,000. It’s all worth it to the legion of Mustang fanatics that will have one more big day of celebrating at the speedway Saturday and closing events Sunday afternoon.

There’s a group from France that has its cars adorned with French flags and a group that flew to San Francisco from Sweden that grabbed every available Mustang at Bay Area rental car agencies to caravan to Los Angeles and then Las Vegas.

“It’s truly an international event,” said Steve Ling, North American car marketing manager for Ford in Dearborn, Mich. “This car has an incredible following throughout the United States and worldwide.”

The Mustang Club of America, which has about 300 chapters nationwide and 100 more in other countries, began planning for the 50th anniversary about three years ago, Ling said.

Club leaders from across the country decided that for such a significant anniversary it would be best to have celebrations in the East and West. So this week, there’s the event at the speedway and another in Charlotte, N.C., an East Coast car-racing hotbed.

Ling said Las Vegas was an easy sell as a second location.

“The facility here (at the speedway) is second to none,” Ling said. “And it appealed to people that they could enjoy some great meals, see some shows and then take drives to some of the park attractions nearby.”

It didn’t hurt that automotive designer Carroll Shelby, who produced a high-performance variant of the Mustang, developed a presence in Las Vegas. One of the side trips for attendees is a tour of the Shelby operation and the Shelby Heritage Center near Town Square.

At the speedway, there’s a timeline of displays and demonstrations as well as hot laps and ride-alongs with professional drivers on the track.

The opportunity to gather with other Mustang owners from across the country leads to impromptu rides across the countryside.

The national club determined that about 70,000 people with 10,000 Mustangs were planning to participate in the events in either Las Vegas or Charlotte, and that doesn’t count thousands more who may show up at the spur of the moment.

Ling and club leaders haven’t determined how many of those are at the four-day event at the speedway.

Ling’s family arrives today and will travel to Bryce and Zion national parks in Utah — but he won’t get to make it in a Mustang.

“I think every available Mustang is already rented to people who are here for this event,” he said.

What is it about the Ford Mustang that generates so much passion?

“I think the Mustang is the heart and soul of the Ford Motor Co.,” Ling said. “Once people get on the Mustang team, they don’t want to leave.”

Ling said many Mustang owners view the car as the best the American automotive industry has to offer.

“When the Mustang was first produced in 1964, it was in a time when the wealth of the baby boomers was increasing, optimism was growing and the image captured the imagination of the generation,” he said.

“Some foreign owners say the Mustang exemplifies freedom, independence and the best America has to offer.”

Just like its equine namesake.

Contact reporter Richard N. Velotta at rvelotta@reviewjournal.com or 702-477-3893. Follow him on Twitter @RickVelotta.

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