By: TONY REID on April 26, 2007
Original Article: HERALD & REVIEW (DECATUR, IL)

Apr. 26–CLINTON — On the face of it, the Anderson Ford-Mercury dealership in Clinton looks just like your typical car place.

Families come there to shop for their next kid-mover, whether it be a car or van. Working guys buy trucks they need for the job. Would-be owners peer at the window labels, carefully reading the EPA city/highway mileage figures, looking for whatever will give them the most motivation for their buck.

And then there is the sub-section of Anderson customers who couldn’t care less about any of that nonsense. They want potent Mustangs, and they have often ridden many miles — from places like Colorado and Nebraska — to corral their craving at this little dealership with a growing reputation for stabling potent ponies.

We’re talking of a breed of modified Mustang that sells itself with a direct appeal to the driver’s central nervous system. The cars have been reworked by specialist companies such as Saleen of California, for example, which offers Mustangs with tweaked engines, suspensions, interiors and bodywork and has promotional literature that reads like this:

“? Because this is one 335 horsepower beast you can’t break. It was bred to run. Born to be wild. And you have no choice but to set it free. Once you do, you’ll realize that no matter what the title and registration say, you don’t own this car. It owns you, the road, and everyone on it.”

Not exactly your typical Ford family sedan happy speak. And special edition Mustangs can cost up to twice what typical production line versions sell for and are aimed squarely at those motivated by passion and the means to indulge it.

“Most of these customers are not 18- or 25-year-old kids,” said Randy Anderson, the dealership general manager and owner. “They are doctors, lawyers; they are bankers. They are people who years ago wanted a fast car and couldn’t afford it. But now they can.”

So, while fleeting youth may have fled long ago, it’s never too late to gallop after it. Anderson Ford-Mercury has all the means necessary for hot pursuit with a Mustang lineup that includes those cars tricked out by Saleen and a Michigan firm called Roush. And then there are the muscle Mustangs produced by Ford itself, which include the Shelby Cobra version — a factory rocket packing 500 horsepower.

“We’ve sold seven of them this year,” said Randy. “The average dealer might only get one, but because of what we do in Mustangs, even though we’re a small Ford dealer, we’re a top Mustang dealer and we get a bigger cut of the pie. We’ve sold cars to customers in New York, New Jersey, Colorado, all over the place — 50 percent of the cars we sell are to customers outside of Illinois who are drawn by our reputation.”

Still feel a need for more speed? Randy’s brother Rick has a wagonload of goodies waiting over in the Anderson Ford Motorsport division, which he runs. A life-long racing enthusiast, he has developed his own line of go-faster Mustang products ranging from radically modified air and supercharger intake systems to camshafts and even a hand-held computer that lets drivers custom-tune their cars.

The dealership sponsors some very successful Mustang race cars, which earn lots of specialist racing press coverage and win the dealership’s products more fans throughout the nation and all over the world. “Kuwait is one of our biggest foreign customers,” said Rick. “We do a lot with them.”

They sell to both race enthusiasts burning up the quarter mile and regular owners who like to occasionally unwind their potent street cars at the track. The performance cars and parts business is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars a year, and the motorsports division fields maybe 1,000 customer enquiries a month. It also ships out a constant stream of mail order parts, while its own service bays are kept busy fitting performance equipment for owners who show up in person, often having driven hundreds of miles for the privilege.

As Rick and Randy speak, a Shelby Cobra convertible is hooked up to a Dyno machine (a kind of rolling road for the wheels while engine performance is monitored by computer.) This limited edition street-legal Mustang costs about $70,000, and the owner immediately wheeled it over to the motorsport section for Rick to modify. By the time the maestro has performed his laying on of hands, the stock 500 horsepower will have been stepped up to about 600.

During a demonstration, the supercharged engine fires into life, roars for a while and then gets punched into what sounds like the equivalent of automotive warp speed with a jet-like whine that seems to come from inside your head before it’s shut off and the computer numbers checked. Rick says the car probably just did the equivalent of 140 mph while standing still and won’t let you down at the local race track.

“Oh, it’s got enough horsepower to go 190 mph,” he says, matter-of-factly.