April 11, 2009 On April 17, 2009, Ford and the Mustang Club of America will commemorate the 45th anniversary of the legendary Ford Mustang with a four-day celebration in Birmingham, Alabama. Based originally on the Ford Falcon, the brand has gone through many changes over its 45 year history, but still retains the essence of the breed. Ford released the first Mustang in 1964 (dubbed Mustang 1964½ because it came out at the unusual half way point of the year) and since then it has become one of the most iconic muscle cars in American automotive history, selling 9 million units along the way.
Mustang: 1964 – 1973
UPGRADE TO NEW ATLAS PLUS
More than 1,200 New Atlas Plus subscribers directly support our journalism, and get access to our premium ad-free site and email newsletter. Join them for just US$19 a year.UPGRADE
If we take a flash back to the spring of 1964 in the USA, it will set the scene for the release of the first of the thoroughbreds. The mood of the country is sullen following the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon B. Johnson is leading the nation as president of the United States. “Beatlemania” is sweeping the country, with hits like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the top of the Billboard charts. The price of gas is 30 cents a gallon, and it costs 5 cents to buy a postage stamp. “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Bonanza” and the “Dick Van Dyke Show” are among the most popular shows on television, and “From Russia with Love,” starring Sean Connery as James Bond, is playing at U.S. theaters.
The 1964½ Mustang
On April 17, 1964, the Ford 1964½ Mustang with its long hood, short rear deck and sporty features, was introduced to the public domain at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens - debuting at a price of USD$2,368. Ford expected annual sales of about 100,000 units, but 22,000 Mustang orders were taken on the first day, and sales reached 417,000 in the car’s first 12 months on the market. Within two years, Mustang sales reached one million.
The original Mustangs were available in three body styles – convertible, hardtop or fastback – with an extensive list of options. This provided buyers with the flexibility to customize the car to suit their own specific needs. The Ford Mustang could be an economical “base” car, a macho high-performance car or a luxury car. Of interest, was that marketing studies conducted at the time showed that women bought as many Mustangs as men, no doubt styling then to suit their own needs.
Mustang: 1974 – 1982
Again let’s set the scene for this period in the USA. It's 1994 and Americans were disheartened with government, following the Nixon Watergate scandal and the country was under the new leadership of President Gerald Ford. The Vietnam War is coming to an end. Peace signs, mood rings, hip-hugger pants and pet rocks are all popular signs of the time. “One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest” wins the Oscar for Best Picture and “All in the Family” continues to be a ratings success on television. “Love Will Keep Us Together,” by Captain and Tennille, is at the top of the record charts. The cost of a postage stamp is 10 cents, and there is a gas shortage in the U.S. – the likes of which hasn’t been seen since World War II.
During this period, Mustang underwent two major transformations – first in 1974 with the Mustang II fuel-efficient pony car and in 1979 when Ford introduced a sleek, European-inspired version. The oil crisis, rising insurance premiums and tighter emission control standards helped bring the era of high-performance muscle cars to an abrupt end.
The Mustang II, Cobra II and King Cobra
In 1973, and Ford responded with the second generation of the Ford Mustang – the smaller, more fuel-efficient Mustang II, which debuted in 1974. The Mustang II – built on a derivative of the “Arizona” platform that gave Ford the Pinto – was 19 inches shorter and 490 pounds lighter than the 1973 Mustang. The 1974 model year was the first ever that a V-8 was not offered in the Mustang, and the Mustang II years never saw a convertible option.
Despite its smaller size, the Mustang II brought back traditional Mustang design cues, such as the side scallops from the ‘60s. It also retained classic Mustang traits, like three-place taillights, setback headlamps and the running horse in the grille. In its first model year, nearly 386,000 vehicles were sold, and the Mustang II captured the coveted title of Motor Trend “Car of the Year.”
Performance-hungry enthusiasts prompted the return of the V-8 to the Mustang lineup in 1975. Ford introduced the Shelby-inspired Mustang Cobra II in 1976. And a special edition King Cobra Mustang debuted in 1978.
