Martha’s Vineyard Mustangs

Martha’s Vineyard Mustangs

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The iconic American car turns 50.

Ford Mustang fan Kevin Cusack leans against his 1970 red Boss 302. His white 1965 Mustang body with a stroked small-block motor on a chrome-moly tubular chassis is set up for drag racing. — Photo by Betsy Corsiglia

In the spring of 1964, Ford Motor Company introduced a new model — the Mustang — at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York City. To mark the occasion, the car company cut up one of the cars into three pieces and reassembled it on the top of the Empire State Building. The 1965 model Mustang would go on to become the company’s most successful launch since the Model A. By the time Steve McQueen drove a 390 V8 Ford Mustang GT fastback in the blockbuster movie “Bullitt,” the car had become legendary, and has remained one of the country’s most romanticized muscle cars. The original model, which started at $2,368,  can fetch over $100,000 today.

Mustang fever is alive and well on Martha’s Vineyard; owners and former owners shared memories.

Inheritance

The distinctive Mustang logo.
The distinctive Mustang logo.

Most older Mustangs come with stories, and New Yorker Russell Burrows, a London-born, part-time Vineyard Haven resident, was happy to tell his. His brown 1974 Mustang II is one of his family’s two Island cars, which seldom leave the Vineyard. The other is an older model Land Rover.

The Mustang, he was quick to point out, has a matrilineal lineage. It had 8,000 miles on the odometer when a dealer sold it to his mother in New Jersey in 1974. She drove very little and had little use for the car when she moved to New York City in 1979. So she gave it to Mr. Burrows’s mother-in-law in Connecticut, who had a house on the Vineyard, where the car eventually came to live. In keeping with the female lineage of the car’s ownership, Mr. Burrows’s mother-in-law has since bequeathed the Mustang to Mr. Burrows’s daughter Sarah.

It is used infrequently, he said. “We all use it a little bit and have no plans of ever taking it off the Vineyard. We probably don’t treat it with all respect it should get. It is sitting outside this very minute.”

Mr. Burrows sent The Times a set of photos showing the odometer turning to 30,000 miles as he drove it over a snow and ice enhanced Lagoon Pond drawbridge this winter.

Mid-Life crises

Ernie Mendenhall stands with his 1937 Plymouth sedan, 1946 Dodge pickup truck, and his 2011 Mustang.
Ernie Mendenhall stands with his 1937 Plymouth sedan, 1946 Dodge pickup truck, and his 2011 Mustang.

Soon to retire West Tisbury building inspector Ernest Mendenhall purchased a used 2011 Mustang early this year. “I was going through a second mid-life crisis,” he said. ”I wanted a convertible and the choice of convertibles lead me to Mustang.

“Back in the sixties when they first came out, if I had been rich I would have wanted one, but I couldn’t afford one.”

His first mid-life crisis resulted in the purchase of a Mazda Miata, a sporty convertible. “There is no sense to owning a convertible, but they are wonderful. There’s nothing that beats a convertible on a nice day.”

His Mustang is now his everyday car, replacing his old Honda Civic.

Mr. Mendenhall said his wife, West Tisbury town treasurer Kathy Logue, would say that all of his crises involve some kind of motor vehicle. He also owns two antique cars, a 1937 Plymouth sedan and a 1946 Dodge pickup truck.

Classic shape

Vineyard Haven dentist Robert Herman is the original owner of his 1991 black Mustang convertible, which he bought when he was 30. The odometer reads 47,000 miles, and the car has been parked in his garage for the last year. “I take great pride in it,” he said. “I will never sell it, but if the truth be told I bought it because I couldn’t afford a Corvette.

“The Mustang is an absolutely gorgeous car. It has a classic shape, a five-liter engine. Nothing at the time gave me the thrill of driving this Mustang. A black car with a black interior, keeping it clean is the greatest satisfaction I have in owning it. It is going on 25 years and is still in pristine shape.”

“My fantasy is thinking of my son someday driving it to high school.”  His son is 14.

A toy

Jesse Steere babies his toy, a 1973 Mustang, Mark I fastback setup for speed with a 429 engine, street legal slick tires and a posi-traction rear end.
Jesse Steere babies his toy, a 1973 Mustang, Mark I fastback setup for speed with a 429 engine, street legal slick tires and a posi-traction rear end.

Jesse Steere owner of Shirley’s True Value hardware in Vineyard Haven said that at his age, 52, he was looking for toys that weren’t too expensive. He found one of his toys, a 1973 hugger blue Mark I fastback, at a decent price on the Vineyard four years ago. Mr. Steere said he may take the car off-Island to a track to see just how fast it will go. Until then he exercises the motor by increasing the RPMs in the lower gears. The noise it makes is unmistakable and loud. “It has a 429 big block Ford engine in it,” he said. “It can probably do 150, but obviously you can’t do that around here.”

The king

If there were a king of Mustang owners on the Vineyard it would undoubtedly be 54-year-old Oak Bluffs builder Kevin Cusack. Along with his two Porsches, a 1966 Pontiac GTO, a Dodge hemi challenger, several late model work trucks and a couple of other older works in progress from the 1920s, he has title to seven Ford Mustangs.

His first Mustang was a navy blue 1964 with a navy blue interior that he bought in 1974 for $200 before he had a driver’s license.

“I have always had Mustangs,” he said.“I got into racing when I was a kid; it was fun, competitive, what else are you going to do?”

His friends were into racing when he was growing up, and he learned from them. “I was a hot-rodder in high school,” he said. “We referred to ourselves as knuckle-draggers. We were knuckleheads who were into drag racing.” He would switch out his racing engine and rear end every spring so the car would pass its safety inspection in May.

Three of Kevin Cusack's collection of seven Mustangs includes, left to right, an ivy green 1966 with a 4 speed 289, a red 1970 Boss 302 and an Indian fire red 1969 big block Mark I.
Three of Kevin Cusack’s collection of seven Mustangs includes, left to right, an ivy green 1966 with a 4 speed 289, a red 1970 Boss 302 and an Indian fire red 1969 big block Mark I.

His current stable includes a red 1970 Boss 302, the only car he says is a valuable collector’s car; a white 1965 fastback body on a chrome-moly tubular frame with a stroked small-block engine that he raced in pro drag races for ten years; a 1966 ivy-green, 289 four-speed coup, and an Indian fire red, 1969 big block Mark I. He estimates it cost him $25,000 a year in parts and traveling expenses to race the white ‘65.

Mr. Cusack does most of his own work and uses a machinist when necessary. “It has always been a passion. I have always enjoyed them. I have rebuilt tons of Mustangs. Restored tons of them.

“I have street Mustangs, but primarily my gig is racing. I love it. I love driving them and I love working on them. I love it that people always have a Mustang story to tell you when they see the old cars.”

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