Thirty-five years ago this month, Larry Dobbs was a proud but nervous father in more ways than one. His wife, Judy, had just given birth to their first son, Jason. And from the dining room table, Larry had conceived a new magazine, the Mustang Exchange Letter, a buy-sell-trade publication for '65-'73 Mustang owners. On January 25, 1978, the first quick-print issue was mailed to the 92 subscribers who had responded to Larry's ads in Hemmings Motor News and Bob Page's Mustang News from California. Larry told the rest of the story in the February 1983 issue:
"On February 1, I resigned from (my ad sales job at) The Ledger. Judy went into shock. The $644 taken in from subscriptions barely paid for the ads, much less printing and mailing costs. We had no savings and less than $500 in our checking account. When I approached the bank about a loan, the loan officer agreed with Judy—I definitely must be a few bricks short of a full load. Reluctantly, he loaned us $5,000 and made me sign a second mortgage on the house.”
Larry soon changed the name to Mustang Monthly and took off on a 21-year ride that included publishing books (How To Restore Your Mustang and the Mustang Recognition Guide, among others) and adding additional niche automotive titles (including Musclecar Review, Super Ford, Mopar Muscle, and Corvette Fever). In 1999, Larry sold Dobbs Publishing Group to Petersen Publishing. Today, Mustang Monthly is published by Source interlink Media.
I was there for much of the fun and chaos, either as an editor for Mustang Monthly or one of the other magazines, or as an editorial director. For this 35th anniversary tribute, I've picked some of the covers, people, and happenings that helped define Mustang Monthly as the go-to "All Mustangs, All the Time” magazine.
Mailed to 92 subscribers, the first issue of the Mustang Exchange Letter, February 1978, contained mostly classified advertising—not surprising due to Larry Dobbs experience in the advertising department at the local newspaper. There was no internet in 1978, so buy-sell-trade magazines, like Hemmings Motor News, were popular in those days, and Larry saw an opening to take advantage with a Mustang-only version that offered free classifieds to subscribers. Within weeks of launching his Mustang Exchange Letter, Larry heard about a similar publication, Super Ford Parts Exchange, from John Paradise in New York. Fearing confusion in the Ford and Mustang market, Larry changed the name of his magazine to Mustang Monthly, which would become the first successful automotive niche magazine.
Sidenote: Nine years later, Larry purchased Super Ford magazine, formerly Super Ford Parts Exchange, to add the all-Ford performance title to his growing stable of special interest automotive magazines.
Full Size with Color
After publishing his first 20 issues as quick-print or tabloid on newsprint, Larry took a leap of faith with the October 1979 issue by switching to a regular magazine format with color cover and features along with historical articles and event coverage. "The long rumored format change is finally here!” Larry announced in his "Hoofbeats from the Editor” column. "Beginning with this issue, Mustang Monthly Magazine will attempt to bring Mustang and Shelby enthusiasts in the U.S. and abroad the type of monthly publication deserved by the classic Mustang.”
The 40-page issue included coverage of the Mustang Club of America's fourth Grand National and the Shelby American Automobile Club's fifth national convention, SAAC-5. Several of the advertisers are still providing parts and services to Mustang owners today, including California Mustang, Larry's Mustang Parts, Cobra Restorers, and Bill Harris (now doing business as wholesaler Harris Mustang Supply).
Sidenote: The cover photo for the October 1979 issue came from an 8x10 print of Lee Iacocca and Don Frey that was originally given to Ford dealers during the Mustang's introduction in 1964. Larry bought it at a swap meet.