By Matt Avery
Special to the Daily Herald
In 1965, Bennie Horton and his dad set off on an epic cross-country road trip. They left their home in Los Angeles, heading east. Their destination? The World's Fair in New York City.
The two made a quick detour in Detroit to pick up Bennie's cousin, Patricia Strawter, before arriving in the Big Apple. "It was unbelievable to be at the fair as a 15-year-old kid," Bennie recalls. "I remember having my first corn dog and seeing all the dazzling displays."
The trio made a beeline for Ford's display, which was still showing off the new Mustang, unveiled a year earlier. "My dad asked what is was. I told him it was called Mustang," Bennie said. "On our way to the hotel that night he was still talking about it."
After a few days together, they left New York in his father's green 1961 Corvair. The Chevy broke down on four separate occasions on the trip home. It wasn't just the car that was overheating. "Dad was so upset. He said as soon as we got back to L.A. he was trading it in," Bennie said.
True to his word, he did just that. They arrived home on a Friday and on Saturday they were at Cobely Ford on Western Avenue. "The lot was full of Mustangs," Bennie recalls.
His dad instructed Bennie and his cousin to each pick out their favorite, while he went off to find one that caught his eye. Bennie spied a GT convertible that he liked.
"Back then everyone wanted dual exhaust," he said. "The GT had it and it looked sharp."
Bennie rejoined his dad and cousin to report his findings. "The salesman told my dad, 'I'd follow your son on this one,' telling him about the GT's bigger motor and stripes," said Bennie. "Dad bought it right then."
The very next day, they were out soaking up the California sun. "We drove down to Pacific Ocean Park (amusement park) in Santa Monica," Bennie said. "Dad drove the car out on the sand where we played all day."
Months later, Bennie relocated with his mom to Rockford and was shocked when his father called in June 1968. "He told me he was having the car driven out to me and it was mine," said Bennie. "I remember when it showed it up. My eyes got real big when it pulled into the driveway."
Bennie worked part time and sent his dad $500 to help cover the cost. "Even though he said it was a graduation present, I was proud to send him that money," Bennie recalls. Sadly, about a month after he received the Mustang, his father passed away.
Bennie drove the drop top the following year during his senior year of high school. He also helped his mom commute. "She offered to pay the insurance if I drove her to work and picked her up," Bennie said.
He continued to use the car all through his time at Northern Illinois University, driving it through sun, rain and snow. He also drove it on numerous out-of-state trips, motoring to Detroit to see his cousin and to Alabama, Florida and back to New York City. He also drove it on his honeymoon to Lake Geneva, Wisconsin.
In 1976, Bennie pulled it from regular use and stored it until 2013, when he began to have it fully restored. This summer marks the first time it's been out and Bennie proudly displayed it at Wednesday's Daily Herald Cruise Nights at Stratford Square in Bloomingdale. There it earned my Matt Avery's Pick trophy.
"It's because of my mom and dad that I have this car," Bennie said. "I still can't believe dad let me pick it out and then let me have it."
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