Saturday, July 13, 2013

Mustang: The First Pony Car

The year is 1964. The New York World Fair is in full swing, and American manufacturer Ford unveils a car that will change the world. It's sporty, stylish, sleek and it captivates the entire crowd in a way few cars have ever been able to. Ladies and gentlemen, this is the Ford Mustang.

The Mustang's story actually starts a bit earlier on in history. Despite the use of a galloping horse as the Mustang's emblem, the car's name is actually derived from the P-51 Mustang, a WWII fighter plane used by the Allies during the 1940's. It was agile, fast, and in the hands of a good pilot, utterly untouchable.

The Mustang before THE Mustang.

The next step towards the Mustang's creation was the Ford Falcon. The Falcon was a small car aimed against the Chevy II and the Valiant. Available in a variety of bodystyles and trim levels, it was a successful car and sold well. However, Ford wanted a dedicated sports car, something that would have a tremendous appeal to a youthful audience, do well in motorsports, and still be a practical car. To build such a car, the Falcon's chassis was used as a base and the Mustang was built from there.

A lot was changed from Falcon to Mustang. Quite a lot.

After it's massive success in 1964, Ford added more options in 1965. The coupe was joined by a convertible and a 2+2 model, giving buyers a wider range of options. The 260 and 289 were the most popular engine choices, and made the Mustang a very sporty car.

The 2+2, or fastback, was a major success.

Ford knew they had a winning formula, so very few changes were made for 1966. The performance junkies opted for the GT model, or if that wasn't enough, the Shelby GT 350. Ford hadn't wasted any time calling in Carroll Shelby to add his magic touch to the Mustang. The GT 350 was a wild street machine that also became a very successful racecar as well.

Carroll Shelby's decision to put stripes on the Mustang was one of the greatest moments in history.

In 1967, Ford mildly updated the design of the Mustang. The design was slightly smoother, vents were added into the scoops behind the doors, and the 2+2's roofline was extended to the very back of the car for more space and sportier looks. The GT 350 was joined by the GT 500, and convertible versions were offered for both. Ford also offered bigger engines for more power, helping them stay ahead of Chevy, who had just released the Camaro.

The Mustang GT-A, the A designated an automatic transmission.

Little was done for 1968. The vents were removed, and one new model was available. Those who wanted the wildest Mustang available could order a GT 500KR, which stood for King of the Road. Additionally, a green Mustang GT 390 Fastback was driven by Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt. The car chase in the film is still amazing by today's standards, and it helped boost the Mustang's popularity quite a bit.

Not that it wasn't immensely popular already.

In 1969, all hell broke loose. The muscle car wars were in full swing. GM had the Camaro Z/28, the Chevelle SS, the Olds 442, and the GTO Judge. Mopar was also in it to win it with cars like the Roadrunner, GTX, Charger R/T, Super Bee and Barracuda. If Ford wanted to stay competitive, they would have to make the Mustang into a serious contender. And that's precisely what they did. They reworked the design, making the car bigger, longer, and more aggressive. They also added a host of new models to entice buyers.

You have to admit, that's a good-looking car.

The base model, the GT and the luxury Grande were dropped to the bottom of the food chain for 1969. The hot ticket was the Mustang Mach 1, a budget muscle car with plenty of power. The Mach 1 could be had with everything from a 351 or 390 all the way up through the almighty 428 Cobra Jet. Sporty graphics and optional spoilers and louvers helped the car stand out from the competition.

Decals never hurt anybody.

Then there was the Boss 302 and the Boss 429. The Boss 429 was built specifically to homologate the 429 engine for use in NASCAR racing. Comparatively, the Boss 302 was meant to homologate Ford's Trans-Am racers for competition. The Boss 302 was the track racer available for the street, and it did well in both environments.

Boss 302s didn't have scoops on the rear fenders for better airflow.

1970 brought some design changes. Fewer headlights, different decals, and smoother lines were added, but otherwise nothing was new. The Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429 were all kept in the lineup.

Mach 1's lost their graphics in favor of a fancy side panel along the bottom of the car.

From 1971 to 1973, the Mustang got big. A major visual overhaul was made, and the Boss 302 and Boss 429 were decommissioned. A Boss 351 was offered in 1971 only, then also killed. The Shelby models were also removed form the lineup. The Mach 1 survived, and served as the only real performance option in the Mustang fleet.

More decals. It was 1971 after all.

Then there was the OPEC crisis. The Mustang became the Mustang II, and for sympathy's sake we won't linger on that part of the Mustang's history. It's better that way.

Many believed that the Mustang was dead, but Ford had plans that said otherwise. In 1979 the Mustang was all-new. It was smaller and lighter then the muscle-era monsters of the late sixties, sharing more traits with the original model in terms of size and performance. It's now known affectionately as the fox-body generation.

An attractive car, in a very 80's kind of way.

The highlight of the fox-body Mustangs was certainly the 5.0 model. A hit at the time, it was such a good setup that even today the 5.0 engine is swapped into everything from Volvo wagons to Mazda Miatas. Ford was back in the game.

They called it the 5.0 because Mach 5 was taken. Kidding, kidding. 
Eventually the Mustang needed to be updated and redesigned, and in 1994 Ford did exactly that. The new design was bigger and better, and harked back to the muscle Mustangs with a modern touch to stay competitive. It was a potent car, and offered respectable performance for a respectable price.

Thankfully Ford also made it not a hatchback.

Another redesign came in 1999. It was sharper, more aggressive and overall very imposing. It was still a cheap way to get great performance, and it continued to pull in plenty of buyers.

For obvious reasons.

Ford also offered an SVT variant during the 1990's. The SVT, or Special Vehicles Team, variant was called the Mustang SVT Cobra. It was a high performance and limited production model that turned the already sporty car into a monster of a machine. This was the adrenaline junkie's muscle car of choice.

Cobra badges tripled the SVT's testosterone levels.

For 2005, the Mustang received another major transformation. Ford went all-out retro this time, and wound up with one of the most successful Mustangs ever. Borrowing design features from the Mustang's greatest hits, the new car was a blowout victory for Ford. The V8-powered GT was the hot ticket, but the base model car's V6 wasn't exactly a bad alternative.

The grille is a direct tribute to the 1969 model.

Furthermore, the Shelby GT500 returned in 2007, and the California Special and Bullitt models in 2008. The Mustang had made a full recovery, and was back on top.

The GT500: beauty AND beast.

2010 saw a slight revision of the car's design, as it became smoother and a little bit more modern. The GT, GT California Special and Shelby GT500 remained available, and in 2012 the Boss 302 made a triumphant return. Rave reviews and terrific sales have propelled the Mustang up to the present day.

Simply irresistible.

And now, we're approaching the Mustang's 50th anniversary. 50 years of consistent production is a big feat, and to celebrate Ford is preparing to unveil the next generation Mustang. That's all well and good, but it's important that they don't forget the Mustang's roots. It's come a long way through plenty of ups and downs, but it's never left. And with any luck, it won't be leaving any time soon.

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