The Ford Mustang­ - one of the world's most successful and beloved automobile models - turns 50 this spring. To commemorate the occasion, the Charlotte Motor Speedway AutoFair hosted by OldRide.com will offer a special exhibit highlighting all five generations of the famous "pony car."

"The Ford Mustang is an American institution," said Marcus Smith, president and general manager of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "Five decades of drivers have grown up aspiring to own these cars and they'll love being able to see some of the rare Mustangs we'll have on display at the AutoFair."

The 50th anniversary display at AutoFair hosted by OldRide.com will feature five generations of Mustangs as desirable and diverse as a 1965 GT 350, 1967 coupe in "Playboy Pink," 1969 Boss 429, 1978 Mustang II Ghia, 1982 GT, 1996 Cobra and 2013 Boss 302 Laguna Seca, to name only a few. In addition, movie buffs will enjoy a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT replica from the dramatic thriller "Bullitt" and a 1967 Ford Mustang Fastback "Eleanor" replica from the 2000 hit film "Gone in Sixty Seconds."

When Ford sold its first Mustang on April 17, 1964, the company had no idea it was giving birth to a legend that would still be capturing young hearts a half-century later; it was simply trying to fill an empty spot in its lineup.

Lee Iacocca was Ford Division's vice-president and general manager in the early 1960s, and he pushed for a model that would fit between the Falcon economy car and Thunderbird luxury coupe. Ford felt that this stylish and sporty new Mustang should be built on the Falcon platform, saving millions of dollars in development money. Market research predicted it would be a big hit with the emerging youth market and that it would have a high acceptance among young women. The company moved quickly but cautiously, having been burned by its disastrous Edsel program just a few years earlier.

An unprecedented amount of effort went into promoting the new 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. (By comparison, most new cars today are considered successful if they manage to move 100,000 units per year.) In only 18 months, dealers would sell one million Mustangs to a hungry public - an astonishing pace that has seldom been matched.

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 inception, the Mustang has always kept the attractive long hood/short trunk proportions of the original, whether it is an enormous 1971-73 Mach 1 or a diminutive 1974-78 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, GT 350, GT 500, Boss 302, Boss 351, Boss 429, California Special, High Country Special, Roush, Steeda or Saleen.

Although the Mustang is considered a high-performance machine, there has been a broad range of engines available over the last 50 years. If you were a frugal shopper looking for sporty but economical transportation in the 1960s, the sturdy, standard six-cylinder with 101 horsepower was likely to be your choice. Power-hungry hot rodders from that period could check options for V-8s displacing 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 model. In the mid-'80s, Ford began pushing the edge of the Mustang's performance envelope once again, offering buyers better handling and acceleration, culminating in the 2014 GT with a 5.0-liter V-8 that puts out 420 horsepower yet manages an EPA rating of 26 miles per gallon in highway driving.

In addition to the 50th anniversary of the Mustang display, the AutoFair features more than 50 car club displays and more than 10,000 vendor spaces offering an array of automotive parts and memorabilia. More than 1,500 collectible vehicles of all makes and models will be available for sale in the car corral that rings the 1.5-mile superspeedway. In addition, up to 200 cars will be auctioned by Dealer Auctions Inc. Kids can enjoy face-painting, bounce houses and other games and entertainment in the Play Zone; and the Ultimate Elvis Tribute Artist Contest returns.

Hours for the April 3-6 AutoFair hosted by OldRide.com are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Saturday and 8 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday. Ticket prices are $10 per day for adults and children 13 and under are admitted free when accompanied by an adult. Four day passes are available for just $30. Parking for the event is $5. For more information on the four-day event, contact the speedway events department at (704) 455-3205 or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

To purchase tickets, call the Charlotte Motor Speedway ticket office at 1-800-455-FANS (3267), or visit www.charlottemotorspeedway.com.

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