The 1979 Mustang slant-back and the 1982 Mustang GT
The third major transformation in the history of the Ford Mustang came in 1979, when Ford introduced a sleek, European-inspired pony car. The all-new vehicle shared its Fox platform with the Ford Fairmont and the Mercury Zephyr, and it was totally different from everything else on the road.
Unlike its predecessors, the 1979 Mustang featured a slant-back front end. It was four inches longer in body length and wheelbase than the Mustang II. And though it was a bigger car with a more spacious interior, it was 200 pounds lighter than the previous Mustang. Ford sold 370,000 cars in the vehicle’s first year.
No significant changes were made to the Mustang between 1979 and 1981, but in 1982, the “Boss” was back. The Mustang GT returned after a 12-year absence, and the 5.0-liter V-8 engine returned for specially equipped 1982 Mustang hatchbacks. At the heart of the Mustang performance revival was a tweaked “high output” 302-cubic-inch small-block engine that produced 157 horsepower – the most since 1971.
Mustang: 1983 – 1993
The year is 1983. Ronald Reagan is serving his first term as President. Sally Ride makes history as the first woman astronaut in space, as a crew member aboard the space shuttle Challenger. The average household income is $20,885, and the cost of a postage stamp is up to 20 cents. Cabbage Patch dolls and Nintendo Entertainment Systems are big hits. The final episode of M*A*S*H airs, with a record 125 million people watching. Terms of Endearment captures Best Picture honors at the Academy Awards. And Michael Jackson’s “Beat It” wins the Grammy Award for Record of the Year.
From 1983 to 1993, the emphasis at Ford was on the resurgence of a performance Mustang. During much of the Mustang's "Fox Body" years from 1983 to 1993, the emphasis was on “fast.” The gas crisis was long over, and Team Mustang focused on the resurgence of the performance aspects of the Mustang.
The 1983 Mustang Convertible, the 1984 SVO and the 20th anniversary edition
By 1983, the Mustang convertible was back. And so was the “Boss” performance attitude, as Ford’s pony car steadily rekindled its sporting heritage. Ford decided to beef up the Mustang’s power by replacing the two-barrel carburetor with a four-barrel and upgrading the tires and the brakes. This began the resurgence of the Mustang GT, and the horsepower rating jumped to 175.
At the same time, Ford was working on a special low-volume edition of the Mustang for the 1984 model year called the SVO (developed by Special Vehicle Operations). It sported a turbocharged four-cylinder engine, a sports-tuned suspension, a unique front fascia with fog lamps and a dual-wing rear spoiler. Ford also produced another limited-edition Mustang – this one to commemorate the nameplate’s 20th anniversary. All of those cars – coupes and convertibles – were painted Oxford White with Canyon Red interiors and powered by either a V-8 or a turbocharged inline four-cylinder.
Mustang power continued to accelerate from 1984 to 1986. Customer preference for the 5.0-liter V-8 spelled the end of the SVO Mustangs. By 1987, it was again time for Mustang to keep up with a changing market, so designers gave the Fox-body – the platform introduced in 1979 – a facelift with new “aero-look” design cues.
Public Outcry -1987
In 1987, just after Ford signed an agreement with Mazda to build the Mazda 626 and MX-6 at a new plant just outside of Detroit, the idea arose to use the front-wheel drive Mazda platform as the underpinnings for the “new Mustang.” When the news reached the public that the all-American Mustang was going to be based on a Japanese car and built by a Japanese company, plus move to front-wheel drive and again go back to losing its V-8 engine, the nameplate’s legion of fans were in an uproar. The public had spoken, and Ford listened. The front-wheel drive Mazda became the 1989 Ford Probe, and the Ford Mustang lived on.
The 1993 limited production Mustang Cobra
In the early 90s, Ford came up with the idea to build an increased-performance Mustang out of Ford Motorsports performance parts (now known as Ford Racing Performance Parts). Based on the lessons learned from the SVO Mustang program, this group's goal was to attract driving enthusiasts to the Ford brand. In 1993, SVT introduced the limited production Mustang Cobra that began a series of specialty models over the years which delivered ever-increasing performance capability – right on up to today's SVT-engineered Shelby GT500.
