Fifty Years of Muscle
By Brian S.
Today, the 2014 Ford Mustang looks sleeker and faster than ever. At 50 years of age, this iconic American-built muscle car shows no signs of slowing down. After five generations of redesign: 1964-1973; 1974-1978; 1979-1993; 1994-2004, and 2005-2014, the Mustang’s appearance is decidedly different, but the popularity of the modern day pony remains nearly as high as the one that was revealed half a century ago.
Inspiration and Name
In the early 1960s, the sales of the Ford’s full-size muscle cars with big block engines were flagging. Executive stylist John Najjar Ferzely, a fan of the World War II fighter plane the P51 Mustang, along with fellow stylist Phillip Clark designed the first prototype which was known as the T-5 Project in 1961 with the legendary P51 Mustang in mind. Naturally, the name Mustang was a strong candidate for the new name. Ford’s marketing research manager, whose hobby was breeding quarter-horses, also liked the name Mustang, but for an entirely different reason. It seems that he had recently received a book, The Mustangs, about wild American horses. So he added the name Mustang to the list of names to be considered. At the time the top names were Cougar and Torino; Henry Ford II preferred the name T-Bird II. After all the names had been tested by focus groups,Mustang came out on top by a wide margin. The name Mustang could not be used in Germany however, because it was owned by Krupp. Therefore the Mustang was sold in Germany as the T-5 until 1978.
The overall development of the T-5 prototype was concluded in a record 18 months. Once completed, the T-5 was a two-seat, mid-mounted engine roadster or sports car, whose appearance was very much like the yet-to-be-developed Pontiac Fiero. After the prototype was completed, Lee Iacocca, Ford Division General Manager decided to abandon the two-seater design, based on the low sales of the 1955 Ford Thunderbird, which also had two seats. Iacocca realized the new car’s success depended entirely on volume sales. This required a low price and family friendly attributes. After a quick redesign to broaden the car’s appeal, the T-5 now included the original front bucket seats along with a rather cramped rear bench seat. The result was an intermediate-sized muscle car styled in the tradition of a European sports car, creating a new breed of vehicle. Because of the marketing manager’s predilection for horses, the equine image rather than the aviation motif prevailed in respect to the automobile’s logo and the ‘Pony Car’ was born.
To minimize the T-5’s development cost and achieve the projected retail price of US$2,368, the Mustang relied heavily on simple sub-assemblies borrowed from other Ford models in production. Most of the interior, chassis, suspension and drive train components were derived from the compact Ford Falcon and mid-size Ford Fairlane. In addition, a host of design and colour options were introduced to maximize profits and enable buyers to customize their Mustang. It remains the only class of muscle car still in production today.
The Mustang made its debut at the New York World’s Fair on 17 April 1964. It was released about five months earlier than the normal start of the 1965 production year and because of this the first run are commonly referred to as 1964 ½ models. Available as a coupe or convertible in 17 colours that ranged from Wimbledon White to Raven Black, and with three engine options with a maximum of 210 horsepower to choose from, the Mustang was an instant success. On the first day, more than four million people visited showrooms across the nation. Buyers immediately fell in love with its long hood and short trunk styling and multitude of options. First day sales reached an unheard of 22,000 units nationwide. First year sales of 417,000 cars shattered all previous sales records for any make or model ever made. During its first two years, Mustang sales soared to over one million.
In August 1964, Ford introduced a sporty new 2+2 Fastback with a body shape styled after the sleek lines of the popular Corvette Sting Ray and the Jaguar E-Type sports cars to go along with the Mustang hardtop coupe and the convertible. Further proof of the Pony Car’s startling popularity became evident when the it was selected as the Indianapolis 500’s pace car, and the James Bond thriller Goldfinger was the first of many motion pictures to feature a Mustang on the silver screen.
The legendary Carroll Shelby collaborated with Ford to produce the Shelby GT for those who wanted a Pony Car with even more muscle. In addition to the beefed up V-8 engine, boasting 306 horsepower, racing stripes, fog lamps and duel exhaust tips were to be found on the new Mustang GT. During their inaugural year, Shelby Mustangs rolled off the assembly lines in just one colour, Wimbledon White, and the interiors were only in black and had no back seats. That year a Skylight Blue Ford Mustang convertible was again in a Bond film, Thunderball.
Its gauge cluster was fine tuned to further separate the Mustang from its Falcon roots. An optional automatic transmission was added, and the rear seat was returned to Shelby Mustangs rendering them more consumer-friendly. Also a mere six Shelby G.T. 350 convertibles were produced; making it the rarest convertible Mustang in existence.
Mustang saw its first major redesign. In addition, the future classic, Shelby G.T. 500 Mustang made its appearance.
A limited number of 427 engines, which cranked out some 390 horsepower were dropped into Mustang engine bays. The 428 Cobra Jet engine was introduced to compete against the Chevrolet Camaro SS, capable of producing 410 horsepower! A new Shelby convertible called the Shelby Cobra along with the Shelby GT500 KR, or ‘King of the Road’ saw the light of day. The Mach I with a higher profile and new body style was added, and the ‘Boss’ series unveiled. The Boss included a race ready 429 V-8 engine with ram air induction and header type exhaust manifolds, oil cooler, trunk mounted battery, race suspension and the best interior Mustang had to offer. The vehicle was impressive on paper, but the high performance Boss was a flop on city streets and only lasted until 1970.