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RENEE MONTAGNE, HOST:

One of the Ford Motor Co.'s most beloved vehicles is about to turn 50. And to mark the occasion, Ford will unveil tomorrow the redesigned Mustang.

As Michigan Radio's Tracy Samilton reports, Mustang fans around the world are both eager and anxious to see what changes Ford has made to this iconic sports car.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

WILSON PICKETT: (Singing) Mustang Sally. Ha...

TRACY SAMILTON, BYLINE: Just about every Mustang owner has a story about how their love affair with the car began.

LAURA SLIDER: I've wanted one ever since I was 15.

SAMILTON: Laura Slider's began the day a red Mustang appeared in the driveway across the street.

SLIDER: It was owned by a very cute boy that I liked. And then, you know, we rode in it; and it was very fast and sporty, and fun and pretty. And I thought, I want one someday.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

PICKETT: (Singing) You've been running all over the town now. Oh, guess I have to put your flat feet on the ground...

SAMILTON: Now. decades later, she has one. And yeah, it's red. Americans aren't the only ones in love with the Mustang.

We're in Siegen, Germany, near Cologne. Members of the Mustang Club of Germany are lining up their classic Mustangs near a little office that serves as the headquarters. President Ralf Wurm is grilling up some wurst. While Michael Sommer, Moygib Soori and Timo Schneider wait for the meal, they talk about their first love.

MICHAEL SOMMER: For me, it started in childhood and that Mustang Mach 1 from 1973. I think, that's a dream car; that's the dream.

MOYGIB SOORI: I saw a picture from '66 Mustang, and that was it.

TIMO SCHNEIDER: You put the window down and the arm outside, and then you hear the V-8 motor of the engine - it's very cool.

SAMILTON: If many American Mustang fans are hungry to see the new version, European fans are starved. Ford hasn't sold the Mustang in Europe since 1979. Club member Susan Wurm says the Mustang is different from most of the cars on the road today.

SUSAN WURM: Mustang gives the emotions. It's an emotion to drive the Mustang. It's special.

SAMILTON: Wow. No pressure there, Ford. Just a little tweaking with people's dreams, and you're good to go. Bill Visnic is with Edmunds.com.

BILL VISNIC: It is a danger. It's a difficult, difficult thing to redesign an icon. The Mustang is really the one car that Ford has to get right.

SAMILTON: But Visnic says the Mustang also has to evolve to stay relevant. Coupes have a naturally short shelf life, he says, and Ford has to attract younger buyers who may not have a classic Mustang memory from their childhoods.

VISNIC: The biggest cautionary tale, I think, that you might have for Ford designers right now is alienating people too much with way too drastic, I think, of a change.

SAMILTON: Some purists are howling at the rumor that the new Mustang borrows some design cues from the Ford Fusion. But Visnic says you could do worse than echo elements from another pretty car.

Ford officials are acting like loose lips sink - well, Mustangs, so almost no details about the car have leaked. But they say there is one thing they did not do and will never do - downplay the Mustang's American roots. Roelant de Waard is with Ford of Europe.

ROELANT DE WAARD: The Mustang's appeal was always because it was an American icon, and it stood for American freedom and of course, also American performance.

SAMILTON: So the important stuff - a V-8 engine with a throaty growl; the rear-wheel drive; the long, expressive hood - that's all here to stay.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

THE GADJITS: (Singing) I bought you a brand-new Mustang in 1965...

SAMILTON: On Thursday, the Mustang goes on a global stage, with simultaneous reveals in Shanghai, Sydney, Barcelona, LA, New York and Dearborn. It will be a test of whether an icon created 50 years ago still has the power to spark dreams.

For NPR News, I'm Tracy Samilton.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "MUSTANG SALLY")

THE GADJITS: (Singing) All you want to do is ride around Sally, ride, Sally, ride...

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