The Ford Mustang has a story like no other.
Ford’s longest-produced nameplate to date has endured highs and lows like any other production sports car. But the Mustang, with its formidable muscle and prowess, remains as captivating as ever.
The Mustang is to America what the Porsche 911 is to Germany. What the Jaguar E-Type is to the United Kingdom, and what Ferrari is to Italy.
An icon of American ‘hot rod’ culture, it is the United States’ personal flagbearer to the automotive world.
The Ford Mustang is a vehicle that skyrocketed to superstardom and survived. You can own a classic or contemporary Mustang thanks to the Racing Edge Paddock – inquire today.
The Ford Mustang: An Instant Hit
1964 was a big year. Malcolm X left the Nation of Islam, while Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life-imprisonment in South Africa. Boxer Cassius Clay – soon to be known as Muhammed Ali – became heavyweight champion of the world.
The Beatles stormed America in what is known as ‘Beatlemania’, sparking British music’s invasion on the U.S.
And in New York, the Ford Mustang was presented at the World Expo at Flushing Meadows. Much like the Beatles, the Mustang enjoyed a mania of its own.
The original, first series Mustang was an instant hit. Ford forecast annual sales of 100,000 after its initial launch: an incredible 22,000 models were sold on its first day. Showrooms had to be closed to prevent riots, such was the public’s turnout. Ford simply could not cope with demand.
A record 418,000 Mustang’s sold in its first year. In little over two years, over a million Mustangs would be on the roads of America.
For many, the Ford Mustang is a perfectly blended sports car. It is the epitome of fast, young and cool; a poster pin-up of American muscle. Its power, speed, character and unique design makes it instantly recognisable – much like the Porsche 911.
And it was cheap. The first Mustangs retailed under $2500, because they were built using factory components that were already in mass production. Combined with a sleek, modern (and expensive) advertising campaign, the Ford Mustang enjoyed immediate success.
A Smart Design
Ford was smart with the Mustang. They recognised that children of men who returned from the war in 1945 were now old enough to drive. So they wanted to create something fun, sporty and inexpensive for the Baby Boomer generation. At the same time, the Mustang was suitable for everyday use: it featured a trunk with good storage capacity and an interior big enough to seat four people in comfort.
It was designed to look desirable to both men and women. Sportiness combined with practicality. Ford set a benchmark in its advertising campaigns, often depicting powerful female leads owning Mustangs in its commercials.
With its long hood and short deck, the Ford Mustang was pitched as the dream car for all young Americans. It became a trailblazer for a new type of vehicle branded the ‘Pony Car’: a compact, affordable sports coupe with four seats. The huge American market was ready to embrace the Mustang: by the end of 1964, three models were available – the coupe, convertible and a dynamic Fastback.
For its alluringly low price, the Mustang provided a family car and racing car for all seasons. It was the fashionable car that could be enjoyed for life. But while a 911’s iconic shape barely changed; the Ford Mustang endured a different, more volatile journey.
Changing Faces of Mustang
First generation Mustangs were not particularly great to drive, but they resembled an attractive European sports car. Second generation Mustangs (1974-1978) were impacted by new U.S. emission guidelines, as a result suffering compromised power until the V8 was reintroduced. Design tweaks were constant and unsettling, but it was only a taste of things to come.
Ford tested its fans’ loyalty with controversial design changes for its third generation of Mustang (1979-1993). Most notable was the company’s major U-turn on developing the Mustang into a smaller, front-wheel drive vehicle. The new conception was based on the Japanese Mazda MX-6, but following protest from Mustang enthusiasts, Ford instead developed the Probe. The Mustang was then given a major facelift for the remainder of its third generation, which earned it a moniker as one of the world’s top 10 ugliest cars at the time (yet it still sold over two million models).
The Mustang was completely overhauled again for the fourth generation (1994-2004), but earlier models still did not resemble the original. Not until 1999 did the Mustang start to bear a more powerful resemblance to its ancestors. American muscle was back with a bang in 2000 as Ford produced its fastest Mustang to date: the SVT Cobra R. The previous two series were now consigned to history.
Generation five (2005-2015) largely returned to its roots with dominant lines and extreme edges. The throwback to the original Mustang helped attract older generation buyers, as well as appeal to the youth’s love of retro. The Mustang 5 was provocative and loud, like the original. Especially with the monstrous 501-bhp Shelby GT500.
The sixth generation (2015-present) is of much more European design, making the Mustang appealing in markets throughout the world. Fastback styling was back, the circle now complete.
Ford Mustang: Cult Cars and Movie Stars
Ford had a knack for racing and producing cult cars. In 1965, Carroll Shelby’s input helped bring racing pedigree to the Mustang as the Shelby GT 350 was born. It looked phenomenal in Wimbledon white paint with its perfect blue pinstripes. With a V8 under the hood, Shelby made a race car out of the Mustang. It remains a cult sports car brand: the 2016 GT350 and GT350R, with its Voodoo engine, is a masterpiece.
Similar happened when the Shelby GT500 was released in 1967. With only 2,000 examples made, it is one of the most highly-sought Mustangs on the market.
Not forgetting the hot-rod ‘Boss’ models, the 302 and 429, produced and designed for Trans-Am and NASCAR. With the Mustang Boss, Ford was crowned Trans-Am champions in 1970. Having initially cut its teeth in drag racing, the Mustang was now a force on the circuits of North America. Colossal impact was made with Shelby, Cobra and Boss monikers as Ford targeted younger demographics with more powerful, sportier versions of the Mustang – a trait still practiced today.
The silver screen has been equally important in enhancing the Mustang’s image. The car appeared alongside James Bond’s iconic Aston Martin DB5 in Goldfinger, but its starring role would come three years’ later.
In the 1968 action classic Bullitt, Steve McQueen drove a Mustang GT390 Fastback around the streets of San Francisco in arguably the most iconic car chase scene of all time. McQueen’s GT390 sold for a record US$3.71 million earlier this year – becoming the most valuable Mustang ever. Throughout the years, the Ford Mustang has appeared in hundreds of feature films and series.
It is little wonder that, for every notable anniversary, Ford celebrates the cultural importance of the Mustang with limited-edition launches, such as the GTR.
An Impeccable Brand
This is just a brief glance into the Mustang story. It barely scratches the surface of a journey that continues to this very day. The new GT500 is set to impress with its 760-bhp engine that bears the codename ‘Predator’.
The Mustang’s future has plenty of scope, with the possibility of hybrid or all-wheel drive versions becoming a reality. Ford simply can’t let the Mustang go: its importance as both a brand and marketing tool are far too valuable. While its not everyone’s cup of tea, there is no doubt the Ford Mustang should go down as one of the most important cars ever produced – for both America and the world.