Gentlemen, strut your (Mustang) engines

Dozens vroom for theater fundraiser

April 08, 2007|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,Sun reporter

A herd of 100 showy Mustangs parked by the Senator Theatre yesterday for a gathering of the faithful.

For sports car owners united by this American fascination, the contest for the most "mean-sounding" Ford Mustang was full of beautiful, ear-splitting noise.

"My first car was a '66 Mustang when I was 16," Tony Iannantuono, 25, said as he stood in the Senator's lobby.

His mother, Tina, had given the bright blue car to him as a surprise, but it was now a thing of the past. So the two came together for nostalgia's sake, without a Mustang to add to the fleet.

"There's nothing cooler. It's my favorite muscle car: fast and intimidating, fun and loud," Iannantuono said.

Organizers of the "Mustang Mania" event at the York Road venue said the giddiness in the snow-flecked spring air came from an outing that took Mustang drivers on a three-hour cruise from a meeting place on Interstate 95 to Jessup, and then to the art deco movie palace.

The Senator event, which included a screening of a classic Steve McQueen Mustang car chase in Bullitt, was a benefit to help buoy the theater's financial health, seeking $10 donations.

The movie theater was almost put up for auction recently because of mounting debt on its bank loans, spared from sale only because of thousands of dollars of donations.

Joe Bailer of Myersville, who came with his 18-year-old son Bradley, said he has owned four Mustangs, starting at age 16.

Each one has represented a different period, he said, such as the 1984 LX he bought when he left the Army and drove cross-country with his wife. Now he drives a silver 2006 GT.

Scott Donahoo, an automobile dealer who stars in his own television commercials, lent his authority as the sole judge.

Clad in a leather jacket, he reviewed each sleek Mustang parked on both sides of York Road. Some were displayed on the famed Senator sidewalk, atop the cement squares signed by directors and stars who have attended movie premieres over the years.

"It's the most-collected sports car for over 30 years running," Donahoo said. "It's because of the lines, the shapeliness. Every young man wanted a Mustang."

"And do you know who designed the Mustang? A young engineer named Lee Iacocca," Donahoo said, referring to the automobile executive who later became the chairman of Chrysler Corp.

More than one participant yesterday said the camaraderie was clear, even if many owners were from cities and towns scattered around the Mid-Atlantic region. Mustang devotees keep in touch through clubs and Internet forums.

Mary Jo Dale, a Fells Point resident, was one of the few women at the event who once had a Mustang of her own, a 1967 model that's still etched in her memory.

"They evoke good times," she said. "Happier, younger days. Mine had dark green with silver specks. I had her for 20 years."

The Senator's owner, Thomas Kiefaber, said a highlight of his "misspent youth" was a 1967 yellow Fastback, which he used to race through the streets of North Baltimore, always ending up at a popular hangout, the former Morgan Millard dugstore in Roland Park.

"That's where I met my wife, Louise, when we were 16," he said.

The man who took home the Best in Show award was an auto mechanic, Ron Smith of New Freedom, Pa. The 43-year-old had parked his gleaming black 1965 Mustang Fastback -- with sharp gold stripes -- in the prime sidewalk spot. Donahoo, who made the first-place call, said it wasn't even close.

"That is one fine-looking Mustang," the Ford dealer told Smith in front of the crowd.

Smith said his technique was simple: "Tear it apart, spend lots of money."

Many of the Mustang owners said they spent more on rebuilding their cars than they did in buying the cars, making them worth $80,000 or $90,000 -- more than triple the typical retail price. But in the end, whether they're a retro or the latest model, Mustangs still have something that clutches at car lovers.

Said Wayne Dubasak of Bel Air: "It's about the ride. That's what it's all about."

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