Fifty years ago, one of the greatest success stories of the Blue Oval brand rolled off the assembly line. The Ford Mustang, which was the right car at the right time, was the beginning of a whole new breed of vehicles – the Pony Car. Now a half century later, the Mustang is still going strong, with no sign of slowing down.
Celebrations are taking place across the country this year to commemorate the golden anniversary of the Mustang. Marking this milestone, Ford has unveiled a new generation Pony Car that will soon be released to the general public. The 2015 Mustang continues the winning formula that has made it an American icon. Now in a more modern version, it’s still a sporty four-seater, with a long hood, and short deck. And, like its namesake, the wild mustang, it still personifies independence and freedom.
A Winner Right Out of the Gate
In the spring of 1964, Ford launched its 1965 Mustang, commonly referred to as the 64 1/2. It was a winner right out of the gate, partly because of Ford’s clever marketing campaign, but also because of the Mustang’s sporty style, offered at an affordable price. Because of its appeal, demand far outpaced supply, In fact, Ford had estimated that approximately 100,000 Mustangs would be sold in the first year, but instead, sales quadrupled beyond their projection, and within 18 months, sales had climbed to 1 million. Although sales decreased in subsequent years, the Mustang has remained in production since its inception, earning a loyal and passionate customer base.
The Shelby Factor
Despite the first Mustang’s popularity, Ford wanted to enhance the Pony’s performance image, and so enlisted Carroll Shelby for his help. His team made modifications to the engine to increase its horsepower, tweaked the suspension for better handling, and added styling touches to give the Mustang a more aggressive look. The Shelby Mustang was produced through 1970, and returned again in 2005. A few of these custom Stangs became all-out race cars, but most were highly-coveted street machines of their time, and now are even more desirable as collector cars.
Muscle Car Era
From the late 1960s and into 1970, Ford competed with GM and Chrysler by offering ever-increasing engine horsepower. In addition to the big block power plants Carroll Shelby was installing in his GT500 cars, Ford equipped their GT and Mach 1 models with 390 and 428 CJ cubic-inch engines. Then, in 1969 and 1970, Ford offered the biggest power plant of all — the Boss 429 cubic-inch, limited edition Mustang. However, the following year emphasis shifted away from performance to economy, as MPG became more important than HP. Enthusiasm for big engines would not return until decades later.
The entertainment industry has long recognized how a sporty car can enhance the appeal of a character or storyline. Here are some examples.
- As early as 1964, a convertible Mustang was featured in the movie “Goldfinger.”
- In 1968, Steve McQueen starred in the movie “Bullitt,” alongside what would become a star in its own right, a Highland Green Mustang GT.
- In 1976, Farrah Fawcett drove a Cobra II Mustang in the popular television show “Charlie’s Angles.”
- In 2000, a customized 1967 Shelby GT500 Mustang, named Eleanor, made quite a name for itself in the movie “Gone in 60 Seconds.”
- The latest movie star car was a highly-customized 2014 Mustang, which was specially built for the movie, “Need for Speed.”
Although interest in classic Mustangs remains strong, most of today’s car shows are predominantly filled with later model Mustangs. Many of these cars are customized with supercharging and other engine performance upgrades that produce well above 500 horsepower. Straight from the showroom floor, the new Shelby GT500 is rated at 662 HP. Performance shops, like Shelby American, Roush, Holman Moody, and Saleen, offer enhanced Pony Cars with even more power and unique styling. A whole new generation has once again embraced the passion and thrill of the original Pony Car.
Happy 50th Birthday, Ford Mustang.
For more photos, visit eClassicAutos’ gallery of Mustangs.