I Survived A Massive Mustang Gathering - Here’s What I Learned

I capped a crazy month of Mustang travels with 1000 other Mustangs at a bonkers meet. Yes it was awesome, but I also had a few surprises

Photos by Christopher Smith

Remind me later
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I’ve been absent from the hallowed digital halls of Car Throttle for a bit over a month now. Let me address the speculation right off the bat - rumours of my demise after crashing my 1995 Mustang GT while doing a burnout around a corner in front of a coffee shop after leaving a car show are completely untrue. In reality, I’ve been on a month-long sabbatical in which I racked up considerable miles on the old GT convertible, but I’m not here today to talk about that. Look for a story about my 3000-mile American adventure in a 21-year-old Mustang coming in the next couple weeks.

The tale I want to spin today concerns what happens when a whole bunch of Mustangs converge in one spot. In this case, the spot is Sturgis, South Dakota - about 30 miles north of my Rapid City home. The event is, appropriately enough, the Sturgis Mustang Rally. This year was the 10th anniversary for the week-long extravaganza, and with over 1000 wild horses in town for the fun, it’s one of the largest Mustang events…in the world.

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The Sturgis Mustang Rally stretched from Tuesday 30 August to Sunday 4 September. During that time, attendees could play golf, go on all kinds of cruises in South Dakota’s Black Hills, compete in a number of racing events including autocrossing and drag racing, enjoy some slow-speed fun events like the Mustang rodeo and the prerequisite burnout contest, and of course there was the show-and-shine which literally took over the entire downtown stretch of Sturgis.

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As with any proper car event, it was all capped with a proper banquet Sunday night that had great food, memorable guest speakers, auctions, awards, and oh yeah, a chance for someone to win a brand new Shelby GT350. Spoiler alert - nobody won it. So it went up for a no-reserve auction with the proceeds going to charity, and it sold for £45,820, or $61,000 for those of us who prefer steering wheels on the left side of the car.

So after three days of polishing the hail dents and scrubbing underhood bits with a toothbrush, I handed over a registration form, a modest amount of cash, and I dove into the action with both feet. Here’s what I learned - the good, the bad, and the surprises.

The Good: Mustang people come from all walks of life, and most are pretty awesome

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I’ll admit right up front that, in the past, I’ve been less than impressed by the attitudes of Mustang owners. I love these cars, but I’ve always been a child of automotive excellence in all forms and flavours, not just one specific brand. When I had my 2003 Terminator Cobra I tried to join an online Cobra club but couldn’t stand the absurd ignorance from most of the members. In fact, my love affair with the first two Ford Taurus SHO generations was spurred to some degree by a desire to beat arrogant Fox Body and SN95 owners with a four-door sedan.

So going into a major Mustang event with the lowest-horsepower V8 model built in the last 25 years had me concerned that some of the arrogance might trickle my way. But that didn’t even come close to happening. I met people from as far away as California, all there to just have a good time. Even when Camaros and Subarus trolled the car show I never heard snide comments.

I’m sure it wasn’t all hugs and puppies with everyone, but during the Sunday banquet the word family was used more than once, and it was absolutely appropriate. It just goes to show you - don’t judge an entire group based on the actions or attitudes of a few bad apples.

Also Good: Nobody biffed their car into a crowd of people.

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I should clarify this statement by adding “to the best of my knowledge.” I’ve yet to see any embarrassing video of burnouts gone awry, so chalk this up as a win for the Mustang peeps. See, Mustang’s can take corners and actually accelerate without wiping out.

The Bad: There wasn’t a tremendous variety of Mustangs for such a large event.

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Being an automotive addict with a serious case of ADD (Automotive Deficit Disorder), I yearn for variety in just about everything. Even during the show and shine event on Saturday there were precious few Mustangs not of the late model variety.

Bad might be too harsh of a term to use here, as I was more disappointed than anything. 2005-2016 models vastly outnumbered everything else, especially during the cruise events where hundreds of miles could stack up in a hurry. And the Mustang generation everyone loves to hate - the infamous 1974-1978 Mustang II - was barely represented at all.

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It’s a testament, however, to just how popular late model Mustangs are in America right now. For less than £7000 you can buy a very nice 2005-2009 Mustang GT with 300 horsepower, a manual transmission, and an aftermarket that is both affordable and virtually limitless. Newer-style 5.0-litre Mustangs with over 400 horsepower can be had for a shade over £12,000, and in the States brand new EcoBoost four-cylinder or V6 models with IRS and over 300bhp sell for £18,000. And then there’s the new 5.0 V8 that Alex has been driving that sells stateside for a cool £24,000. Now that right-hand drive ‘Stangs are gracing European roads, ‘Murica will be invading British roads like The Beatles invaded our radios.

Also Bad: There was a tremendous variety of events to choose from.

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Again, this isn’t so much a bad thing as a bit disappointing. It’s not the variety of events - that’s actually a huge positive in my book. But racing events and cruising events often overlapped, forcing people to choose one or the other. Driving a rickety old convertible with a weak second-gear synchro, I chose the cruise events over autocrossing and drag racing without a second thought. But with a newer car I could’ve easily had an argument for wanting to do both, and it would’ve been tremendously disappointing to have to choose.

The Surprise: I didn’t enjoy it as much as I was expecting.

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I had a good time spending a week with a bunch of crazy Mustang people. But I didn’t have a great time. It certainly wasn’t the fault of the event or the organizers - this rally was well-planned and built to accommodate every kind of Mustang enthusiast. The cruises were awesome, the evening fun events were epic, and the banquet was everything you’d want to close down a week of car antics. I was expecting to be on hyperactive mode the entire event, but at the end of each day I found myself just wanting to relax at home, away from the noise and traffic and people.

It could be that I’m just not into these cars as much as others. The fact that I’ve owned 30 cars in the last 15 years certainly supports that. But I’d also covered over 3000 miles in my Mustang just two weeks prior to the event. I don’t care who you are or what you drive - that kind of seat time can wear on even the hardiest car guy. In either case, it’s okay. You can still be a bona-fide enthusiast without going to every car meet and having a bonkers time. This was a great event with great people, and that’s all that matters.

Also Surprise: I ran side-by-side with a new EcoBoost Mustang packing 310bhp.

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Though I didn’t sign up for the racing events, the Friday cruise started with a timed pass at Sturgis Dragway’s 1/8 mile drag strip. Despite the weak synchro on the tranny, I decided to make a flat-out powershifting pass. My competition at the line was a new EcoBoost Mustang with nearly 100 more ponies than my old 5.0-litre V8. I expected to be humiliated, but we crossed the line side-by-side with the EcoBoost beating me by seven hundredths of a second. Yes, seven hundredths. I’m car 275 - I cut a good light and was ahead most of the way, but he slowly creeped past by the 1/8 mile, running 9.99 to my 10.30. Considering the track was 3500 feet above sea level and I didn’t have the luxury of boost, the old girl with the pushrod V8 and solid rear axle did alright.

In fact, the old girl did alright for the whole convention. Even grabbed a few compliments. Not a bad way to close out summer; not a bad way at all.