After World War II, GIs returning from Europe brought back with them quaint little two-seat sports cars. The likes of which most Americans had never seen. Stateside demand for these offerings started growing and by the early ’50s, domestic manufacturers were getting in on the act, including Chevrolet with its Corvette. The last was significant, if GM thought this segment of the market important enough, its crosstown rivals should be getting in on the action. Ford, now under the control of Henry’s grandson, H.F. II, was in the best position to do this and started working on its own two-seater, which emerged as the stylish “personal” 1955 Thunderbird. The T-bird was turned into a four-seater for 1958 and sales more than doubled, giving ammunition to the idea of an affordable, sporty car for the masses.
The concept gained traction under Lee Iacocca, who became Ford General Manager in 1960, replacing the straight-laced Robert McNamara. Iacocca asked engineer and product planning manager Don Frey to develop a new sporty offering, under the code name “T-5.” The first result, the tiny, mid-engined Mustang I was interesting, but had limited appeal and the concept was scrapped. Instead, Iacocca started a new program and held a contest for three styling studios, Ford, Lincoln-Mercury and Advanced Design, to come up with their own proposals of what the T-5 should be. The winner came, perhaps appropriately from Ford’s own studio, under the direction of Joe Oros, Gale Halderman and L. David Ash. With a long hood, short rear deck and some very European touches, it was an eye-catching design and would only require detail improvements. Now the engineering phase could begin. To keep costs down, the Falcon’s floorpan, engines, and running gear would be used. The wheelbase was shortened from 109.5 to 108 inches and although the Falcon primarily used six-cylinder engines, Ford’s new small-block V8 would also be offered. As for naming the car, Cougar was an early favorite, as was Torino, but eventually it was settled on Mustang. Actually named after the World War II fighter, Mustang conjured up images of wide-open spaces, roaming horses and speed. As the time for launch drew near, Ford released another concept, the Mustang II, in 1963 to whet the public’s appetite. Launch date was set for April 1964, with the car pitched as an early ’65 model. Projected first year volume was set at 100,000 units.
1964-1965: SUPER SMASH
In preparation for launching the Mustang, Ford booked primetime advertising slots on each of the three major American TV networks. It also started leaking photos to the press. In late 1963, Henry Ford II’s nephew, just “happened” to drive a black pre-production Mustang to a downtown Detroit luncheon. Before long pictures of the car were pasted all over the Detroit Free Press – Mustang mania had begun. When Ford officially unveiled the car at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York, on April 17, it caused a frenzy. The combination of sporty styling and low base price of $2,368 simply made the car irresistible to many, as did a mile-long options list that enabled buyers to practically “customize” a Mustang to their individual tastes. Engine choices included a 170-cid, 110 hp straight six, a 260 ci, 164 hp V8, two versions of a bigger 289 with either two- or four-barrel carburetors (in 195 or 210 hp form respectively, plus a fire-breathing 289 ci, 271 hp V8. Transmission choices consisted of three- and four-speed manuals plus an automatic, while there were two body styles (hardtop coupe or convertible), two different suspensions (standard or handling) and a plethora of styling, comfort and convenience options. In September 1964, Ford introduced some running changes, which enthusiasts have come to define as being the separation between 1964½ and “true” ’65 models. These included the addition of a swoopy 2+2 fastback, a new GT equipment group that included rocker panel stripes, Instrument Group, grille mounted driving lights, Interior Décor group and optional front disc brakes. In addition there was a larger 200 ci base six-cylinder engine with 120 hp, a 200 hp two-barrel 289 in place of the 260, and the four-barrel 289 V8 was tuned to deliver 225 hp.
Ford’s annual sales projections of 100,000 units were blown to pieces, for that many Mustangs were sold within four months. By the end of the extra long ’65 model year Ford had sold over 680,000 of them – a record for one-year sales. The Mustang created such a sensation that a truck driver drove through a showroom window while staring at some and at one dealer, where a bidding war took place, the winner decided to sleep in his “new” Mustang until his check cleared the following day.
1966 FEW CHANGES
After such a tremendous start, there was little reason to change the ’66s. Keen spotters noted a change in the grille from mesh to horizontal bars and restyled fake quarter-panel vents. GT equipped cars kept the in-board mounted driving lights and big chrome bars from the previous year. Some early press and pre-production photos also saw the ’66s sporting separate taillight lenses, but due to cost reasons, this last change was axed. Inside all Mustangs got a revised dash with circular speedometer, not just cars previously ordered with the GT package and Instrument Group. Also the deluxe stamped full wheel covers were different in design. By mid-1966, the one millionth Mustang had rolled off the assembly line and to celebrate Ford launched the limited edition Sprint 200 in the spring. It was basically a base six-cylinder car outfitted with a special chrome air cleaner, whitewall tires, wire wheel covers, exterior pinstriping and center console. Offered in all three body styles, coupe, convertible and fastback, it was primarily geared toward female buyers. Sales were off a little for 1966, to a total of 609,000 units, but factoring in the shorter model year, deliveries were actually ahead by some 50,000 units.
