The suspense was almost more than Thomas Fisher could handle.
Like a child who awakes at 6 on Christmas morning, the 44-year-old Baltimorean was on pins and needles as he paced about the front entrance of the Harbor View Marina Yacht Club for more than an hour yesterday afternoon waiting for the big moment.
"Come on now, it's 1 o'clock," he said to anyone listening. "I want to see the car."
The car he wanted to see -- which was covered by a tarp that hid everything but the radio antenna and four shiny black Goodyear Eagle tires -- was Ford Motor Co.'s new 1994 Mustang.
Ford offered a sneak preview to the public yesterday at events like this one in 100 cities around the country. The company has spent $700 million to pump new life into the 30-year-old auto nameplate that seems to stir more passion than any other car on the road.
It was 1:20 p.m. and several hundred people had gathered before Ford officials peeled off the cover to reveal the front-end grille, which again features the galloping chrome horse that had been Mustang's trademark.
As the tarp vanished, the crowd saw a sleek and sporty-looking body style with air vents that harked back to models from the 1960s and '70s.
There was a good 15 seconds of silence before a woman -- near the front of the car -- remarked: "In a convertible it would be beautiful." The audience broke into applause.
"I like it a lot," said Gary Shreck of Bel Air. "It lives up to all the pictures I've seen. I like the lines. I like the way they worked in the air scoops to bring back that old Mustang look. I like it."
Mustang's latest offering was parked only about 10 feet from Mr. Shreck's current car, a fire-engine red Mustang convertible, one of the first ragtops off the Mustang assembly line when Ford introduced the car in 1964.
"I'm impressed," was Bob Conner's initial response. "It looks real good for a base model car. It looks American. It looks substantial."
Mr. Conner of Joppatowne is president of the Mustang Club of Maryland and, like others who had gathered at the Ford preview yesterday, admitted to owning about a half-dozen Mustangs over the years, including the 1965 GT he had on display yesterday.
As part of the unveiling, Ford invited club members to exhibit their old Mustangs. The event was part of a fund-raiser for Meals on Wheels at the Inner Harbor.
Ford had considered dropping the Mustang line a few years back, according to Michael S. Ledford, the company's director of technology development, who supervised yesterday's activities.
But the company changed its mind when it was bombarded with letters from Mr. Shreck and thousands of other Mustang enthusiasts around the country.
Sales of the car -- which set a record for sales in the first 12 months in production, at nearly 500,000 -- have slowed in recent years. Sales peaked at 549,436 in 1966, then dropped to 124,135 in 1990, when the company was weighing its future. Sales were 80,247 and 86,036, in 1991 and 1992, respectively.
The company is projecting sales of about 210,000 for the Mustang's 1994 model year -- which will begin in December.
Mr. Ledford said the company set up the "Mustang Team," a group of about 400 engineers and technicians who went off and set up shop in a separate building to develop a new car, free from the normal corporate bureaucracy.
They came up with three versions. One he called "the Bruce Jenner, a car with smooth flowing European lines. At the opposite extreme was the Rambo, something that looked a bit like a Batmobile."
He added: "We settled on something in the middle, a design we called the Arnold Schwarzenegger. It's a macho car that's rugged but cultured."
The new Mustang goes on sale Dec. 9, but Mr. Ledford said they should begin showing up on lots of Baltimore dealers by the middle of November. It comes in coupe and convertible models with a 145 horsepower V-6 as the standard engine. Those who want more pep can order a 215 horsepower V-8.
Prices range between $13,365 for the basic coupe and about $22,000 for the GT convertible.