History Under the Hood: The Ford Mustang

Jun 10, 2016 by Ian (Driver Weekly)

One of the most popular and beloved automobiles ever built, the Mustang is the original pony car. Unlike its many imitators, the Mustang has been in continuous production since 1964. That doesn’t mean that the car hasn’t changed over the decades, but it does mean that contemporary Mustangs have to live up to a daunting legacy of performance and style. Let’s take a look at the history of the Mustang and how it’s reflected in the new cars available today. This is the history under the hood—from the first pony car out of the gate to the latest model available today.

Origins


Ford Europe / Flickr

Ford was breaking new ground when Lee Iacocca spearheaded a search for a new car that could fill the gap between sedans and sports cars, a market segment revealed by the unexpected popularity of the Chevrolet Corvette. Like the first Corvette, the 1962 Mustang I concept car was a small two-seater convertible. Presciently, the group decided that the two-seater had limited appeal and went back to the drawing board. The team of designers bent dozens of in-house engineering rules over just eighteen months to create a new look that could fit on the body of the four-seater compact Ford Falcon. The result? The iconic long hood, short deck, powerful engines, and aesthetic louvers. The new look became the first production model, 1964½ Mustang, and you can see the same lines echoed in the latest model. All that Ford needed was a name for the new car. Enter lead designer John Najjar, a fan of the P51 Mustang from World War II, and market research manager Robert J Eggert, who bred thoroughbreds. The Mustang. It was a perfect combination.

The Glory Days


Didier Lahousse / n-d-d / Flickr

When the first ‘Stangs rolled off the production line in 1964, Ford had expected a successful but limited run. Instead, it became a massive success. Initially introduced as a hardtop and a convertible, with a fastback added in 1965, over one million ponies were sold in the first four and a half years. In 1967, the Mustang started a stellar second act, adding a full-throated V8 and going down in film history with Steve McQueen behind the wheel in “Bullitt.” In 1969, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 hit the racetrack. After that, however, critical opinion was divided. The first four and half years are considered the glory days, but in 1969 the Mustang started adding a few pounds and lost some of its luster. From 1971 to 1973, the pony grew into a full-sized stallion. At the same time, we have to admit that the first models had a serious lack of legroom and Ford responded in the 1970s with larger vehicles and plush interiors. Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the “swagger wagons” of the 1970s were too large to survive the economic and fuel crisis on the horizon.

Next—the dark ages of the Mustang II, and what modern designers should avoid at all costs.

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