A Classic in Focus: The Complete History of the Mustang
It has been fifty years since the Ford Mustang first burst onto the scene. Few cars get to celebrate half a century in production, which says a lot about the quality and enduring appeal of this iconic motor.
To commemorate this momentous occasion, Ford has issued a special fiftieth anniversary edition model, kitted out with a 5.0 litre V8, optioned to the brim, and featuring special commemorative badges and etchings to mark the occasion. This new Mustang blends a muscular, contemporary shape with design cues that define it as quintessentially Mustang. Although the limited edition model has details which set it apart from other versions, it inarguably harks back to the 1964 original Ford Mustang.
So, in the spirit of remembering the past and celebrating the Mustang’s illustrious history, we’ve decided to take a look back at the very best, and worst, of the Ford Mustang over the last half century…
The original Mustang debuted in 1964 to wide-spread acclaim. Introduced at the Ford Pavilion at New York’s World Fair in April of that year, critics exclaimed its beauty, and by the end of the day it was being rolled into numerous showrooms. A vast range of engine choices were available, with options ranging from 101 to 271 horsepower, but that wasn’t the only reason for its dazzling popularity. The magic of the Mustang lay in the whole formula – the elongated hood, the cabin nestled back on the chassis, the tail lights and the badging that would make the car easily recognisable and instantly iconic. The public could spot a Mustang a mile off – and they loved them.
The Bullitt Era
After only a few years on the market, and hundreds of thousands of sales later, the Mustang had gone through a period of evolution, although it had never lost its charm. The changes were great enough to seriously distinguish it from the Ford Falcon model on which it had been based. The car had to fend off the Camaro, Firebird and Barracuda, but that only spurred on its progressive evolution. Ford’s competitive instincts just kept making them better. In 1968, the car made an iconic appearance in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, with a design which now incorporated a base engine of 200-cubic-inches, exuding 120 horsepower, and a 250-cubic-inch version producing 155 horsepower.
The Mustang II, 1974
The early 1970s saw the Mustang fall on hard times. An oil crisis swept across the globe, and smaller, more economical cars became preferable to petrol-guzzling behemoths. This rough patch was damaging to the company, and it eventually catalysed the creation of the Mustang II. The Mustang II is viewed with disdain by many car enthusiasts and was strongly condemned in the court of public opinion. This distaste was not misplaced. The Mustang II was small, underpowered, handled poorly, was terribly put-together, ill-proportioned, chintzy in its details and essentially substandard. However, it was not altogether a flop for the brand; the 1970s public lapped it up, even though the ’74 Mustang II was the first Mustang ever to be offered with a four-cylinder engine and without a V8.
The (Less Than Impressive) Return of the V8, 1975
In 1975, the V8 returned to the Mustang line-up in 5-litre form. Unfortunately, the engineering around the eight cylinders wasn’t exactly in sync, meaning that the large engine sucked air through the two-barrel carburettor and had to force the exhaust through a catalytic converter on the way out. The engine produced a wholly unimpressive 122 horsepower, which was routed through an automatic transmission. Although poor, this was far superior to the 83 horsepower that the catalytic converter was restricting the four cylinder version to.
The Rebirth, 1979
Over the intervening years, the Mustang’s overall shape was altered quite significantly. The 1979 version was probably the biggest departure from the original up to this point. Ford abandoned the Pinto foundation on which the Mustang II was built, replacing it with the Ford Fairmont ‘Fox’ body which had been introduced in 1978. With a new shape, different chassis and numerous improvements, the 1979 model had a larger cabin, and came with the option of choosing either a coupe or a hatchback. The formula was a roaring success, and Ford built 369,936 units during the course of the year.
A Return to Basics, 1994
The 80s saw only minor changes and transformations, and the next major revamp didn’t occur until 1994. Ford returned to the original Mustang design and formula, making a few tweaks along the way, including adding some modern touches. The car would become one of the most recognisable vehicles of the ‘90s. It featured a galloping horse on the grille, the original side scallop and taillights which were split into three horizontal segments. Buyers had the option to choose from the 145 horsepower fuel-injected 3.8-litre V6, and a revised version of the 5-litre V8, which featured a flatter intake manifold and could effortlessly churn out 215 horsepower.
The 1994 generation may have been an ode to its glorious predecessors, but the 2005 model was a brazen dedication. The Fox platform was scrapped, substituted by the one used in the Lincoln LS and the Ford Thunderbird. The designers managed to successfully tread the very fine line between paying homage to a classic style without the resultant vehicle looking like a caricature of the original. The grill, headlights, stance, taillights, haunches and fenders – in fact, almost every aspect – were heavily modelled on those from the 1960s models. Buyers could once again choose from a wide variety of options, from the 200 horsepower V6 to the 315 horsepower V8.
On Course for Global Domination, 2015
The latest iteration of the model shows that Ford learnt their lesson; stick to what works. However, that doesn’t mean that the evolution of the Mustang has come to a standstill. The latest car harmoniously balances the appeal of the classic Mustangs of yesteryear with progressive new elements aimed at attracting foreign markets which have never before shown an affinity for Mustang, or Mustang-type, cars. Due to be released next year, the model incorporates all of the metallic aggression you could desire in an muscle car, combined with the modern preference for chic simplicity and clean, sleek lines. This latest vehicle is a performance car worthy of the most discerning critic but, most of all, it’s a Mustang.
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