"I never saw a Mustang I didn't like," Jack Roush tells us as we stroll past the line of Mustangs in his Livonia, Michigan, auto collection. Of course, that statement incorporates not only Mustang automobiles, from the '64 1/2 hardtop he bought brand-new to the '11 NASCAR Nationwide Mustangs being developed by Roush Fenway Racing, but also World War II-era P-51 Mustang fighter planes. Over the past four decades, Mustangs have played a large role in Roush's success as drag racer, businessman, and race team owner.
While most of us recognize Jack from his racing activities, starting in the 1960s with his Gapp & Roush drag racing efforts with then-partner Wayne Gapp and stretching to his current NASCAR Sprint Cup teams, he also owns a number of successful businesses under the Roush Enterprises umbrella, including Roush Industries, a freelance engineering firm that does specialized work for auto manufacturers, and Roush Performance, which builds Roush Mustangs and offers a line of performance parts. His companies employ over 2,000 people.
In college, Jack earned money by working on cars. By the time he landed a job at Ford as a trouble-shooter at assembly plants, primarily Dearborn, in May 1964, he had saved enough money for a healthy down-payment on his first new car, a '64 1/2 Mustang hardtop. It would be the start of a long and fruitful relationship with Mustangs.
"If you look at the lineage of what we've done in racing, it started with that '64 1/2 Mustang," Jack told us. "It was carried forward by the fact that I had a job at the Dearborn Assembly Plant, where I was exposed to Ford engineers from development and competitive points of view. The basic 289 powertrain formed the basis of what has become Roush Industries and Roush Racing today."
"This '64 1/2 represents my first Mustang, which was a hardtop, not a convertible. It was the same color, with simulated knock-off wheel covers, rocker panel molding, and C-stripe. In 1964, I waited six weeks to get the car to my specifications. The biggest engine you could get at that point was the 289 with 210 horsepower, regular gasoline, four-barrel, single exhaust. I drove it for about five years and put 100,000 miles on it. Over a period of time I made upgrades-Arvinode exhaust system, 9-inch rear axle, mechanical lifters, bigger carburetor, and exhaust manifolds with exhaust flow casting considerations."
Jack first raced a Mustang, a '66 Hi-Po fastback, as part of The Fastbacks, a Detroit-area drag racing club. Since leaving Ford in 1970 to start his own company, Jack has raced Mustangs in everything from drag racing to IMSA GTO, at one point winning 10 consecutive 24 Hours of Daytona races in a row. In 1988, he ventured into NASCAR, amassing over 100 Sprint Cup wins and two championships over the past 20 years. Last July, Roush Fenway Racing was part of the Mustang's debut in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
"The Mustang has been the river that runs through my career, since I got out of college and for all of my racing career," Jack says.
His affinity for Mustang goes beyond racing, as the cars in his collection attest. Thanks to his success, Jack has been able to put together a collection of his favorite cars, overseen by his oldest daughter, Susan Roush-McClenaghan. According to Susan's latest list, the collection includes nearly 150 cars, from a 1918 Rauch electric car and Model Ts to former race cars and engineering prototypes, including the twin-turbocharged Mustang 25th anniversary concept and Ford SVT's '94 Boss 429 show car. Nearly a third of the cars are Mustangs.
"The first Mustang I bought for restoration was this black '66 convertible, which I acquired in 1967 or 1968. It had an engine bay fire from a rubber fuel line that had ruptured at the carburetor. The guy wanted it out of his garage for not a lot of money. It was seriously damaged and was on its way to the junkyard. I didn't have the wherewithal to restore at that point so I had it in storage for a while."
As we're strolling by the row of Mustangs parked along a back wall, Jack stops and turns to Susan to ask, "Am I going to get to drive one today?" It's obviously a family joke as he points out, "I've got to get on my hands and knees to get the keys. Susan remembers when she was a teenager that maybe one time she had trouble getting the keys for a car when she wanted it. Now she has the power and authority to withhold my opportunities to drive the cars. I'm pretty sure I can miss a curb but she's not so sure."
As we talk about his favorite Mustangs in the collection, we can tell that Jack is well-versed about the earlier cars. But when we get to the later models, starting with the '95 Cobra R, Jack relies on Susan to fill in details. "I need Susan to help me before I get myself in trouble," he admits.