As far as the consumer is concerned, the history of the great Ford Mustang began when it was shown to the public at New York’s World Exhibition. The prototypes had been in existence since 1962, with the Mustang 1 (T-5) being first introduced to the motor racing world at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix where Stirling Moss and Dan Gurney drove it for a few laps each as a demo.
In the early 1960s, Ford desperately needed a new car to compete with the sporty Chevrolet Corsair Monza, and its first attempt, the Falcon Future, failed to compete. A brand new car was needed, and the idea for the Mustang was born. It was sporty and quick and a four seater. It was appealing to youngsters, and the prototype was well received when shown at the motor racing circuits.
It went in production in 1964, and was an instant hit. Its launch on 17th April, 1964 was the beginning of what was to be the most popular car ever in American history, and it sold half a million in its first year. Its customers included every age and it was equally popular to men and women.
Many of its parts were taken from the failed Falcon, and its immediate success had as much to do with the almost perfect advertising campaign as it had to do with looks and speed. The advertising power of the three major television networks was used extensively, and with its distinctive mane and tail galloping across the red, white and blue of America the ‘Pony Car’ was the phenomenon of its age, representing the flavor of the 1960s more perfectly than its designers could ever have dreamt possible.
It was a car of its day that arrived with perfect timing. Later to be called the 1964 1/2, the original Mustang was available as a convertible and as a coupe, both with chrome wrap-around fenders, the distinctive chrome grill with running pony, and a lengthened hood. Although it claimed to have four seats, the back seat was a bit small and it also sported three tails lights on each side. It has sold a million by 1966, although before that the GT and fastback model had been introduced.
The car continued to progress, and by the end of the 60s had become longer by four inches, and a lot heavier than the original, much of this in response to the development of Chevrolet’s Firebird and Pontiac. It was the Corvette, however, that brought the Mustang into the road racing arena. The Mustang was so popular, especially with the young, that Ford were desperate to race it against the Corvette. However, only production two seaters were allowed to race, and to enable them to do this at least 100 two seaters had be produced by January 1965.
This was achieved with the help of Mustang fan and racer, Carol Shelby, who modified 100 of the 2+2 models into GT 350 models, in the process re-equipping them to render them more suitable for racing. The suspension, wheel and brakes were all modified, and the cars were to become the basis of many future models that are even now are much sought after.
During the early 1970s the Mustang lost its way a bit and became a bit too big and unwieldy. The original grace and elan that so attracted early admirers was lost, and it became
just another car. Part of this was due to emissions regulations, but sales dropped so much that Ford had to rethink its design strategy with the Mustang.
The Mustang II was introduced in 1974, and although it was small and vastly underpowered, it takes its place in the history of the car because it brought to a halt the drop in sales. It sold because of economy in fuel, and the 1973 OPEC fuel embargo. People were afraid that a gas guzzler would hurt their pockets, and so temporarily went for the smaller car. However, this did not last long, and 1975 brought back the V8 engine to the Mustang. However, although it had a 5 liter engine, the carburetor was too small and the catalytic converter combined with that to render it lifeless.
Then came a period of relative stability although there were a few trim changes. Fans must have seen the end coming because the late 1970s saw a slight increase in sales, rather than the drop that model now deserved. The Cobra II and King Cobra versions did little to spark a return to the glory days for the 1960s, and Ford made a last ditch attempt to rewrite the Mustang in 1979. The new Mustang was available as a coup’ or fastback with a bit more room inside than the either the original or the ill fated Mustang II.
However, the running horse had gone, and the rear lights lost their distinctive three segments: this expanded to six, while the side scallop also disappeared. It no longer resembled a Mustang! Alterations continued to be made, and the California Highway Patrol found a use for a special coupe model as a high speed pursuit vehicle. With its 157 HP V8 engine, this car was used by a number of law enforcement agent up until 1993, when Ford killed them off.
The fans were wrong, however, and development continued as the Mustang conformed with the coming of fuel injection, air bags and other essential improvements, though the original concept had completely disappeared. In 2005 Ford finally ditched the ancient Fox platform and introduced that now used for the Lincoln and the Thunderbird. The newest Mustang has reverted to some of the original features, and it is a miracle that the car has survived so long.
Nobody involved in 1962 development team would have believed that the great Ford Mustang would still be around 45 years later.