50 Years of Ford Mustang: 8 Snapshots of the History Behind the Icon


For the Ford Mustang, this year is a very special year: it is celebrating its 50th birthday, a milestone that very few cars ever get to celebrate. To commemorate the event, Ford has issued a special 50th anniversary edition model, equipped with the 5.0 liter V8 (naturally), is optioned to the brim, and features special commemorative badges and etchings to mark the occasion.

“The new Mustang blends a muscular, contemporary shape with design cues that define it as quintessentially Mustang,” said Moray Callum, Ford’s vice president of design. “The 50 Year Limited Edition adds details that set it apart from other Mustangs, while hearkening back to the 1965 original.”

The new car inspired us to look back at the Mustang’s extensive history, when the original 1964 model first made a splash at the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair. Since then, it’s following has only grown tremendously, and it remains one of America’s most popular performance cars to date.

1964 Mustang

1. 1964: In the beginning…

The first Mustang debuted in 1964 to great fanfare. It was introduced at the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair in April of that year, and by the end of the day it was rolling into retail showrooms. Engine choices were vast, with several options ranging from 101 horsepower to 271 horsepower, but it was the formula — the longer hood, the cabin nestled farther back on the chassis — and features like the tail lights and the badging that would instantly make the car an icon that immediately drew in the public.

Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bsabarnowl/

2. The age of Bullitt

Just a few years and many hundreds of thousands of sales later, the Mustang had evolved some, enough to seriously distinguish it from the Ford Falcon model on which the original was based. It was not fending off the Camaro, Firebird, and Barracuda, three cars that the original 1964 and 1965 models didn’t have to contend with. However, the base engine was now “a 200-cubic-inch six making 120 horsepower with a 250-cubic-inch (4.1-liter) 155-horsepower six,” Edmunds says. An appearance in Steve McQueen’s Bullitt didn’t hurt at all, either.

1975 Mustang II

3. 1974: The Mustang II

Around the early 1970s, the Mustang fell on hard times as an oil crisis swept the nation, and smaller, more economical cars were favored. This rough patch eventually yielded the Mustang II, which is now looked upon with complete disdain by the court of public opinion. The sentiment is not misplaced: the Mustang II was described as “too small, underpowered, handled poorly, terribly put together, ill-proportioned, chintzy in its details and altogether subpar,” Edmunds writes. Regardless, the 1970s public gobbled them up, even though “the ’74 Mustang II was the first Mustang ever to be offered with a four-cylinder engine and without a V8.”

1975 Mustang II Ghia

4. 1975: The V8 returns, but not so triumphantly

1975 saw the return of the V8 to the Mustang lineup in the 5-liter form. However, the engineering around the eight cylinders wasn’t exactly in sync — as a result, the large engine was sucking air through a two-barrel carburetor and had to force the exhaust through a catalytic converter on the way out. This yielded a wholly unimpressive 122 horsepower, which was routed through an automatic transmission. But it was better than the 83 horsepower that the catalytic converter was hindering the four cylinder to.

1979 Ford Mustang

5. 1979: A rebirth of sorts

The next few years saw the Mustang’s overall shape morph into a car that arguably looked the least like the original to date. Ford ditched the Pinto foundation on which the Mustang II was built, instead opting for the Ford Fairmont “Fox” body that had been introduced for 1978. The new shape, different chassis, and other improvements gave the ’79 a larger cabin, and it was offered as either a coupe or a fastback hatchback. The new formula worked well, and Ford built 369,936 units during the year.

1994 Mustang

6. 1994: Back to basics

The Mustang saw some transformations and changes throughout the 1980s, but it was in 1994 that the car saw its next substantial redesign. Ford took another look at the original Mustang formula, put some modern touches on it, and unveiled what would become one of the most recognizable vehicles of the 1990s. “There was the galloping horse in the grille, the side scallop reappeared and the taillights were split into three segments (albeit horizontally instead of vertically),” Edmunds said. Buyers could choose from a fuel-injected 3.8-liter V6, rated for 145 horsepower, or the Mustang GT, which was packing a revised version of the 5-liter V8 with a flatter intake manifold that was good for 215 horsepower.

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7. 2005: The return of retro

If the 1994 generation was an ode to Mustangs past, the 2005 model was a full-blown dedication. The Fox platform was out for good, replaced by the one used for the Lincoln LS and the Ford Thunderbird. Like the latter, “the designers managed to pay homage to a classic style without having the end result looking like a caricature of the original,” according to Edmunds. The grille, headlights, stance, tail lights, haunches, fenders — just about every aspect of the redesigned Mustang was a tribute to the 1960s models in some shape or form, even on the inside. Buyers had an array of options from the 200-horsepower V6 to the 315-horsepower V8.

The All-New Ford Mustang

8. 2015: The Mustang gallops the globe

Finally, released just this past week is the latest iteration of the Mustang, a model meant to balance the classic Mustangs of old with a new formula aimed at enticing foreign markets, which have never shared the same affinity for Mustang-type cars. Due to be released later next year, the new Mustang offers all the aggression you’d expect from a muscle car with the modern flair and sleek body lines worthy of today’s performance cars.

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