The Ford-sponsored Snake Pit parking lot for Shelby GT350 and GT500 owners
DETROIT — Each year starting in 1999, the volunteer-led Mustang Alley turns a roughly one-mile stretch of road in a northern Detroit suburb into a pony-car paradise for drivers and enthusiasts.
The single-day event, part of the annual Woodward Dream Cruise classic-car gathering, gives owners clubs and other Mustang drivers a place to swap stories, meet the engineers and designers of their favorite cars and enjoy Ford-backed experiences not available to the public.
For the automaker, Mustang Alley is a venue to showcase the passion Mustang owners have for their vehicles and to get critical feedback from those owners.
“It allows us to rally the base,” Mark Schaller, Mustang marketing manager, told Automotive News.
‘A little community’
Mustang Alley celebrated its 20th anniversary last month, and Schaller said more than 1,000 pony cars lined the east and west side of Nine Mile Road on a sunny summer Saturday in Ferndale, Mich.
Jim Hardie’s blue 2007 Mustang Shelby GT500 was among them.
Hardie, a native of Ontario, has made the trip across the border to Detroit four times to participate in Mustang Alley.
“We meet so many new friends,” he said. “It gets to be a little community.”
Hardie, who also owns a 1968 Shelby GT500, is part of Team Shelby, an owners club celebrating its 10th year. As part of the celebration, Ford gave members exclusive access to its Michigan Proving Ground track in Romeo, Mich., to drive the new 2019 Mustang Bullitt, as well as their own vehicles.
The company also hosted a dinner at Greenfield Village, an American history attraction not far from Ford’s headquarters, featuring members of the Shelby family and other company dignitaries.
As with the Shelby owners this year, Ford two years ago celebrated another niche group: owners of the much-maligned Mustang II. The car, which was built off the Pinto platform to save money amid the 1970s oil crisis, has gained popularity in recent years thanks to classic car collectors.
As part of that celebration, Ford invited owners to its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., the next day for a special gathering.
“It lets us honor and pay tribute to certain groups of Mustang owners,” Schaller said. “It allows them to have a sense of camaraderie, not just within Mustang, but within their own niche groups.”
Although Ford maintains an official display stand at Mustang Alley, where it sells merchandise and shows off new vehicles, most of the event is run by volunteers from inside and outside the company. The event is almost entirely paid for through a fee owners pay to park their cars.
For Ford, Mustang Alley is a marketing gold mine.
For Ford, it’s a marketing gold mine. This year, the company used its stand to showcase its popular 2019 Bullitt, a new Mustang NASCAR race car and a number of non-Mustang products, such as the redesigned Expedition SUV and the $450,000 Ford GT.
It also sponsored a Snake Pit parking lot for owners of the Shelby GT350 and GT500 performance cars, which included a large merchandise tent selling everything from Shelby-badged buttons and hats to toy cars and T-shirts.
Enthusiasts stood in line at multiple tents along Mustang Alley to sign up for a Ford mailing list and receive a free Ford Performance T-shirt featuring the upcoming 2019 Edge ST.
The automaker also hosted an engineering meet-and-greet with Mustang team members. That’s important, Schaller said, because Mustang owners often provide good feedback.
“Mustang customers are not shy,” he said. “They’ll tell us what they like and what they hate and what they want to see more of. It gives us a real good interface with the consumer.”
And it occasionally leads to changes. Schaller said customer feedback led the team to add a memory function that moves the front seat back to its preset position if it’s moved to let a passenger in the back.
Ford is placing increasing emphasis on the Mustang. Executives often cite the passion the car elicits in its owners as a guiding star for some of its other vehicles.
Mustang Alley gives the company an opportunity to strengthen that bond with its customers.
“It’s fun,” Schaller said. “But it’s fun because it builds that family.”