It was the eighth model to carry the nameplate since the iconic sports car’s debut nearly 60 years ago, and it is the seventh generation of the vehicle.
What brought us here, then? Join us for a historical tour of the Mustang to put the most recent iteration in perspective.
The First Concept
The first Mustang hardly resembled any of the current models. It was a tiny two-seater with a Ford of Germany V4 engine that had recently gained popularity in Formula 1. The engine was situated just ahead of the back wheels.
At the 1962 United States Grand Prix, Dan Gurney (1931-2018), who later finished the race in a Porsche, had their public debut behind the wheel. The car generated much curiosity but would never be made accessible to the general public. It would not have sold well and was too expensive to build. A second idea unveiled in 1963 was much more similar to the final vehicle.
Why the term ‘Mustang’?
A mustang is a wild horse descended from domesticated animals that the Spanish introduced to the Americas. Accordingly, Ford has incorporated a horse insignia on its Mustang.
But there is no direct connection between the equipment and the animal. According to Ford, executive stylist John Najjar (1918–2011) proposed that the vehicle be called after the P-51 Mustang, a single-seater fighter plane from North American Aviation that he adored and that many people consider being the best American warplane of World War 2. Ironically, Ford’s main corporate rival, General Motors, owned North America.
A few months before the start of what was designated in the US as the 1965 model year, the Mustang went on sale on April 14, 1964. The original Mustangs are now referred to as 196412 automobiles because very modest changes were made when the model year changed.
This model of the Mustang had 2.8- and 3.3-litre versions of the Thrift power straight-six and 4.3- and 4.7-litre versions of the Windsor V8 engine. The second-generation Falcon’s chassis, released to the public the same year, served as the chassis’ foundation.
The First Million
On April 2 1966, the first million Mustangs were produced. Ford said that 557,000 of the vehicles produced up to that date had automatic transmissions, V8 models outsold straight-six models two to one, and 755,000 of the cars produced were hardtops (the remainder were convertibles or fastbacks).
Other statistics indicate that Ford appealed to a different customer base with the Mustang than it had in the past. The average age of customers was only 31, vs 42 for Ford as a whole, and 28% of them were under 25. In sharp contrast to the overall Ford statistics of 31% females and 9% singles, 42% were female.
The Pony Car
Pony cars, according to Merriam-Webster, are “a set of two-door hardtops of various manufacturers that are comparable in sporty design, strong performance qualities, and price range.” Although the competing Plymouth Barracuda (seen in the picture) arrived on the market two weeks before the Mustang, the latter is still recognised as a paradigmatic example and one of the very first of its kind.
Other companies swiftly overtook them. GM rushed out the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, while Ford produced the Mercury Cougar (a close relative of the Mustang), all released for the 1967 model year. These vehicles were followed by the AMC Javelin in 1968 and the Dodge Challenger in 1970, proving that an elephant could still dance.
Carroll Shelby (1923–2012) produced his own Mustang through his Shelby American company almost as soon as Ford began mass-producing it.
Like its descendants, the Shelby GT350 was a high-performance model created with motorsport. It utilised a 4.7-litre Windsor V8 modified version, but a much bigger engine would shortly follow.
ShelbyGT500 and Super Snake
In 1967, Shelby American released the GT500 as a follow-up to their GT350 Mustang clone. The production cars used a 428ci version of the FE V8, which, while somewhat larger, had smaller valves and produced less power. The prototype was equipped with a 427 cubic inch (7.0-litre) FE V8 meant for racing, but this was thought to be too wild for use on the road.
Shelby only produced one Super Snake, which had a 427 engine. More than fifty years later, ten more were made for a continuation series in 2018, all based on actual 1967 Mustangs.
Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen (1912-1998), the designer Larry Shinoda’s (1930-1997)’s supervisor, who was passionate about the project during his brief tenure at Ford, inspired the short-run of high-performance Boss Mustangs.
The first of these vehicles was the 1969 Boss 302, which Ford produced in road-going form as a homologation special so that modified versions could be used in Trans Am racing. Although the Cleveland V8 wouldn’t go into production until the 1970 model year, the cylinder heads (which allowed for higher revs) were borrowed from that engine. The 4.9-litre engine’s bottom half was adapted from the Windsor V8.
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