I remember the day I saw Dad’s new 2005 Mustang for the first time; he had driven down from Topeka, Kansas to visit Mom. Although they were divorced (and had been for a little while by then) acceptance was tough for him, which meant frequent visits. He had bought my Ford Focus a few months prior & decided he wanted something else. Obviously, he traded up. 2005 was the first year of the new, retro-inspired body style and we were all very impressed. Even though it was a V6, it still had plenty of muscle. He was very proud of it, and he treated it like an extension of himself.
I remember the first time I got to borrow it. He needed to use my truck to move some stuff, so we swapped vehicles for a week. During that time, I took a road trip to Fayetteville, AR to see a friend’s band. I was a little nervous at first, but once I was on the highway that all melted away…replaced with pure joy. It drove like a dream in the summer warmth, with the windows down and the radio up. Over the years, Dad let me drive it more and more when we were together; I relished every opportunity I had to sit behind the wheel of that magnificent automobile.
Four years ago, I became its new owner. Some time between the 15th and the 18th of January in 2011, my father passed away. It was a sudden and unexpected event. Anybody that knew me then knows the incredible anguish I experienced during this time. I spent a lot of time on the road between Tulsa and Pawhuska (Dad’s home town) to settle his estate, and it was during this time that I formed a connection with his car that helped with that transition. I’ve told people on many occasions that if his spirit was able to return and inhabit anything, it would be the Mustang.
Right around what would’ve been Dad’s 57th birthday that May, I bought a personalized license plate. It was important to me to have an outward representation of how special the car is to me and that it was a bridge between father and son. Arguably, his biggest passion in life was John Wayne. Dad collected art, plates, statues, and other memorabilia for decades. The Duke was his hero and the inspiration behind many of his personality quirks. When I was little, I had a hard time pronouncing ‘John Wayne’ and any time he was on TV I would excitedly say, ‘Jah Vee!’ So that’s what the plate says. It’s not designed for people to understand unless they ask me…which pleases me, because I get to tell that story.
When I’m cruising down the road, I feel connected to my father. I have spent much time in the driver’s seat over the last few years. The Mustang has been with me as my appreciation for Route 66 has grown into admiration, carrying me as far west on the Mother Road as Albuquerque, New Mexico and as far east as Springfield, Missouri. We’ve gone down gravel roads together in search of forgotten steel bridges and zipped along the interstate on our way to new experiences. I vividly remember the gleeful moment the car hit 100,000 miles, after spending the last two of those miles driving around a parking lot. The odometer now reads just over 130k. Sometimes the car is full of people (it miraculously seats four, though not comfortably) and other times it’s just the two of us. I’ve tinted the windows, replaced the stereo, and had some maintenance work done…but otherwise I’ve left it as it was when the name on the title changed.
When I was navigating through Dad’s apartment after he was gone, I found a calendar. He’d scribbled a note for the next week. Someone had rubbed the paint off the back bumper on the driver’s side and he’d scheduled an appointment to get it repainted. He never got the chance to follow through. Now, just a few days shy of four years later, I have finally made good on that last unresolved item. Many thanks to the people at Unique Automotive for doing a fine job with restoring this integral piece of personal history. Below are a few of my favorite photos of the Mustang over the years I have been its custodian. Hopefully, this collection will continue to grow with new and exciting locations.