1967 MORE BRAWN
When the original Mustang debuted in April 1964, Ford’s team of designers and engineers had already begun working on an updated version, timed for launch as a 1967 model. It was difficult to predict where the market would be in three years time, but trends were indicating that performance cars would be more muscular and authoritative. As a result, the decision was to make the Mustang beefier, with more aggressive styling and widen the engine bay so it could accommodate big-block V8s, specifically the FE series 390 ci motor with 320 hp. At launch, the ’67 Mustang was still unmistakable, but the lines were more exaggerated with bulkier looking fenders, a more pronounced “snout” and revised, more integrated “dual” quarter-scoops. The back panel was also changed, being concave instead of convex, with three separate taillights on each side. Perhaps most interesting of all was the fastback, which looked very slick, thanks to a more flowing roofline and redesigned extractor vents behind the side windows. The grille was now a fine mesh pattern and chrome bars flanked the horse once again. Inside the cabin was more substantial, with larger instruments and a new steering wheel. The big 390 V8, listed as a $268 option, garnered a lot of attention, though it made the new Mustang rather nose heavy and buyers were advised to order the Competition Handling package which meant they also had to get the GT equipment group. Cars ordered with the three-speed select-shift Cruise-O-Matic, were dubbed GT/A. With more competition, particularly from GM with its new Camaro/Firebird, Mustang sales were off, down to 472,121 units, but that was still more than respectable.
1968 DETAIL IMPROVEMENTS
Federal regulations started affecting the way cars were built and engineered and as if to signify that, the 1968 Mustangs adopted front and rear side marker lights as mandated. Inside, was a collapsible steering column, locking seat backs with increased padding and redesigned switches and knobs, plus glare reduced finish on the rearview mirror, windshield wiper arms and A-pillars. To cope with emissions regulations engine power output was reduced. The six was down to 115 hp, the base 289 V8 to 195 horses. The hi-po 289 was replaced by a new 302 with the same bore but longer stroke and though less powerful (230 hp) it was more tractable. The big-block 390 returned and Ford’s exotic 427 was listed as an option. Rated at 390 hp, it cost $755 and only a handful were installed. Other improvements included changes to the suspension, for better ride and handling, new front disc brakes with “floating” instead of fixed calipers and redesigned front grille trim. A special GT/CS or California Special coupe was released, which featured a unique grille opening; Marchal foglights and a special tail panel with Thunderbird rear lights. It was sold mostly in the Golden State, though other variations, including the ’68 High Country Special were sold in Colorado and other mountain states.
Mid year brought with it the fearsome 428 Cobra Jet engine developed in conjunction with Rhode Island dealer Bob Tasca. Initially installed in 52, specially prepped lightweight fastbacks, aimed at the National Hot Rod Association’s Stock Eliminator class, where they cleaned house; the 428 CJ was rated at 335 hp, though estimates pegged output close to 400. It would become more widely available for 1969.
1969 MUSCLE MACHINE
Although still riding on a 108-inch wheelbase, in keeping with the times, the ’69 Mustang was bigger in just about every other dimension. The front fascia was ultra aggressive and the previous GT foglights now became the high beam headlights on all models. The flanks were broader and blockier with a sharp crease running from the fenders to behind the doors. On fastbacks, now called SportsRoofs, the body crease culminated in a styled scoop on each quarter-panel. The rear valance was still concave, though the taillights were no longer recessed. A new luxury package, called Grandé, was offered on coupes and came with bright rocker panel moldings, standard wire wheels covers and whitewall tires, upscale interior trim and standard vinyl top.
The SportsRoof looked particularly racy and a new Mach 1 package only accentuated the image of speed and power. Inspired by a 1967 show car, the Mach 1 was a SportsRoof exclusive that included flank stripes, a blacked out hood, high back bucket seats with Comfortweave upholstery, chrome-styled steel road wheels, standard dual exhausts and a 250 hp 351 ci Windsor two-barrel V8, itself a new engine for ’69. It was popular, selling over 72,000 copies and could be ordered with a front chin and rear deck spoiler and the 390, 428 CJ and 428 Super CJ engines. The last was designed for drag racing and came with a Drag Pack that included a stronger bottom end, ultra low 4.30:1 rear gearing and a Detroit Locker differential and engine oil cooler. Advertised output on the 428 CJ and SCJ was 335 hp, but on the street a Mustang so equipped was a real threat to just about anything on wheels. The base six was joined by a larger 155 hp 250 ci unit and while the GT equipment group was still around, its days were numbered.
