New Editor in Town
Maybe it wasn't so much a defining moment for the magazine as it was for me. After several months of contributing to Mustang Monthly
from South Carolina, I received a call from Larry Dobbs in December 1979. He wanted to know, "Would you be interested in moving to Florida to become editor of the magazine?”
Yes, I was interested, but there was much to consider. I was secure in the family feed and fertilizer business, Pam and I were living in a nice brick home on a hill, and we had just learned that our second child was on the way. Was I willing to move away from friends and family to take a job with a relatively new magazine with less than 5,000 subscribers?
In February, we traveled to Lakeland—it was the first airline flight for both of us—to visit Larry and Judy. Something told me that Larry was going to make it work. He agreed to allow me to work from South Carolina until Matthew was born. We moved to Florida in August 1980 for an annual salary of $11,500—more than I was making in the family feed store. I had no formal journalism education, little experience, and nothing more than a hand-me-down IBM Selectric typewriter and cheap 35mm camera. It was the perfect description of on-the-job training.
My arrival as editor of Mustang Monthly took that time-consuming job off Larry's shoulders and allowed him to focus more attention on Mustang Supply Company. He was also able to pursue other publishing ideas, including one about restoring a Mustang for a how-to book. Larry never told me that the job description included sandblasting sheetmetal and cleaning fuel lines with steel wool.
The Hot Rod Ad
During my first week on the job, I remember Larry creating an ad for the December 1980 issue of Hot Rod
magazine. It was a huge gamble for Larry. The 2⁄3-page ad cost $5,000—a lot of money at the time for a fledgling company. But it worked. I seem to recall that Larry had to rent a larger box at the post office to handle the incoming letters, each with a $15 or $28 (two years) check or credit card transaction for a subscription to Mustang Monthly
. With that one ad, we added over 5,000 subscribers, more than doubling the magazine's circulation. The incoming revenue also relieved the cash-flow crunch.
Let's Publish a Book
I arrived as editor of Mustang Monthly
in mid August. By October, I was spending most days at a shop on the other side of town to photograph the restoration of a '66 Mustang GT fastback for a book, How To Restore Your Mustang
. It was the first procedures manual for restoring Mustangs and established the "how-to” format for the magazine that continues to this day. And it sold well, topping Classic Motorbooks sales list for several months and providing another infusion of cash to keep the company, now called Mustang Publications, afloat and growing.
Sidenote: For How To Restore Your Mustang, we started with a pretty nice '66 GT fastback. The cover photo is actually the car before it was restored.
Larry Dobbs (left) and Eddie...
Larry Dobbs (left) and Eddie Caheely install the exhaust system for How To Restore Your Mustang.
With the success of How To...
With the success of How To Restore Your Mustang, Larry Dobbs (center) was able to bring in more staff to help with Mustang Monthly and future book/magazine projects. From left to right in 1981: Del Sellers (typesetting), Brenda Summerlin (assistant), Donald Farr (editor), Lynn Summerlin (accounting), Bob Parker (production), Glenn Romberger (ad sales), Howard Buck (art director), Rhonda Norton (customer service), and Barbara Strickland (circulation).
I can still remember my home phone ringing on a Saturday afternoon in 1981. I knew Bob Aliberto from Shelby American Automobile Club conventions, and he was calling to see if Mustang Monthly
would be interested in a question-and-answer technical column. As a long-time Mustang and Shelby owner, high school shop teacher, and owner of Eastern Mustang Supply, Bob was uniquely qualified for the job. His first "Beyond the Basics” column appeared in the July 1981 issue. For over 31 years, Bob's advice has provided a valuable service to Mustang owners around the world.
It all happened about the same time in early 1984. Through reader Les Newcomb, who worked at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, we had learned that the ceremonial first production Mustang, 5F08F100001, was stored in the museum's basement. Then we heard that Ford was introducing a special 20th Anniversary Mustang in the spring. That's when the idea struck: For April's Mustang 20th Anniversary issue, wouldn't it be great to have the first Mustang and the new 20th Anniversary model on the cover?
A call to Paul Preuss in Ford public affairs revealed that Ford's marketing department was not even aware that 100001 was in the company's possession. Paul said he would check and call back. When we heard from him a few days later, the photo opportunity was all set. Even better, Ford would shoot the cover for us in their studio.
When the press release for the '84 20th Anniversary Mustang arrived, we learned why Ford had been so accommodating. They had used our cover shoot to photograph the press release photos. We were glad to help.
Sidenote: The April-May 1984 issue was the first Mustang Monthly to appear on newsstands. It's also the only cover with a double issue date, which was done to align future issues with the lead time required for newsstand distribution.