Never Stop Driving #95: Long Live the Mustang

Cameron Neveu

It’s Mustang Week here at Hagerty Media HQ! Sixty years ago, on April 17, 1964, the Mustang made its public debut at the New York World’s Fair. We’re celebrating with reams of new material that you can follow here.

The Mustang’s six-decade run—and counting—is extraordinary in an industry that’s littered with failures. While the Mustang soldiered on, many cars and car companies failed in the U.S. market. Consider this: Peugeot, Saturn, Ford’s own Mercury, Pontiac, MG, and even the ’Stang’s closest competitor, the Camaro. What’s the secret sauce?

Anyone who says they know is full of it. I’ll take a stab anyway and suggest that Ford got many things right at the start and didn’t fumble its first-mover advantage. The key elements were the cost and design. Lee Iacocca’s boss, Henry Ford II—The Deuce, was skeptical of new car lines after the failure of the Edsel. Therefore, Iacocca knew the right design was make or break to convince the Ford scion to greenlight the project. A simple sketch penned by designer Gale Halderman that outlined the Mustang’s basic shape proved critical.

mustang illustration 1962
Courtesy Gale Halderman Museum

As we explained in this article that documented Halderman’s drawing, Iacocca often credited product planners Don Frey and Hal Sperlich for their key Mustang roles. The car’s debut was a PR masterstroke, ginning up demand for six-cylinder Mustangs that retailed for just $2400. Ford sold some 22,000 Mustangs on the first day and nearly half a million in the initial 12 months of production, a boon for a company that sold 1.5 million cars in 1964. The U.S. car market was roughly half the size of today’s, with about eight million in total sales. I imagine that 60 years ago this week, they popped many champagne corks at Ford Motor Company HQ in Dearborn.

Race-winning models developed by Carroll Shelby solidified the Mustang’s performance credibility even though it was based on the humble Falcon. The industry knew what Ford had done and rushed to respond, as we detailed in this article. By the time the competition arrived there were around a million Mustangs in the wild, ensuring a nearly endless supply of cheap used Mustangs to further imprint on the nation’s youth.

That imprinting ensured the car’s survival even when Ford tried to kill it. One of my favorite Mustang stories is from the late 1980s, when Ford thought it needed to replace its aging V-8 muscle car with a four-cylinder front-wheel-drive model called the Probe. Egad! Lucky for us, a group of rabid Ford engineers headed by John Coletti saw the folly in this plan and worked after-hours to keep the Mustang alive. You can read the full story here.

I’ve owned three Mustangs: one each from the Sixties, the Eighties, and the Nineties. The most recent one sold on the Hagerty Marketplace auction site. I’m on the prowl for another, either a 2012 Boss 302  or the so-called sixth generation known as the S550. I have my eye on this 50th anniversary currently up for bidding but I fear it’ll get out of my price range. The hunt will continue.

While the Camaro recently ended production, the Mustang is thriving. Ford recently introduced the new Dark Horse edition, which Jason Cammisa reviewed in this video. There’s also a ladder of racing models built and sold by Ford. Amazing. Later this year, the wildest street Mustang ever imagined, the Mustang GTD, will go on sale for about $300,000. Order books are now open. Who would have guessed 60 years ago that there would one day be a Mustang priced like a Ferrari?

Happy birthday, Mustang!

Larry

P.S.: Your feedback is very welcome. Comment below!

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Comments

    I hugged mine on his Dad’s birthday. Mine is 1984 20th Anniversary Edition I bought new as a young lad of 26. Many do not remember this model, it is Oxford White with red GT 350 stripe on lower bottom. Ford was sued by Shelby for using the GT 350 moniker without his permission (as at that time he was working with Dodge). I have over 200,000 miles on it, same engine, drag raced it, cross country trips, so many memories. Bought it for $10,000 something back in the day. Maybe not the best of times but sure have had some fun with it, and still do. As the saying goes, “You have come a long way, baby”….

    Go for the Boss, either ‘12 or ‘13. Ford got almost everything right on these cars. Plenty of high rpm growl, more than enough horsepower, great brakes and suspension. Nice examples can still be found in the low to mid 30k range. S550’s may surpass in performance at every level, but there is an unmatched rawness about the Boss that will entertain you every time you drive it.

    I owned a 2012 Competion Orange BOSS and agree 100%. The only thing that might be better is one of the later GT350s but the cost goes up a bunch.

    I owned a new 1974 in fall of 73 it was a complete piece of garbage. I sold it and bought a 914 2 liter it was a little better.

    I’ve owned several Mustangs over the years but my first is the one I should have kept. It was a ’69 Boss 429 and I bought it in 1974 for $650. No kidding! It didn’t have drivetrain because the original owner had blown it up on the dragstrip. I was just out of high school and couldn’t afford or find an original engine so I installed a 351 4V and 4-speed out of a ’69 Torino GT. The car had a 4.56:1 Detroit Locker rear differential so it was plenty quick up to about 110 mph. A local gas station owner asked what it had for a gear ratio and when I told him he said that he once had a 427 Fairlane with the same thing and it was like having one 1st and a whole bunch of 2nds. LOL. I drove that car for a few years like that and eventually sold it to a guy who claimed to have another Boss Nine that had been wrecked but had a good drivetrain and could make one complete car out of the two.
    My current stable includes two Mustangs – a Grabber Blue 1970 Mach 1 Q-code (428CJ) 4-speed and a black 1999 Cobra with less than 6k miles that I have owned since new.

