See That Mustang in the Sky? 50 Years Ago, You Could Drive It

Empire State Building feat is a riff on an old—and cooler—idea

Headshot of Robert Klara

New Yorkers who gazed up in the sky yesterday and noticed that Ford had plopped a new Mustang on the 86th floor observation deck of the Empire State Building were (justifiably) awed. It was no easy thing for those clever marketing folks to take a 2015 Mustang, cut it into six pieces (reportedly using a Sawzall when necessary) bring it to the 1,050-foot observation deck, then put it all back together. Actually, Ford had had a little practice with this thin-air stunt, having done the same thing 50 years ago. “We are thrilled to be here in New York,” executive chairman Bill Ford said in a statement, “to recreate that historic event for today’s Mustang enthusaists.”

Ford also mentioned that the Pony Car had made its debut out in Queens, at the 1964 World’s Fair. But what he didn’t say was that Ford Motor pulled off another high-altitude marketing stunt out there, too. In fact, the World’s Fair exploit was far more memorable than yesterday's exhibit (no disrespect, ESB): If you'd gone to the big fair 50 years ago, not only could you sit in a new Mustang, but ride in it—high over the heads of your fellow fairgoers.

Ford integrated its new car into a ride called the Magic Skyway, a glass-enclosed double-loop track hoisted several stories above the ground. After piling into the car, visitors got to “drive” the car, courtesy of a mechanized guide rail that pulled the convertible along the route (watch a video of it below). Ford commissioned Disney to build the ride, which wound its way through various historical vignettes, including the age of the dinosaurs. In fact, Walt himself did some of the pitching. “This is Walt Disney speaking,” visitors heard over the PA. “I hope you enjoyed our show and your ride on the Magic Skyway in a new Ford product as much as I’ve enjoyed the Fords I have driven through the years.”

In all, 160 Fords circled the track in the Magic Skyway, including the Galaxie 500 and the Falcon Futura. You had to be lucky for the Mustang to roll by when it was your turn. But the thousands who took that first ride in a Mustang convertible never forgot the experience—participatory marketing, if you will.

Happy 50th, Pony Car.

@UpperEastRob Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.