Ford’s love affair with the Mustang goes beyond its sales success, as Andrew MacLean learned first hand while in Dearborn
As Ford’s Global Director of Service Engineering Operations, you’d expect Mike Berardi would know a thing or two about the blue oval’s iconic Mustang. It’s probably no surprise that anyone in that position, who works hand-in-glove with the global development teams to ensure future production cars can be easily serviced when they eventually hit showrooms, doesn’t mind tinkering with the odd classic car in his shed.
What is surprising though, as we pull up outside a rather non-descript factory in an industrial estate within the back blocks of Dearborn, Michigan – the home of Ford’s global headquarters – and meet Berardi for the first time, is the size of his garage and the scope of his knowledge and passion for the pony car.
You see, not only is working for the blue oval his livelihood, but the Mustang is his lifeblood.
That much becomes immediately apparent as the 62-year-old opens the door to reveal one of the world’s largest collections of Mustangs, a stable that includes at least one of every model pony car, including a number of rare promotional machines and his own personal drag racer.
Berardi has owned more than 100 Mustangs since he bought his first one – a bog-stock fourcylinder 1977 Mustang II – after high school.
“It really started when this kid in school, Ron Lennox, showed up in a ’73 Mach 1 that was
red with these black stripes on it,” he told AMC. “I loved his car and I wanted it so bad. I said to myself I am going to have one of those cars some day. That’s what started this whole thing.”
Thirty-five years later, Berardi currently has more than 40 pristine Mustangs lined up in chronological order within his factory, starting with an original 64½ coupe Indianapolis Pace Car model.
It’s not the real pace car that led the contenders around the Brickyard for the 1964 Indianapolis 500, as Berardi explains, “That was a convertible”, but is one of only 110 built by Ford as a sales incentive for the best car dealers. Considering how quickly the original Mustang walked out of showrooms, the Pace Car promotion was a smash hit, and not surprisingly Berardi also within his collection a 1979 15th anniversary and a 1994 30th anniversary model.
They are, however, not the only pace car Mustangs he owns. On the opposite side of factory sits a 2013 Roush 25th anniversary model with a supercharged alloy Ford Racing engine that is signed by Jack Roush and Edsel Ford and was used at Michigan Speedway for a Craftsman Truck Race that year. Berardi bought it at a charity auction complete with the light bar across its roof and, like all of his cars, rosters it for a week’s driving duty every year.
“The problem with driving this thing to work is that people think it’s a police car,” he said. “So instead of being able to do 75 or 80 [mph] I end up only doing 65 because they’re too scared to get out my way. I’ve got all that power and I can never use it…”
He does get his thrills though with his drag car; a Fox Body Mustang with a 567ci naturallyaspirated V8 that runs 10-second quarter miles.
“One of these days, when it has an engine issue and needs repairing, I’ll make it go faster,” he says rather nonchalantly.
Looking around his collection it seems as though the heavily-revised 1971-1973 Mustangs are Berardi’s favourite – with a bunch of pristine Cobra Jet 429-powered fastbacks lined up next to each other – but he would ideally like a few more of the iconic muscle cars from 1969-1970 to complement his gorgeous Boss 302.
“Those ’69-70 cars ride the nicest and you can make them loud as hell,” he gleams. “Problem with those cars that I’m missing are all up around the $170,000 or more. I can’t be as impulsive with them or the wife will ask some serious questions.”
The one he loves driving the most though is a 2013 Shelby GT 500 because, "It's just a fast car".
With the sixth-generation Mustang coming to Australia next year as a replacement for high-performance Falcons, Berardi says – with a degree of inside knowledge – that the next one will be even better, which is good news for Ford's fastcar fanbase.
not only collects Mustangs, but makes a living from them too. In what spare time he has, he runs an online parts restoration business called Motorcity Mustangs.
“What you can’t see is there are 28 more cars behind the building that are parts cars,” he tells AMC.
“Between midnight and 5am I actually restore parts and put them on my eBay store. I have a large database of parts and I sell a lot of the stuff overseas, including to Australia – they go all over the place.”