Mustang: 1994 – Present
It’s 1994, and William Jefferson Clinton is serving his first term as the 42nd President of the United States. The price of a dozen eggs is 87 cents, and it costs 29 cents to mail a letter. O.J. Simpson flees the police in a white Ford Bronco, following the murder of his ex-wife Nicole Brown Simpson, while the entire nation watches on television. Forest Gump wins the Academy Award for Best Picture. Seinfeld is a big hit on television. And Power Rangers are selling off the shelves in toy stores throughout the country.
The 1994 – 1996 Mustangs
The 1994 model year marked the beginning of the fourth generation of Mustangs. After 15 years of the same "Fox" platform, enthusiasts were ready for an all-new look and feel. Ford’s goal was to create a vehicle that would be recognizable as a Mustang with the traditional Mustang attributes, such as the three-box design, the long hood and the cockpit-like interior. And it had to symbolize power.
The design chosen for this vehicle was code named SN95, and though its platform was a derivative of the Fox introduced in 1979, there was little resemblance between the two; 1,330 of the vehicle’s 1,850 parts had been changed. The galloping pony emblem returned to the front grille after a 16-year absence, and the Mustang now had a shapely, rounded body that was available as a two-door fastback coupe or a convertible. The 1994 Mustang also offered the first purpose-built convertible in more than two decades – as opposed to a conversion of a hardtop car – and its 5.0-liter V-8 engine produced 215 horsepower.
The Mustang remained relatively unchanged for 1995, but a new chapter in Mustang history opened in 1996, when the 5.0-liter small-block V-8 engine – a staple of Mustang performance for decades – was replaced by a new 4.6-liter “modular” V-8 that delivered the same 215 horsepower. The Special Vehicle Team (SVT) Mustang Cobras were equipped with a Dual Overhead Cam version of the 4.6-liter that produced a whopping 305 horsepower. The 1999 – 2003 Mustangs
By 1999, it was time again to freshen the Mustang’s appearance. The result was the so-called “New Edge” Mustang, which sported angular body creases, more pronounced hood and side scoops and bulging wheel arches -- plus a special 35th Anniversary badge on the front fender.
SVT produced its third limited-edition “R-model” in 2000, with a unique 386 horsepower 5.4-liter V-8 that was a hint of Mustang power to come. Another specialty Mustang, the Bullitt GT – inspired by the 1968 Mustang 390GT driven by Steven McQueen in the movie classic Bullitt – made its debut in 2001. The vehicle was an instant success, spawning special Bullitt fan clubs across the country.
The 2003 model year was a memorable one for Ford performance fans, as the Mach 1 nameplate returned to the Mustang lineup, complete with a hot V-8 and functional "Shaker" hood scoop.
But the era's benchmark car was SVT's newest Mustang Cobra. Nicknamed “The Terminator,” this new Mustang performance flagship featured a beefed-up twin-cam 4.6-liter V-8 topped with a supercharger to produce a torque-laden 390 horsepower..
The Fifth Generation of Mustang: 2005 – Present
The fifth generation of America’s favorite pony car – built on the new S197 platform – made its debut in the 2005 model year. The result was a modern interpretation of first-generation Mustangs. The canted nose with its big grille and round headlights recalled the ’67 to ’69 Mustangs, while the side sculpting, fastback roofline and taillights recalled the ponies from 1965.
Little changed for the 2006 Mustang, but for the 2007 model year Ford’s SVT delivered the Shelby GT500 – the most powerful factory Mustang ever produced, boasting 500 horsepower. It featured Shelby, Cobra and SVT badging and was offered as either a coupe or a convertible.
A special “Warriors in Pink” Mustang was introduced for the 2008 model year to help raise funds for Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure breast cancer research. The second limited-edition Mustang Bullitt debuted the same year. To commemorate the 40th anniversary of Shelby's "King of the Road" GT500 (KR) model, Ford introduced the 540-horsepower Shelby GT500KR, which surpassed the Shelby GT500 as the most powerful production Mustang ever produced.
Last year, Ford marked a major milestone when the 9 millionth Mustang was built. The company also introduced the 2009 Mustang, which offers a segment-first factory-installed glass roof as well as special 45th Anniversary badging to commemorate the birthday of the iconic car.
David GreigView gallery - 83 images