No American car of the postwar era has had a more powerful influence on automotive culture than the Ford Mustang. While there isn’t a definitive agreement on how to sort out the various redesigns, we can offer this general guide to the major makeovers.
The original 1965-73 The 1965 Mustang wowed crowds at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York with a crisp, captivating design that promised fun even on a drive to the supermarket. Prices started at $2,368 but often finished higher, as buyers personalized their hardtop coupes, fastbacks and convertibles with a wide array of available performance, comfort and appearance upgrades.
More than half chose one of the optional 289-cubic-inch V-8s, which included a 271-horsepower “K-code” High Performance version that cost $435. The popular GT package added a tweaked suspension and sporty styling touches. Before Shelby’s GT-350 arrived, Mustangs took first and second in the Touring Class of the 1964 Tour de France Auto, a start to earning its international competition cred.
Even the earliest cars were officially 1965 models; the 64½ tag was coined later by Mustang buffs to classify models built before cosmetic and mechanical upgrades, including the change from a generator to an alternator, were made.
After minor revisions for 1966, Ford bulked up the Mustang’s look for ’67 and added big-block V8s, including the 428 Cobra Jet in 1968. Growing again for 1969-70, the Mustang offered more muscle choices. The Mach 1, looking muscle-bound for glory with stripes and scoops, had a new 351 small block or optional 428 CJ. The Boss 302 was Ford’s reply to the Camaro Z/28, and the limited-production Boss 429 homologated Ford’s semi-hemi 429 for NASCAR.
Eight inches longer, six inches wider and 600 pounds heavier than the ’65 Mustang, the ’71 was too big not to fail. The fastback was more of a flat-back with nearly zero rear visibility. Performance remained hot with the Boss 351 and 429 Cobra Jet, but both departed after ’71, leaving 351-ci “Cleveland” variants to preserve fun.
1974-78 Mustang II The Pinto-based 1974 Mustang II gets little respect, but Ford had correctly anticipated the shift to smaller, more economical sporty coupes. The fastback was a practical hatchback, and T-tops replaced the convertible. Options included the V6 from Ford’s German operation, and the 302 V-8, albeit in weak 133-hp tune. Decal-festooned Cobra II and King Cobra models offered no performance gains.
1979-93 Based on the new Fox platform that would underpin many Ford products through the 1980s, the ’79 Mustang was bigger and roomier than the Mustang II. The angular Euro-influenced Fox didn’t look Mustang-ish, but it did revive the convertible. Performance made a huge comeback with “5.0 liter” models that attracted a new generation of fans. The 1984-86 SVO was a critically admired, but slow-selling, turbo-4.
1994-2004 A revamped chassis, the Fox 4, wore a rounded, fastback-style body for 1994, and Ford’s OHC Modular V8 replaced the old pushrod 302 for 1996. SVT Cobras eventually reached 390 hp with a supercharged DOHC V-8; Cobra Rs were stripped-down street legal racers. A reskin for 1999 brought “New Edge” styling. Special editions included the 2001 Bullitt and 2003-4 Mach 1.
2005-14 The 2005 Mustang joined the model’s first all-new chassis in a quarter-century with a retro design inspired by the late-’60s fastbacks, and later facelifts amplified the nostalgia. The GT’s 4.6-liter V-8 peaked at 315 hp but would give way to a new “5.0” for 2011, the 412 hp twin-cam Coyote. A 305-horse V-6 was the new base engine. Instant collectible: the 2012-13 Boss 302.
2015-present A smoother, more cohesive blend of modern and heritage design cues, independent rear suspension and world-class overall performance add up to the best Mustang ever. A new turbo 2.3-liter four-cylinder atones for the sins of 1980s Mustang turbos, but V8s still rule: the GT is powered by a 435-hp 5.0-liter and the Shelby GT350 gets a 526-hp 5.2-liter.