The Evolution of the Mustang into a Classic
Hop in the DeLorean and travel back in time with us to April 17th, 1964. What makes this day so special? This is the exact date that the Mustang stampeded onto the world stage, introing at a meager $2,368.
Named after a fighter plane, the car’s sleek style and athletic performance pushed the boundaries of contemporary sports cars. Post-launch, dealers in 1964 were inundated with requests for the Mustang. In fact, sales were so hot at its debut, that dealers around the nation processed 22,000 orders. From that date onward, the Mustang rose in infamy, becoming one of the most revered classic cars in the history of automobiles.
Let’s continue our walk down memory lane to find out how the Mustang evolved from concept to solidifying is place among the “Classics”.
The Mustang’s Post Launch Success
There’s nothing like a racetrack to light up the eyes and open the hearts of automobile enthusiasts. Shortly after it’s launch, the Ford Mustang was featured as the pace car for the world-famous Indianapolis 500.
From there it was pedal to the metal for the Mustang, with sales during the first year on the market surpassing 400,000. Within two short years, sales surged to a whopping one million.
According to chief designer of the original pony car, Joe Oros, “When the Mustang was unveiled, the reaction was so positive that there was no doubt it would be a success.” Few car launches in the history of automobiles come out of the gate swinging with such vigor and praise.
The Early Impact of the Ford Mustang on the Auto Industry
It can be said that the Mustang was more than just a car. It represented a culture, a movement, and a shift in the auto industry, especially in the USA.
Despite the vehicle’s challenges over the years (i.e. the Mustang II), the car has remained both a cultural icon and an American classic, from the iconic ride of Steve McQueen, to “Gone in Sixty Seconds”, Hollywood and people around the world can’t get enough.
Something to Break the Mold
During a period dominated by MGs,Alfa Romeos, Austin Healys and other European sports cars, then marketing head “Mad Man Lee” Lacocca knew Ford needed a paradigm shift to attract young enthusiastic buyers. With no time to waste, the search was on for something truly unique and awe-inspiring.
The goal was a sports car that was approachable, practical, sexy and affordable. Named after WWII’s legendary P-51 Mustang fighter plane, the Mustang debuted at none other than New York World’s Fair.
More Options Than Anything on the Market
Selling for $2,368 (the equivalent of around $18,000 adjusted for inflation), this gave you a hardtop backed by a straight six-cylinder engine and a three-speed manual transmission. But that’s where things start to get interesting.
Unlike other models on the market at the time, the Mustang was highly customizable, offering the longest list of options Detroit automakers had ever offered the public. This level of personalization is touted as a key driving factor of the Mustang’s rise in popularity selling over 1 million cars within 18-months, making it Ford’s best-selling model.
Factors that Set the Mustang Apart
- Attainable and approachable
- Innovative and stylish design
- Middle ground between a “sports car” and “sedan”
- Both practical and sporty
- Visually impressive no matter the model (hardtop, fastback, convertible)
- Feels and drives light on the wheels
Enter the Shelby and Performance Models
The Mustang already had broad appeal. But what about racing and street cred? Enter Carroll Shelby. Shelby put the Mustang on the racing circuit map with the introduction of the GT350, marking the first of what would be a long line of performance-minded models, including none other than the infamous Mach1, the Boss 302, and more.
The Mustang’s Debut on the Big Screen
There’s nothing quite like Hollywood to cement a vehicle in the minds and hearts of collectors and consumers alike. The 1968 Mustang GT was first spotted on the silver screen of Bullitt, zipping up and down the streets of San Francisco, manned by none other than Steve McQueen.
Since then the car has been featured in dozens of films and TV shows including Gone in 60 Seconds, Goldfinger and Charlie’s Angels.
The Mustang’s 1974 “Fall from Grace”
Tightening emissions controls, rising insurance costs and an oil embargo all fueled Ford’s decision to overhaul the Mustang (and not for the better). The 1974-’78 Mustang was a Mustang in name only, being built on the Pinto platform.
This lackluster ‘Stang was painfully sluggish, haphazardly assembled and an outright assault on the eyes to look at. Despite these major shortcomings, Motor Trend magazine still saw fit to name the ride “Car of the Year”.
1979-82 – the “comeback tour”
In ’79 Ford came out the gates swinging with a new “Fox body” Mustang based on the familiar Ford Fairmont and Mercury Marquis platforms. Although larger in stature, this model was both sportier and lighter, powered by a 5.0 V8. The ’79 model was a step in putting the Mustang back into favor with collectors and enthusiasts alike, reigniting its rivalry with the Camaro.
The ‘90s and Onward
The “5.0” had a long run (spanning 15 years) before the introduction of the SN-95 in 1994.
The SN-95 was a massive hit with Ford barely able to keep up with production. In 2005 the car received an even more impressive overhaul and facelift, having been inspired from the best elements of the 1960s coupled with modern performance.
The sixth-gen Mustang, unveiled in 2013 took the classic ride into the 21st century, ditched the time-honored solid rear axle in favor of independent suspension and with a perfect melding of classic style and modern design packed with high performance under the hood.
An American Classic Muscle Car
Few cars in history have embodied American nostalgia and spirit as well as the Mustang. Since its debut, it has captured the hearts of people all around the world and has effectively solidified its place among the classics.