Forty years ago, a gallon of gas sold for 30 cents, the minimum wage was $1.15 an hour and the Ford Motor Company introduced the Mustang, a small, sporty car that forever changed the automotive industry.

During its extraordinary lifetime, the Mustang has been available in thousands of combinations, several of which will be part of a special display when Lowe¿s Motor Speedway celebrates the Mustang¿s 40th birthday during the April 1-4 Food Lion Auto Fair.

¿To say the Mustang is an American institution is not an overstatement,¿ said H.A. ¿Humpy¿ Wheeler, president and general manager of Lowe¿s Motor Speedway. ¿Generations have grown up riding in, driving and fantasizing about these cars. You can¿t really say that about any other affordable, mass-produced automobile and we are honored to celebrate the Mustang¿s 40th birthday during Food Lion AutoFair.¿

When Ford sold its first Mustang on April 17, 1964, the company had no idea it was giving birth to an automotive icon that would still be capturing hearts four decades later.

The Dearborn, Mich., company was enjoying success in the somewhat tricky American economy car market of the 1960s with its new Falcon model. Buyers liked the Falcon¿s six-cylinder fuel economy and smart, though conservative, styling.

Ford engineers and designers felt a stylish and sporty car could be built on the existing Falcon platform. Market research predicted it would be a big hit with the important youth market while also enjoying high acceptance among young women. Ford officials moved quickly, but cautiously, as they were still suspicious of such research¿having launched the Titanic-like Edsel just seven years earlier based on similar information.

An unprecedented amount of effort went into promoting the new Ford Mustang before it was even available for sale. The pre-introduction campaign played heavily on what many considered to be the car¿s biggest selling points¿its low price of $2,368 and a long list of standard features. Such a frenzy developed over the Mustang that more than 100,000 units were sold in the first three months of production.

Legendary are the stories of Mustang-crazed buyers invading Ford showrooms all over the country. One man slept at the dealership to keep his car from disappearing before morning. A truck driver became so mesmerized by the sight of the new pony car that he drove through a plate glass window.

Since its inception the Mustang has sported nine body designs, always keeping its original long hood/short rear deck proportions whether it was an enormous ¿71-¿73 Mach 1 or a diminutive ¿74-¿78 Mustang II.

A lexicon of names has been created over the years to identify Mustang models, and today collectors pay extra when they find a Sprint, GT, Cobra Jet, Super Cobra Jet, Mach 1, G.T. 350, G.T. 500, Boss 302, Boss 351, Boss 429, California Special, Roush, Steeda or Saleen.

Although the Mustang is considered a high-performance machine, a broad range of powerplants have been offered.

For those seeking sporty but economical transportation in the ¿60s, the sturdy standard in-line six-cylinder with 101 horsepower was likely the choice. Power-hungry hot rodders from that era could check options for V-8s sporting anywhere from 260 to 429 cubic inches. In the 1970s, changing buyer preferences and rising gas prices created the small Mustang II, which could be ordered as a fuel-sipping four-cylinder. The tire-burning crowd usually ¿ponied¿ up for the 302-cid V-8 that could be wrapped up in flashy Cobra II or King Cobra bodywork. In the mid-¿80s, Ford began pushing the Mustang¿s performance envelope, offering buyers better handling and acceleration, culminating in today¿s 390-horsepower Cobra.

The April 1-4 Food Lion AutoFair is the nation¿s largest automotive extravaganza. The four-day event includes a car show featuring various makes and models from some 50 clubs; more than 7,000 vendor spaces that offer a plethora of automotive parts and memorabilia; and a collector car auction conducted by Tom Mack. A car corral, which completely circles the 1.5-mile superspeedway, features nearly 1,500 vehicles of all makes and models that are available for sale or trade.

Food Lion AutoFair hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday, and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Tickets are $10 for adults with children under 12 admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Parking for the event is $5.

Contact the Lowe¿s Motor Speedway Events Department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com for information.