    I’ve owned several Mustangs over the years but my first is the one I should have kept. It was a ’69 Boss 429 and I bought it in 1974 for $650. No kidding! It didn’t have drivetrain because the original owner had blown it up on the dragstrip. I was just out of high school and couldn’t afford or find an original engine so I installed a 351 4V and 4-speed out of a ’69 Torino GT. The car had a 4.56:1 Detroit Locker rear differential so it was plenty quick up to about 110 mph. A local gas station owner asked what it had for a gear ratio and when I told him he said that he once had a 427 Fairlane with the same thing and it was like having one 1st and a whole bunch of 2nds. LOL. I drove that car for a few years like that and eventually sold it to a guy who claimed to have another Boss Nine that had been wrecked but had a good drivetrain and could make one complete car out of the two.
    My current stable includes two Mustangs – a Grabber Blue 1970 Mach 1 Q-code (428CJ) 4-speed and a black 1999 Cobra with less than 6k miles that I have owned since new.

    Truthfully, I’ve never been impressed with the Moostang; I was nineteen and a confirmed Chevy/Pontiac fan when it debuted — a mash-up of Falcon and Fairlane parts with a good small block following in the 265 Chevy’s footprints. When I think of ‘Mustang’ my mind goes to the name-sake, the famed P-51!
    Not that I admired the Camaro so much; late on the scene, tho I liked the Firebirdy better — at least the original gen. Face it: Ford learned the “Total Performance” schtick from PMD, whom GM withdrew from the fray before it even got well begun, a much-resented stance! FoMoCo did it whole-heartedly, I admit, and well.
    Well my two-cents is only that, I suppose. Your ‘hoss’ was a masterful effort in packaging and marketing, at least. Please don’t ‘mute’ my dissenting voice. To each his own… ! Wick

    is it just possible that the Mustang is Ford’s 911. Okay, that may be taking it a little too far, but both the Mustang and Porsche 911 are icons of the company. Both have survived generations, both in terms of the car and those who drive them. Both have raced, both been collected, restored, kept running and refreshed, and both have influenced the company by influencing designs and even its name within the company (Ford Mustang Mach EV). one could say the Corvette is Chevy’s 911 (not the Camaro), but I think the Mustang very possible shares the 911’s mojo. Tom

    Is it just possible that the Mustang is Ford’s 911? Okay, that may be taking it a little too far, but both the Mustang and Porsche 911 are icons of the company. Both have survived generations, both in terms of the car and those who drive them. Both have raced, both been collected, restored, kept running and refreshed, and both have influenced the company by influencing designs and even its name within the company ( Mustang Mach EV). one could say the Corvette is Chevy’s 911 (not the Camaro), but I think the Mustang very possible shares the 911’s mojo. Tom

    I never was a Mustang fan. I live in Ohio and they came by their Rustang monikers honestly. Even when showroom new the technology just didn’t impress. Yes, straight line speed was good, but at the first corner they go straight off the road. My little 64 Corvair, while not impressive with speed, would slice through the curves with ease. Yes, there were more mustangs sold but I have never been one to follow the herd. I know all the naderites will jump on me, but I’m good with that. Just my two cents.

    I pre-ordered a Mustang II in the early 1970’s while serving in SEA prior to the final description of the vehicle being released. The car was to be delivered to my next duty station in Germany. After a lengthy delay in release of the specs I was advised it would be small with a standard 4 cylinder or optional 2.8 V6, etc. I immediately cancelled the order and bought a BMW 2002 when I got to Germany. Never regretted that. More recently I acquired a 1984 GT Turbo convertible from my daughter who didn’t want to deal with the problems she was having with it. Ford mounted the ignition module on the distributor & they had a propensity to burn out from the heat. She also failed smog test due to visible exhaust smoke. I took it on as a project & discovered it had a hybrid turbo and intercooler. The problems were easy fixes. I relocated the module to a heat sink in front of the radiator, installed new valve stem seals & sealed a leak in the intercooler. I had it painted, had the top replaced & enjoyed driving it for a couple years before selling it to make room for other interests. That Mustang was loaded with 5 speed, A/C, power windows/doors, etc. and was quite peppy with the turbo and intercooler. It had a nice set of aftermarket rims, although she did have the original metric rims with it. I DO regret getting rid of it. But I’ve been tinkering with old cars for many years and there’s a limit on how many I can keep at one time.

    A smart choice to want a 2012 Boss 302, Larry. I bought one 3 years ago and it’s my daily driver. Just turned over 100K. Other than tires and a battery, it just keeps running and running. A very fun car!

    What’s the secret sauce? It’s the Goldilocks American enthusiast car. You can pretty much spend as much or as little as you want on a Mustang and still get something better to drive than the other econocrossovers out there. It’s also better to drive than the Challenger and better to live with than the Camaro. And since it’s a Ford, parts are, comparatively, cheap and easy to come by.

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