Into the great wide open

16 min read

The Ford Mustang broke all sales records when it arrived 60 years ago, in April 1964. An epic, cross-Californian drive along Route 66 reveals why


I’ve left the fuel cap at the gas station. We haven’t even reached the start of Route 66, as I pull over for the first photo of the trip in the emptiness of the Colorado Desert. The boot can only be opened by the key, so I turn off the 289cu in V8 and walk around the back. The fuel-filler pipe’s exposed opening is staring back at me. Damn.

Two years on the job and I’ve been given the green light to do something special for the 60th anniversary of the fastest-selling car of all time, the Ford Mustang. It is the sort of trip we all dream of: driving across California on Route 66 in a proper American classic. A missing fuel cap is the last thing I needed. We’re already a day behind schedule, having arrived in California at the tail end of the heaviest rain in 90 years. Six months’ worth of rainfall in three days has caused flash flooding, mudslides and a state of emergency. A lost fuel cap isn’t a problem on most cars: you’d just buy a plastic replacement at the next fuel station and carry on. But not a Mustang. We have to go back.

Photographer Max takes the shot – sans petrol cap – and, with miles of visibility in each direction, I hook a U-turn. I didn’t push the car hard on the way out, but, with some making up to do, it’s time to see why the original owner of this Mustang had dismissed the standard 3.3-litre straight-six and ticked the ‘289cu in V8’ box on the famously extensive options list.

The floor-change three-speed auto takes a second or so to wake the Mustang, then the rear squats down and the engine snarls with a charismatic burble as it winds itself up. This Ford’s front end was designed for style, not aerodynamics, and the nose lifts above 50mph as a result. It lightens the steering, but not disconcertingly so, putting the driver in mind of a speedboat up on a plane. That feeling, along with the distant thrum of the V8, gives an addictive impression of speed. The sensation is that you’re going faster than you really are, making you feel like the hero of your own movie. A few miles later I’m smiling again – and that’s the power of the Mustang, right there.

The fuel cap is nowhere to be seen back at Twentynine Palms, but the friendliness of strangers here is as charming as it is alarming to us Brits. A car washer is desperate to help my search and directs me to a par

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