The Mustang became more than a mode of transportation; it developed into a culture. Owners congregate and share their experiences around the world. “It’s one of those cars that becomes very personal,” Ling says. “That’s what I think of when I think of some of the real fans of Mustang: They love telling stories of what happened to them in their cars, and I can’t tell you what a great conversation piece it’s been.”

Metz is among many owners and members of Mustang clubs who have connected over several decades. Bobby Lane, former president for the Mustang Owners Club of Austin, has been a member of the club since 1986, but his relationship with the car goes back to his mother’s first Mustang, a 1965 coupe. “That’s how I got started,” he says. “Playing around with her cars and keeping them clean and driving them and taking care of them.”

It wasn’t just personal experiences that launched the Mustang into Americana, however. From Goldfinger in 1964 to Need for Speed in 2014, the Mustang has had nearly 3,000 movie credits. But it was Steve ­McQueen piloting a green GT 390 in a high-speed chase through San Francisco in ­Bullitt (1968) that provided the Mustang with a prominent role on the big screen. The 1971 fastback named Eleanor became the first and only Mustang to receive a starring credit. That happened in the 1974 movie Gone in 60 Seconds. Even musicians were finding a muse in the Mustang: artists such as Mack Rice, with his 1965 song “Mustang Sally” (later ­recorded by Wilson Pickett), and Chuck Berry, with “My Mustang Ford,” a tribute to his “1966 cherry-red Mustang.”

Not many models survive like the Mustang, and to celebrate, Ford is partnering with the Mustang Club of America to create a grand birthday bash that will take place in Charlotte, N.C., and Las Vegas from April 16-20. Mustang fans from around the world will participate.

Iacocca said in his introductory speech that Ford had a hard time containing its excitement for the new car and that he hoped the public would feel the same way. Fifty years later, more than 9 million Mustangs have been produced and the passion seems as strong as ever. He got his wish. 

David Halloran is a recent graduate of the University of North Texas. He is a former intern at American Way and is now a research editor for the magazine.