1970 BLOOM OFF THE ROSE
Styling was cleaned up this year, no more side scoops and the front end featured single headlights inside the grille opening, the open space now occupied by a pair of gills on each side that still gave the car a very sharklike appearance. Redesigned side marker lights and taillight panel were among the other changes. The GT was gone, though the Mach 1 was still around, now with a unique grille housing driving lights, locking hood pins, special rocker panel and rear valance treatment. A new engine this year was the high performance 351 Cleveland, named after the Ohio factory that built it. This had massive heads, with huge valves and ports, specially angled to maximize breathing at high rpm. It initially came with a four-barrel carburetor and was rated at 300 hp. The Grandé hardtop got a new half vinyl roof as standard.
1971 THE BIGGEST EVER
Very much a product of Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen’s short tenure as Ford President in 1968-1969, the 1971 Mustang was the most styled ever, with a long hood, hidden wipers, flying buttress sail panels on coupes and a near vertical back window on SportsRoof models. It was also the largest ever seen. Wheelbase was increased by one inch, but the car was 2.1 inches longer and 3-inches wider than the 1970 model. As a result, there was now plenty of room to include big-block V8s and although a 250 ci, 145 hp straight-six was standard, the new Mustang could be ordered with a version of the massive 429, first seen in big Fords and the 1970 Torino. Rated at 375 hp and offered as a Cobra Jet or Super CJ with the Drag Pack, it was a stellar straight line performer, despite the extra 500 pounds in weight, enabling one of these cars to run the quarter-mile in 13.4 seconds. It could be ordered in the Mach 1 fastback that came standard with the Competition Suspension and could also be equipped with functional Ram air. The base Mach 1 engine was the 351 two-barrel V8, though a four-barrel Windsor and 351 Cleveland were also offered. A sports hardtop that mimicked the Mach 1 in appearance, complete with body colored front bumper and grille went on sale, though just over 500 were sold. Although widely criticized, the ’71 Mustang was the right car for its time and rode, handled, and steered better than its predecessor, despite the extra heft.
1972 CHANGING LANDSCAPE
Outwardly, the ’72 Mustangs looked similar, but there were changes under the skin. The 429 engine was canned, the largest and most powerful being a 275 hp 351 Cleveland. To make matters worse the standard Mach 1 engine was now a 302 V8 with just 136 hp, the power ratings made worse by a switch SAE net, in which output was rated with all the power robbing accessories attached. At mid-year Ford introduced a high output 351 Cleveland CJ with 285 hp to partly counter the loss of the big 429. An interesting package was the Sprint option, available for coupes and fastbacks. It featured white paint with blue rocker panels, hood stripes and rear valance, patriotic USA shields on the rear fenders, and a Mach 1 style nose. It could be ordered with any engine and the Competition Handling package that added stiffer springs, special shocks and Magnum 500 wheels. In addition Ford built 50 convertible versions for the Cherry Blossom parade in Washington D.C. that April, in celebration of the Olympic games in Munich, Germany.
1973 LAST OF THE LINE
In order to comply with new Federal regulations, Mustangs got a redesigned nose with new parking lights and a 5 mph impact absorbing bumper coated in urethane. Mach 1 models could be optioned with new forged aluminum wheels and the rear bumper sported overriders to comply with new 2.5 mph shunt rulings. Engines were slightly down on power due to the adoption of a new emissions control system that funneled spent gases back through the crankcase. The 351 four-barrel Cleveland V8 was now the most powerful engine, but down to 248 hp and the only one available with a four-speed manual gearbox. Perhaps because these Mustangs would be the last of their breed, production actually increased with convertibles showing a sales gain of 85 percent. It would be a decade before we would see another factory authorized Mustang ragtop.
My Experience: John Blair, 1971 Mach 1 429 Super Cobra Jet
“Back in high school, my best friend had a ’73 Mach 1. I fell in love with the styling and swore I would have one of my own. My dad said, that if I wanted a muscle car I’d have to save up and buy it on my own, so I did. I worked over the summer of ’77, saved $2,000 and found an original owner ’71 Mach 1 which I bought for $1,950. I had to wait a few weeks to pay for insurance and license plates. At the time I knew the car was an original SCJ, but it had a 351 Cleveland. Years later, as an engineer at Ford, I was able to purchase a replacement 429 SCJ engine and drop it in. The thing I like most about these cars are their styling and stance, they have a real presence and to me, still look modern. The car turns a lot of heads and boy does she have power, you have to feather the throttle from a stoplight, otherwise the tires will just spin.” – John Blair