Ron Cherry: Long-term love affair with a Mustang
Special to The Union
When Ford hit the market with the first Mustang in mid-1964, they were stunned by its immediate success.
This “pony car,” a sporty coupe or convertible with a long hood and short deck, caught the eyes and the imagination of the car-buying public.
One of those was Laki Malamatenios, but it was not love at first sight.
Having arrived in New York from East Africa in 1962, he soon found the Big Apple too crowded and moved to Southern California, where his brother also lived. It was there where he saw his first Mustang not long after it came out. “When I first saw the Mustang, with a 6-cylinder engine, I was not impressed,” he recalled. “But the more I thought about it, the more it grew on me. So I went to a Ford dealer and custom ordered one. It was a red one with a black vinyl roof and a V-8.”
However, Mustangs were selling so fast the factory had trouble keeping up with orders. After placing his order in June, he kept checking with the dealer to find out when his car would be in and got nothing but “soon” with a series of excuses. A month later, Laki’s brother, who worked for Birdsall Ford in Eagle Rock, called him about a Mustang that had arrived, but the customer was unable to take ownership of it. So Laki rushed over to see it.
The Mustang was Poppy Red, the color he wanted, plus it had the newly-optional 289 CID “Hi-Po” K-code engine that pumped out 271 HP, thanks to a four-barrel carb, solid-lifter cam and dual exhaust.
With a 4-speed manual trans and 3.89:1 gears in the posi rearend, it was one hot car.
It was made for speed rather than luxury, with no power steering or brakes and the only options being 2-speed wipers, backup lights and rocker panel moldings.
It had an AM radio, but he had the dealer keep it so he could put in an AM/FM. It was just what he wanted and Laki became one of 121,538 buyers of the 1964 ½ Mustang.
For about 20 years, the Mustang was Laki’s daily driver. He drove it to Las Vegas, where he and wife Barbara were married.
He drove Barbara to the hospital in it twice for the births of their two sons. They all went on camping trips in it, with equipment piled on temporary roof racks. Laki drove in slalom races in SoCal.
In 1978, he made a decision to move here.
“I was heavily involved in coaching soccer teams. I had a couple of kids pass out from playing in the smog,” he remembered. “So I went home and told my wife, ‘We’re moving to Northern California.’”
The family packed up and came here with the Mustang, a move he doesn’t regret.
Over the years, the Mustang has performed very well, mainly needing only maintenance, and Laki kept it fairly stock. The first change he did was to add Lucas 100,000 candlepower driving lights.
“In Africa, you had to have high beam lights to see the animals on the road. I always installed road lights on my cars,” he explained. While not needed in SoCal, they could be handy up here for spotting deer crossing. Since the car came with “idiot lights” that told you if you were already overheated or had lost oil pressure after the fact (sort of saying “your engine is toast”), he changed to gauges that gave ample warning. He repainted it in the original color in 1978.
With well over 200,000 miles on the car, the engine has been rebuilt twice, the last time using a high-rise intake manifold and Holley Dominator carb. Having made four cross-country trips, Laki found that turning 4500 RPM to maintain 70 MPH was not only rough on the engine, but noisy and used a lot of gas as well, so he installed a Tremac 5-speed trans with an overdrive. Now he can cruise the freeways hitting only 2500 RPM at 70 MPH.
Although his Mustang is now a collectible, he drives it on cross-country cruises, including to South Carolina for Mustang’s 45th birthday event and to Georgia for its 50th, and has had no problem on those.
In fact, the only breakdown on a long trip was in 1970, when he lost a front wheel bearing outside of Cheyenne, WY. The tow truck took him to a garage and he asked the mechanic how soon it could be done, since he needed to get back to SoCal. It would be ready in the morning, the mechanic said. Any motels nearby? One about 2 miles away, the mechanic told him. How can I get there? The mechanic handed him the keys to his own truck. “It wouldn’t happen now,” Laki said. Some changes are not for the better.
Laki said that he still enjoys “getting out there in the Mustang” and driving it to shows. “That’s what you get them for,” he said. “Putting them in a trailer is no fun.” How does the other long-term love of his life, Barbara, his wife of 48 years, feel about cruising in the Mustang? Although she has never driven it, Laki said, “She puts up with my love of this car. She goes along with me.” Perhaps, like many car lovers’ wives, she says to herself, “Better a car than a mistress.”
Ron Cherry’s three books, including the Morg Mahoney detective series, are available on Kindle and in print copy at Amazon. For more about his writing, go to http://www.rlcherry.com.
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