Skip to main content

You might imagine a rampaging, wild, and free horse when you think of the origins of Ford’s storied muscle car, the Mustang. However, you might be surprised to learn that the pony car didn’t get its moniker from a wild horse. Instead, the Ford Mustang got its name from an extraordinary fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang. 

How did Ford Mustang get its name?

A 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang, named for the P51 Mustang fighter plane of WWII, is unveiled at the World's Fair.
1964 1/2 Ford Mustang at the World’s Fair | Ford

The Ford Mustang got its name from the World War II airplane, the P-51 Mustang. That might seem surprising, given the global reputation of the galloping horse that still grazes keys and badges nearly sixty years after the first Mustangs sold. However, if you consider the contributions of the P-51 Mustang to aviation and modern history, it’s more than deserving of the name. 

When did the first Ford Mustangs sell?

Ford first released the Mustang as a 1965 model to swelling public acceptance, although many sold before 1965. The result is what people refer to as the “1964 ½” Ford Mustang. Lee Iacocca and his team of Ford personnel set out to do something that hadn’t been addressed before with the vehicle: cater to an exploding post-war economy featuring baby boomers with money in their pockets. The result was a smaller, sharper, and sexier “pony car” than the land yachts of before. 

The car was an instant success; MotorTrend says that Ford sold 22,000 units on the first day. Of course, the new vehicle for a new age needed a fitting name. What better name than the title assigned to one of the most recognizable fighter planes in history?

What’s so special about the Mustang?

The P-51 Mustang is a WWII fighter plane that lent its storied name to the Ford pony car.
P-51 Mustangs in formation | Getty Images

The North American P-51 Mustang, from which the Ford Mustang derived its name, is an accomplished fighter aircraft. The National WWII Museum in New Orleans says that the Mustang was designed as a long-range fighter to protect then-unescorted bombers. It was extremely successful, especially considering its powerful Rolls-Royce (yes, that Rolls-Royce) Merlin engine accompaniment. The fast, capable fighter made short work of the German Messerschmitt BF-109, a scourge of the skies. 

So it makes sense that Iacocca and his team would choose the moniker for the upcoming pony car. However, like the courageous aviators that took the P-51 into the jaws of combat, Ford couldn’t have known just how successful their Mustang would be. 

Is there a P-51 Mustang car?

If you’re displeased with the name connection and want a Ford Mustang that further exudes fighter aircraft vibes, Roush has you covered. Roush made a specialty Ford Mustang P-51 in 2017. With 727 horsepower, the automaker claimed it was the most powerful muscle car in the world at the time of release. With aggressive styling and a powerful supercharged engine, it is a fitting tribute to the fighter plane. 

Of course, if you want a tribute car, you need only paint your beloved pony car with nose art like the “Old Crow” and wear a leather helmet with goggles. Send pictures if you choose to do so. What do you think of the Mustang’s connection to military history? Share your thoughts in the comments below!


Mustang: Must-Buy Ponies Before You Can’t Afford Them