FLATROCK, United States -- When Vince Capka talks about his Mustangs, it’s much like a proud father regaling friends with stories about his newborn baby.
In fact, the 54-year-old retired software developer had the rare opportunity to witness the “birth” of his two beloved pony cars on the final assembly line at the AutoAlliance International (AAI) plant in Flat Rock, Mich. – the first a 2008 Mustang Shelby GT500 and the second a 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca.
“I couldn’t wipe the smile off my face,” said Capka, describing the experience of seeing his Shelby GT500 roll down the line. “It was absolutely incredible just watching it come down out of the ceiling and come together little by little. And then at the end of the line, there it is. There’s my car.”
Capka, who lives in Atlanta, Georgia, says he’s been a car enthusiast for as long as he can remember. He loved the Shelby Mustangs from the late 60s, but didn’t want to buy an older vehicle. So when Ford reintroduced the Shelby, he was thrilled.
“I’d wanted the Shelby since I was a kid, so that was my opportunity,” he recalled. “Then to have someone at Ford say, ‘Yes, we can arrange for you to see the car being built,’ I thought, Holy cow!”
On the day he was scheduled to visit the plant, Capka color-coordinated his clothing to match his new car. It was Vista Blue, so he wore a blue Shelby GT500 shirt and blue pants. The entire experience, he says, was unforgettable.
“It really makes the ownership of the car more personal because it’s not just another vehicle. It’s my car all the way through,” he said. “There’s no greater feeling than seeing a car that you have a lot of passion for being built.”
Plant employees made the event even more memorable, he says.
“I was treated as family,” he said. “I’d never met these people before in my life but they were shaking my hand and giving me a hug. It was a very warm feeling.”
Just a couple of weeks ago, Capka visited the plant for the second time to watch the final assembly of his newest Mustang. He donned a red shirt and black trousers for the occasion in homage to his black Laguna Seca with red racing stripes.
“A lot of people looked at me and said, ‘You match your car,’ and I said, ‘You bet I do. That was my intention,’” he recalled with a chuckle.
Capka says he was greeted with the same warmth and enthusiasm that he received three years earlier.
“It was amazing,” he said. “I know these people have a certain amount of time to do what they have to do on the line, but they took the time to tell me how happy they were that I was there. Some of them even wanted to have their picture taken with me.”
One of the workers who posed for a picture with Capka was Rafig Hassan. He’s been with Ford for 24 years and says it makes him and the other employees proud when enthusiastic customers like Capka visit the plant.
“It makes us feel that people really appreciate the hard work that we’re doing,” he said. “I talked with him and told the other operators who he was, and they were all excited and waving to him.”
Hassan – who exudes optimism – says he is often asked how he maintains such a happy spirit all the time.
“I just say I enjoy what I do, and I make a good living doing it,” he responded.
“But it’s not about the money,” he hastened to add. “It’s all about the customer and the Ford name. We’re UAW workers, but we still represent Ford, and we’re trying to be the No. 1 automaker in the world, so I just lead by example with my attitude, my body language and my work ethic.”
Because of his experiences at AAI, Capka says he has a very personal attachment to his cars and a deeper appreciation for the people who built them.
“There’s a lot more to a car than just the sheet metal,” he explained. “There are a lot of people who come together to make that car a reality.”
Good Things Happen to Good People
While Capka’s passion for cars is great, it pales in comparison to the love he has for his wife Mary. Before the two Mustangs came along, Capka had an opportunity to see his 2006 Ford GT built at Ford’s Wixom, Mich. plant. But he had to pass because Mary, who suffers from a genetic kidney disease, needed a transplant and the couple couldn’t leave town because she was on the waiting list for a kidney.
Instead of going to Wixom, Capka made an appointment at Emory University Hospital to have himself tested to see if he could donate one of his kidneys to Mary. Despite the odds – which he was told were low – he was a match.
“That was an easy decision to make,” he said. “When your loved one is hurting, you want to do whatever you can to make them feel better and give them life.”
To make up for his missed visit to Wixom, plant employees sent him pictures every night chronicling the car’s status and its journey down the assembly line.