The Ford Mustang
I Wanna Pony
“I wanna pony.” If you hear that request, it may not be from a child but instead a car lover with an eye on the Ford Mustang. The Ford Mustang is probably the best-known muscle car in the pony car class, a classification that many believe the Mustang pioneered in the early 1960s. Pony cars are sporty, compact, affordable coupes styled with a performance image. The Ford Mustang is the only original model pony car to have uninterrupted production for over five decades.
The Right Car at the Right Time
In the early 1960s, Ford Motor Company’s marketing studies identified a sales niche for a unique, sporty car with an affordable price tag. Ford forecasted that such a car could sell 100,000 units in its first year, and it did. Boy did it! Extended model year sales totaled well over 600,000 cars, breaking all post-WWII automotive sales records. The pony craze was on.
The Genesis of the Ford Mustang Name
With its iconic running horse emblem, it is hard to think that the Ford Mustang might not have been named after a horse. There are a few theories on how the car got its iconic name.
The prevailing name theory is that vehicle designer and executive stylist John Najjar came up with the naming idea of “mustang” by being inspired by World War II airplanes. He wanted the car named after the P-51 Mustang fighter plane, known as the best American fighter plane of the World War II-era due to its power and reliability. Najjar saw the plane that helped elevate the United States as a world superpower as the best inspiration for a vehicle that embodied the American spirit.
There were other names for the concept car such as Cougar, Thunderbird, and Torino. In fact, Lee Iacocca, a Ford executive instrumental in the development of the Mustang, remembers being given a list of animal names for the vehicle, one of which was the mustang.
It is also thought that Robert J. Eggert, a Ford market research manager who also bred quarter horses, first suggested the name “mustang” after receiving a book on mustangs from his wife. During the research for a potential name, Eggert added “mustang” to the list tested by focus groups.
Najjar saw the naming of the vehicle veering toward animal names. Since he wanted his preferred name for the car, he altered his presentations so that he was presenting an animal instead of a plane to the executives Najjar tied the mustang label with the wild horses that freely roamed the American West. Account executives linked the mustang name with the concepts of “untamed nature”, “free-roaming”, and “open spaces.”
In the end, focus groups had the mustang name in their list of options and favored “mustang” far more than the other options. The Ford concept car became the Ford Mustang.
First Generation Ford Mustang (1965-1973)
The Mustang Gallops Onto the Public Stage
The Ford Motor Company debuted its new addition on April 17, 1964, at the New York World’s Fair and left the sales forecasts in the dust. Ford estimated that the Mustang would have annual sales around 100,000 units. Dealers accepted 22,000 orders on the first day and 417,000 in the first year. Two years later, the sales of this vehicle hit one-million units.
The Mustang drew more public attention as the pace car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500, and it made its silver screen debut that same year in the Bond film Goldfinger. The Mustang continued its Hollywood career in later years by appearing in Bullitt with Steve McQueen, the TV series The F.B.I., and Diamonds are Forever, just to name a few.
With its reputation firmly established, Lee Iacocca wanted to add performance credentials to the car. Iacocca went to Carroll Shelby, a race car driver turned automotive designer, and asked him to turn the Mustang into a race car. Shelby’s GT350 was approved for Class B production racing by the Sports Car Club of America, and it lead the racing competition for the next three years.
The 1967 GT500
In 1967 the Mustang grew into its sports car image with the addition of a Cobra Le Mans 427 cubic inch V8 engine. With a smaller production cap of just over 2,000 cars, these Mustangs are one of the more valuable models. This version of the Mustang was featured as Eleanor in the movie Gone in 60 Seconds and became even more appealing to collectors.
In 1968 Larry Shinoda, a hot rodder and GM car designer, along with Bunkie Knudsen left General Motors to join the Ford Motor team. Their goal with the Mustang was to create a car that appealed to a young audience desiring a fast car. Their additions to the Ford Mustang line were the Boss 302 and the Boss 429. These are some of the rarest Mustangs, and finding one is a dream for many collectors.
Second Generation Ford Mustang (1974-1978)
In the 1970s, the second generation of the Mustang was called the Mustang II, and it was designed to be smaller and more fuel-efficient. Iacocca wanted to return the Mustang to its 1965 shape and overall styling. Unfortunately, additions to the car to meet U.S. emission and safety regulations made the Mustang heavier with reduced performance. First-year sales for this model, 385,993 units, didn’t reach the 1965 benchmark.
