When he was in his early teens, Dan Vanderlip, Jr., of Clinton Township, Mich., fell in love with the Ford Mustang, so much so that he was determined to buy one when he turned 16.

Vanderlip, Jr. saved up all the money he earned working in his family's upholstery store, invested it wisely in the stock market (with a little coaching from his dad) and was on the verge of selling his beloved collection of rare baseball cards to come up with the remainder of the money he needed to buy the car - when his father stepped in to help.

"He wanted that car so badly," said Dan Vanderlip, Sr. "I knew he was going to do whatever it took to get it, and I really didn't want him to have to sell his baseball cards."

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That was four years ago. Today, Vanderlip, Jr. - now 20 - is still the proud owner of that 2005 Ford Mustang GT.

"I worked hard to get the car, so it has a lot of sentimental value to me," he said.  "And I still feel cool when I'm driving it."

Vanderlip, Jr. isn't the only teen smitten with Mustang. According to a survey by TRU (Teenage Research Unlimited), an organization specializing in youth market research, when asked which new car they would most like to buy, the majority of teens chose the Ford Mustang.

The "cool" factor of the Ford Mustang and the strong emotional response the vehicle evokes has been attracting people of all ages to the iconic muscle car ever since the first vehicle debuted at the World's Fair in New York in 1964. Today, one of out of every two sports cars sold in America is a Mustang.

"The Mustang is a part of Americana; it is part of our culture and who we are," said Robert Parker, Ford car marketing manager. "It's the kind of car that makes you feel different when you're driving it, whether you're a teenager or not."

Fritz Wilke, Ford Mustang brand manager, says he believes the Mustang ranks highly among teenagers because of its iconic status and because it's attainable.

"Mustang starts out at a price point that is within a teen's reach," he said, citing that some models are priced below $20,000. "It's a little more realistic than other much more expensive sports cars."

Mustang's prominence in toys, video games, television shows and movies also enhances its appeal to teens, adds Parker. The vehicle has been featured in more than 300 movies and television shows, most recently I am Legend, Transformers and the new Knight Rider television series.

"In almost all instances, the Mustang is used as a metaphor for power, performance and coolness," said Parker. "Whoever's driving it has a unique personality that sets them apart from the crowd."

Another reason for teens' fascination with the Mustang may be the fact that it's an accessory-friendly vehicle. Teens, among others, love to customize their cars. In fact, Mustang leads the nearly $1 billion aftermarket parts and accessories industry as the most personalized vehicle of all time.

Like Vanderlip, Jr., however, most teens are unable to buy a vehicle without financial help from their parents. J.D. Power and Associates estimates that only 1.2 percent of new car buyers are under the age of 21. Helping some parents tip the scale in favor of the Ford Mustang are the quality and safety accolades the vehicle has earned.

Last year, Mustang came out on top in three major consumer surveys sponsored by J.D. Power & Associates - the Initial Quality Study (IQS), the Automotive Performance, Execution and Layout (APEAL) Study, and the Vehicle Dependability Study (VDS). In addition, the 2008 Mustang convertible became the first sports car and the first convertible to earn the highest possible safety ratings in new car tests performed by the U.S. government.

Ford Chief Engineer for Safety Systems Steve Kozak gave his teenage daughter a 2008 Mustang convertible as a graduation gift.

"Having a Mustang convertible as her first car is something my daughter will remember for the rest of her life," said Kozak. "My wife and I are happy knowing that, while she's having the time of her life, she'll be driving the top safety-rated convertible on the market."

The Ford Mustang, introduced in 1964, is Ford Motor Company's longest-running nameplate. Mustang sales hit an astounding 419,000 in its first 12 months on the market and topped the 1-million mark in the first two years, shattering the sales records of any single model in the history of the automobile.

Ford built its 9 millionth Mustang this year, and the company is commemorating another important milestone in pony car history with a special 45th anniversary edition for the 2009 model year.

Only a limited number of 2009 Mustangs - featuring 45th anniversary badging - are currently available for purchase, fueling speculation that the 2009 Ford Mustang model may one day become a collector's item.