1964 Ford Mustang
Like Jed Clampett,
who inadvertently struck oil while he was out huntin coon,
Fords General Manager Lee Iacocca probably didnt fully
realize just what he was about to tap into with his new low-cost
personal car, the 1964 Mustang.
In the early
1960s, there was no youth market for automobiles
and the term, pony car had yet to be coined. But Iacocca
who had risen from obscurity in the hinterlands of Pennsylvania
to lead the Ford division in a span of just five years was
plugged into the post-war collective unconscious and saw the need
for a new kind of car for the emerging market of young and restless
twentysomethings the group that would eventually be called
for what became the first Mustang were simple and straightforward.
It was to be inexpensive to manufacture, with a unitized body and
mostly off-the-shelf suspension and chassis components. It would
use existing and already proven drivetrains borrowed from other
Ford models; there would be no risky gambles on elaborate new technologies
the market might not be ready for as GM had bravely (but
ultimately unsuccessfully) tried with the radical for the day, rear-engined,
air-cooled Chevy Corvair. Which of course, failed.
new car would be compact and light, seat four, be peppy and sporty
and most important of all,it would have a starting price
under $2,500. That would make it accessible to the demographic Iacocca
saw as an untapped vein of profits for Ford.
Riding on a
108-inch wheelbase and modified Ford Falcon chassis, the first-year
Mustang met Iaccocas every specification. It was also an out-of-the-park
home run with sales topping 670,000 units by the end of 1965.
No car since
then has equaled this feat.
run of Mustangs was offered in two basic bodystyles a notchback
hardtop coupe and a convertible with a fastback coupe joining
the lineup later in the model year. A huge range of optional equipment
and trim levels were offered from the get-go. This was deliberate
strategy, intended to let buyers more or less custom-order their
car. Mustangs could be fitted out as a luxury tourers, economical
runners or tire-barking muscle cars. There was truly a Mustang
for everyone from young single guys to young at heart retirees
who felt good cruising in their drop-top Stang.
Like the VW
Beetle, the Mustang transcended class and economic strata; drivers
who could afford far more expensive machinery bought them as eagerly
as those who had to beg and borrow every dime for the down payment.
The cars multiple personalities were also key to its long-term
legs. Because it appealed to a much broader audience
than just young single guys as was the case with muscle cars
such as Pontiacs GTO the Mustang was able to weather
many a storm and survive long after the GTO and its kind had been
felled by declining interest in one-dimensional muscle cars.
A look at the
Mustangs roster of available powertrains helps give one an
idea how different one Mustang might be from another under the skin.
The standard coupes engine was a boilerplate straight six
very similar to the one used in the economy-oriented Falcon, initially
displacing a modest 170 cubes and offering an equally modest
101 horsepower. This was for buyers who wanted a just the
basics car. Next up was a small V-8, the Challenger
260 shared with the mid-sized Fairlane. This engine gave
164-hp and was a good compromise between economy and sportiness.
ramped up, another engine became available the 289 CID Hi-Po
V-8. This was the engine that began the frenzy and really put the
Mustang on the map as a performance car. The presence of the 289
V-8 was denoted by chrome call-outs on the front fenders and prominent
dual exhaust tips out back. This engine featured a high-revving
solid lifter camshaft, low-restriction dual exhaust and four-barrel
carburetor. It provided the gumption to get the Mustang to 60 mph
in about 7 seconds if you knew how to work the heavy-duty 4-speed
and became the centerpiece of a new GT performance
package that also included full instrumentation with tachometer,
floor-mounted shifter (manual or three-speed Cruise-O-Matic auto),
firm-ride suspension and special interior and exterior trim bits.
289 Hi-Po model was a big hit and became the leading edge of a Total
Performance program from Ford that culminated, in the late
1960s and early 1970s, in fearsome big block-equipped Mustangs like
the twin-carbed 428 Cobra Jet and Boss 429 Mustangs that were just
a few bends of the rule book away from all-out race cars.
In 1965, sales
once again topped half-a-million units . Huge but not quite
equal that spectacular first-year run of 680,989. Still, the Mustang
was enormously successful the 1960s equivalent of what the
Ford Explorer would be to later generations. Within three model
years, GM would have two pony cars of its own to answer
the Mustangs challenge the Pontiac Firebird and Chevy
Camaro. Chrysler jumped into the ring, too with its E-Body Barracuda
and Challenger coupes. Even frumpy AMC felt the need to get a Mustang
fighter into circulation and ginned up the Javelin and AMX.
By 1970, there
were more than half-a-dozen Mustang imitators on the market
each of them trying to horn in on the market the 64 Mustang
singlehandedly identified and arguably exploited better than
any of them.
By 1975, all
of them except the Camaro and Firebird would be gone victims
of changing times and changing tastes they failed to adapt to. But
the Mustang continued to evolve and so remained popular even
when Ford took a huge risk and downsized (and down-powered) the
car in 1974, shifting the emphasis back toward the original 1964
concept of economy with touches of sportiness rather than all-out
performance. This move mocked at the time by enthusiasts
enabled the car to make it through the bleak desert of the
1970s and eventually stage a huge comeback in the early 1980s, when
the resurrected Boss 5.0? Mustang GT became (once again) one
of the hottest sporty cars on the road.
continued to slug it out with Chevys Camaro (and the Pontiac
Firebird) through the 1990s gaining ground by sticking with
the proven formula of offering buyers multiple Mustangs to suit
any need, from family-friendly runabout to head-banging quarter-miler,
with a wealth of sub-models (Saleen, Cobra R, SVO). Camaro and Firebird,
meanwhile, became ever-more single-minded with horsepower
and performance becoming the major (some critics say only) selling
points by the mid-1990s. Unfortunately (for GM), this cost the Chevy
and Pontiac sales which dropped to an unsustainable low by
the year 2000 that led to GM canceling production of the Mustangs
last Detroit-built competition after the 02 season.
This left the
Mustang as the sole survivor of the era of its conception
and as popular as ever following a hugely successful retro-restyles
beginning with the 1994 models that gave the young buyers of the
21st century a chance to enjoy an automotive experience very similar
to the one their Baby Boomer parents got to experience more than
40 years ago.
In a car called
with permission from EricPetersAutos.com.
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automotive columnist and author of Automotive
Atrocities and Road Hogs (2011). Visit his
© 2011 Eric Peters
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