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<em>Edmunds</em>, Ford Dealers First to Test-Drive 2015 Mustang. Pinball, That Is

Just the Facts:
  • Ford and Chicago-based pinball machine maker Stern have collaborated on a pinball machine to commemorate this year's 50th anniversary of the Ford Mustang pony car and the coming launch of the all-new 2015 Mustang.
  • The three-machine lineup includes a "professional" version that pays tribute to five decades of Mustangs, a premium model that focuses on the hallowed Boss variants of the Mustang and a limited-edition version, signed by the game's designer, John Trudeau, that features the original 1965 Mustang and the new-generation 2015 Mustang.
  • The pro version of the Mustang pinball machine costs $4,995 and will be available in April.

MELROSE PARK, Illinois Building up to this year's launch of the all-new 2015 Mustang — not to mention this year's 50th anniversary of the original Mustang's 1965 debut — Ford has licensed innumerable Mustang-related products, but the collaboration with Stern for the Mustang pinball machine will be hard to top for absolute entertainment value.

The first of the three-model Mustang pinball machines, the base "pro" model, will be unveiled for the media and the public at this week's 2014 Chicago Auto Show. The pro version goes on sale in April for $4,995.

Prior to the Mustang pinball machine's wide-scale launch, however, Edmunds wrangled a visit to Stern's design and manufacturing facility here for a look at how Ford and Stern developed the Mustang pinball game, as well as an exclusive first play of the machine.

It's the first play by the media, it should be noted, as Ford dealers at the recent North American Auto Dealers show in New Orleans beat everyone to the punch to be the first outside of Stern to play the Mustang pinball machine.

Some Ford dealers will use Mustang pinball to generate pre-launch interest in the coming 2015 Mustang. With pinball enjoying a hipster-fueled renaissance in many cities and metro areas, others are likely to place the machine in dealership lounges or waiting areas as a trendy time-passing alternative to the now-ubiquitous Wi-Fi access. Most of the new Mustang pinball machines eventually will end up in the dealer's home, says Jody Dankberg, Stern's director of marketing.

"Mustang-ness" is at the heart of Stern's new Mustang pinball machine. The dusky and moody Mustang art on the machine's cabinet was commissioned to none other than Camilo Pardo, designer of Ford's GT supercar.

George Gomez, Stern's vice president of game development, owned a 1970 Mustang as his first car and currently has a 1969 Mach 1. "I'm restro-modding it," Gomez admits, saying that for someone with a degree in industrial design, he can't simply leave the car in stock form, much as he admires its basic shape.

All this immersion in the Mustang mythos has been skillfully executed in the three pinball-machine lineup. The professional model, the entry point in the line, features in the game play a significant Mustang from each of the car's five generations and five decades of production; the pro model is targeted mainly at arcades and other public locations. The midlevel premium model will be the "player's game" for genuine pinball aficionados, Gomez believes — and it just might be the machine to have for hard-core Mustang enthusiasts, too, what with the game's singular focus on Mustang Boss models throughout the years. At the top of the line will be the limited-edition, or LE model. It will be signed by game designer John Trudeau and features the 1965 and 2015 Mustangs.

As with most of Stern's newer pinball machines, the premium and limited-edition versions of the Mustang pinball machine will have more sophisticated achievements and shots and deeper scoring rules. There also will be some cosmetic differences: both upper-level pinball machines get genuine chrome Mustang badges on the speaker grilles.

The games incorporate a mix of classic pinball play features and modern technology to let players go "racing" with some of the greatest Mustangs of all time and even build up a dream collection as they progress. Different interactive sections of the playfield and sequences of shots let players go drag racing, rallying, drifting and road racing.

In a brief stint playing the new Mustang pinball game, we found several rewarding ramp shots — something of a signature Stern feature — and envision long-lasting enjoyment in the drop-target feature that enables one to shift up and down through the gears. Other features in the game include allowing the player to modify his own Mustang with tuner parts from the Ford Racing catalog. Hitting 6th gear can bring as many as six balls into simultaneous play.

Mark Bentley, Ford's licensing manager for global branding, said Ford licenses thousands of Mustang-related products, but seems particularly excited about the release of the Mustang pinball machine.

"All the stars lined up for this deal to come together," Bentley said. "George Gomez is a Mustang nut and Stern saw the market potential" of bringing together automotive and pinball enthusiasts. Ford's talks with Stern regarding the Mustang pinball game date to 2012 and "we knew the Mustang development team would be pleased with this project — it was a great opportunity to leverage a cool licensed product."

While the Mustang pinball machine starts at $4,995 (if Stern's past pricing scale holds true), expect the Boss-focused premium and collector-bait LE versions to cost a couple thousand dollars more.

And it may not stop there. Lest Mustang fans think the legendary Shelby models slipped through the cracks, Gomez divulges that Stern is keenly interested in expanding the Mustang pinball line with a future Shelby-oriented version. "We just couldn't get a Shelby (business) deal done in time," Gomez laments.

Edmunds says: Stern's pinball machine might be the ultimate new piece of Mustang memorabilia .

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