While the term “cobra” started being used alongside “mustang” as early as 1963, it wasn’t until 1976 that the first Mustang Cobra came on the market with the name “Cobra II.” The Cobra II was designed with the style of the Shelby Mustangs in mind. This car had options that included a V8 engine, non-functional hood scoop, racing stripes, and front and rear spoilers. There were approximately 4,972 King Cobra cars produced in 1978.
Third Generation Ford Mustang (1979-1993)
The Mustang Turns 20
Ford wanted to commemorate the Mustang’s 20th anniversary with a special model, so it brought back the GT350 name with a 35-day production run that produced 5,261 cars. The 1984 GT350 came in white with red stripes and a red interior. It was noted that Carroll Shelby was not on the design team nor any of the designers from Shelby’s company, Shelby America. Because this model only came with cosmetic upgrades, it got mixed reviews from Mustang enthusiasts.
Fourth Generation Ford Mustang (1994-2004)
For the first time in 15 years, Ford debuted a major redesign of the Mustang, and its code name was SN-95 which stood for sporty North American market project number 95. At Detroit’s American International Auto Show Ford showed off the concept car, the Mustang Mach III. With the iconic running horseback on the grill for the first time in 10 years, the design team incorporated style lines from past models. The powertrain was improved, modern safety features included, and the new overall design and other enhancements were met with customer approval.
35th Anniversary 2000 Cobra R
At the 1999 Charlotte Motor Speedway, Ford revealed the prototype of the 2000 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R. Any system not needed for racing track use was eliminated – no radio and no AC. The car only came in performance red for the exterior with a dark charcoal interior. It featured a Tremec T56 6-speed gearbox and a 5.4 liter DOHC V8 engine with 385 horsepower. This is one of the rarest Mustangs because only 300 cars were produced. It was ranked 19th on the list of “The 100 Best Mustangs of All Time” by Complex Rides.
Fifth Generation Ford Mustang (2005-2014)
This generation of the Ford Mustang, referred to as the S197, was inspired by the 1964-1970 mustang designs. With its round steering wheel hub, dual-hooded dash, big instrument panel, big grille and round headlights this generation of mustang gave a nod to the past while embracing the future. The two models, a V6 and a GT, were given increased power capabilities with a 4.0 liter 210 horsepower engine and a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 300 horsepower, respectively. J. Mays, senior vice president of design called it “retro-futurism.”
2007 GT500 Return of the Shelbys
Carroll Shelby broke his ties with Ford Motor Company in 1970 when the company reportedly used the Cobra name without talking to him. In 2007, the current Ford Mustang team apologized and negotiated Shelby back into the fold, and the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500 was born. This 500 horsepower 5.4 liter V8 took the pony and muscle car worlds by storm. Most buyers opted for the optional Le Mans racing stripes to go with the 18-inch wheels and Tremec TR-6060 6-speed manual transmission.
Sixth Generation Ford Mustang (2015 – Present)
The Ford Motor Company took the Mustang worldwide in 2013 by simultaneously revealing the new model in Michigan, New York, California, Spain, China, and Australia. Previous models excelled in drag racing, but the independent rear suspension of the S550 Mustang improved its cornering and allowed it to muscle its way into other racing venues. The new design has a lower center of gravity, making this wide and low car hug the road in a whole new way.
The S550 also debuted the new EcoBoost engine. While this is a 4-cylinder engine, its turbocharged technology allowed it to beat the V6 in terms of horsepower and torque. The V8 Coyote engine was also improved with better cylinder heads and forged connecting rods. This high performance engine gives the car the sound you would expect from this aggressively styled Mustang.
2020 Mustang Shelby GT500
In January 2019, Ford Motor Company unveiled the 2020 Mustang Shelby GT500, the most powerful Mustang ever built. This supercharged 760 horsepower, 5.2-liter V8 engine has 625 pound-feet of torque with a seven-speed dual-clutch transmission that can change gears in less than 100 milliseconds. Five different drive modes are available via a console-mounted mode switch that lets the driver unleash track options with the flick of a switch.
The GT500 has brakes revealed through exposed 20-inch carbon-fiber wheels equal to the task of stopping this amazing engine. A driver can tear up the road from zero to 100 miles-per-hour and then unbelievably brake back to zero in just 10.6 seconds using the Brembo brakes with their 16.5-inch rotors and six-piston calipers and the sticky Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tires with their unique compound and tread.
Still More to Come
It is interesting to look back at where the Mustang began in the 1960s and see how this pony car has evolved. While the history of this car is fascinating, car enthusiasts invariably want to look forward. There are already glimpses into the future regarding the Ford Mustang. There is talk about a 2020 hybrid mustang, and renderings of a S650 have surfaced. It is clear that the journey of the Ford Mustang is far from over.
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