The 2015 Mustang began rolling down an assembly line at a plant in Flat Rock, Mich., this week.

Photo credit: BLOOMBERG
BRAD WERNLE

Mustang and Coors -- scarcity made fans want them more

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Bradford Wernle covers Ford for Automotive News.
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As I was coming of age in Indiana, Coors enjoyed elite status as an exotic beer you couldn’t buy anywhere east of the Mississippi River.

Coors was brewed without preservatives and would spoil quickly if it was transported long distances and allowed to get warm, or so the myth went. Because of its perceived purity and because it was not readily available, Coors became liquid gold to beer lovers, a hard-to-get delicacy that presaged the growth of the modern craft beer movement.

Hauling a case of Coors east became a rite of passage for college students in the 1970s. The 1977 action comedy film Smokey and the Bandit centered around the escapades of a truck driver named Bandit, played by the mustachioed, cowboy-hatted Burt Reynolds. Bandit accepts an $80,000 offer to haul 400 cases of Coors from Texas to Georgia. Wacky escapades ensue.

So what does the 2015 Ford Mustang have to do with Coors Banquet Beer? During its 50-year history, Ford’s pony car has accumulated a devout fan base around the world partly because it was unavailable in many countries.

If you wanted a Mustang and lived in Sydney, Australia, you had to pay a stiff price to import one on the gray market. Because Ford didn’t make the Mustang with right-hand drive, the truly dedicated could localize their cars only by using expensive right-hand-drive conversion kits.

Scarcity only made fans want the Mustang more.

Fan clubs

Over the decades, Mustang’s exclusivity spurred the growth of fan clubs in locations as far-flung as Australia, South Africa, Germany and Sweden.

The dedication of some devotees is a testament to the car’s uniqueness. Aussie fan Mark Neumann spent $50,000 to bring his wife and daughter from Newcastle, Australia, to Las Vegas for a huge Mustang party in April.

“I’ve been planning this for years,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

To celebrate the Mustang’s 50th anniversary this year, Ford decided to answer the global siren song by redesigning its brand icon for the whole world for the first time. Ford is bringing the Mustang to 81 countries where it was unavailable before, pushing the total number of markets where it will be available to nearly 120.

“The rest of the world wants a piece of it and we’re going to sell it to them,” Joe Hinrichs, Ford’s president of the Americas, told a cheering crowd of employees celebrating production of the first 2015 Mustang at Ford’s Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Michigan on Thursday.

Hinrichs hailed the new Mustang as the most advanced that Ford has ever built. Ford will offer features never before seen on mainstream Mustangs including an independent rear suspension and a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine. Like other modern cars, the Mustang will now be connected via Ford’s latest Bluetooth and infotainment technologies.

Going high-tech

Such modern, high-tech features might seem at odds with the Mustang’s traditional appeal -- American-style motoring at its rawest and most elemental, live rear axle and all. With its distinctive long hood and short rear deck, the Mustang always cut a uniquely American silhouette.

So will the Mustang lose some appeal now that it no longer will be so hard to get? And how badly do car enthusiasts really want the Mustang in, say, France? Enough to pony up a pile of euros for the high-end versions likely to dominate Ford’s export channel? Nobody will know until it goes on sale outside North America sometime next year. In fact, some Europeans would rather have seen Ford resurrect the Capri, also a revered sporty car that grew out of their car cultures the way the Mustang grew out of 1960s American optimism.

Ford has taken pains to say that it designed the 2015 Mustang for North America first, believing its customers around the world want the best of what the Mustang has always stood for: uncompromised personal expression and the freedom of the open road. What they do not want is a Mustang that’s watered down to the lowest common denominator.

Coors has long since been sold everywhere. But young men no longer dream of piling into a station wagon and driving to Denver just for a case of beer.

The new global Mustang could very well be the most capable pony car Ford has ever built and still lose a measure of its precious cachet. Human nature hasn’t changed. We always desire a little more those things that are a little harder to get.

You can reach Bradford Wernle at bwernle@crain.com.

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