America’s Most Iconic Vehicle: The Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang is for everyone. From the car geeks that spend their weekends toiling away at the autocross track, to the woman who just retired and wants to see the country in style, to the young kid who’s sitting in their living room playing with die-cast metal Mustangs.
Mustangs are built for the grease monkeys with perpetually dirty hands, who wrench on weekday nights and can be seen at the track on Saturday morning. Their car more like kin than just a machine of metal and oil. What they strive for and the cars they want, they’re always just a little more rebellious.
The Mustang is also for those that see a muscle car as a measure of success. The ubiquitous, desirable, gotta-have-it ride that everyone with a license has either wanted, owned, or has a story about. The kind of car they put in movies, TV shows, and any other type of media. Vehicles that are poster children for what the American ideal really is.
Simply put, there is nothing, more American and more iconic than the Ford Mustang. At Velocity Restorations, we also happen to love Mustangs as much as the rest of the country and we think the First Generation Mustang is a vintage Mustang worth talking about.
So, how did America’s most iconic vehicle come to life back in the swinging ’60s? Let’s get into it.
Baby Boomer Data
To really understand why the Mustang, and the entire muscle car era, fired off in the first place, we need to take a look at the demographics of the era: Baby Boomers. Generationally, there have only been a few massive increases in population within our short history, and the generation born after the Great War is among the most significant. They shaped consumer trends, politics, and basically everything else that came from America during the 60s and well into the 70s, including the automotive industry.
Ford has always been skilled at using data to make decisions about their car lineup, and by the time the early 1960s rolled around, they realized that they did not have a youth-oriented product that was aimed at the generation of baby boomers that was coming of age. College graduation rates soared after World War II, and the nation’s growing University system grew along with it to help America’s greatest minds along their journey. Ford’s research indicated that college graduates bought new cars at a rate of 46%, which was insane considering college graduates only made up 18% of the population.
Ford’s data also indicated that women were the single fastest-growing segment of car buyers, growing 53% from 1953 to 1963. Second car purchases were also growing at a frenetic rate, and usually, that second vehicle was driven by the woman of the household. The market research also showed that younger buyers wanted things like style, performance, and even a bit of utility thrown in the mix. Crucially though, they wanted all of these things but they needed to get them at a price that a freshly out of college or blue-collar workers could afford.
So, all Ford needed to do was make a sexy, youthful car aimed at young people, that appealed to both men and women, and gave drivers a sporty driving experience. Oh, and they needed to make it for a price that nearly everyone could afford.
Well, they did exactly that.
From Allegro to Mustang II
In order to narrow down the design, Ford began the conceptual process by introducing the Allegro concept and the Ford Mustang I. The Allegro borrowed heavily from European design, utilizing a shortened wheelbase, and a long hood with a bubble top glass passenger compartment. Inside, there was a fixed seat and moveable pedals, along with a collapsing steering column. Take a good look at the Allegro and you can absolutely see the first generation in the DNA, especially the grill..
On the other side of the concept table was the Mustang I, which by in large was a European sports car. A long hood, pop-up headlights, and a mid-engined design (we’re looking at you Ferrari) complete with aggressive side scoops and track-ready suspension meant the Mustang I was ready to dance. Both the Allegro and the Mustang were shown off at car shows all around the country, driven to college campuses, and shown in major advertising campaigns.
Demand, right off the bat, was off the charts.
Once interest had been gauged with the Allegro and Mustang I, Ford set about to pen a final design. In the spirit of racing, Ford decided to make the final design a competition between three of Ford’s best groups of designers: Corporate Projects Studio, the Ford Studio, and the Lincoln-Mercury Studio. They had a set of dimensions and two weeks to produce as many viable concepts as possible.
At the end of it all, six went back to the scrap heap, and the winning design from Ford Studio was further conceptualized into the Mustang II. This creation was longer and lower than the somewhat stubby concept from the Ford Design Studio. Much like all other show cars that Ford produced during this era, the Mustang II was a huge hit and people couldn’t wait to see it.
Marketers at Ford said this of the upcoming production Mustang: ““Personality: demure enough for church-going, racy enough for the dragstrip, modish enough for the country club.”
The price? A paltry $2,368.
The stage was set for Ford to make a big splash, but how would they go about debuting this crucial launch? How about the iconic 1964 World’s Fair in New York to the tune of 51 million people? Located in the American pavilion, this was the first time real people got to see the car in the flesh and the response was massive. People crowded day and night to see it, queued up for hours, and began to dream of themselves behind the wheel.
A huge press conference took place on April 17, 1964, with over 100 media outlets in attendance.
Today, we take for granted the wide availability of media sources on the internet that allow us to pick and choose what we care about and don’t care about. Back in the 1960s, advertising on television networks and in the newspaper was how you got it done but no automotive manufacturers had really stepped into the realm of T.V. advertising in a big way. That is, until the introduction of the Mustang in 1964.
Ford bought air time on all three of the major networks during Hazel (NBC) Perry Mason (CBS) and the Jimmy Dean Show (ABC). These ads were seen by over 29 million people and Ford leaned heavily on the sexy styling of the Mustang, along with the incredibly low prices. In fact, it was that low price that would go on to define how muscle cars would be produced for the next decade or so.
The stories of “Mustang Mania” are almost as good as the car itself! Dealerships needed to lock and bar doors to keep people from flooding in to buy the Mustang, lines were forming overnight at dealerships that were barely able to keep up with demand. Enthusiastic owners were sleeping in cars overnight until checks cleared and they could drive off the lot. Ford sold a staggering 100,000 Mustangs in the first four months of production, and 22,000 on the weekend of its debut alone. 303,408 Mustangs were built that first year and by 1966, Ford had built over one million of them.
Stop to pause on that number for just a moment. Over one million Mustangs in just three production years.
This was a success on another level.
To achieve the accessible price point, first-generation Mustangs were built on the existing Ford Falcon and Ford Fairlane platforms. They were offered in either a convertible or a hardtop. According to Ford, 755,000 hardtops, 142,000 convertibles, and 103,000 fastback tops were sold in the first two years of production.
1964 ½ Mustangs, so called because they debuted in the middle of a production year, offered 70 different options. Base cars came with a 170 cu in (2.8 L) straight-6 engine, with the option of a 260 cubic inch V8, 289 4-valve V-8, and a stonking 4 barrel, solid lifter, 289 V8 with 271 ponies. Transmissions were a three-speed manual, three-speed automatic, or short-shifting 4-speed manual transmission. In addition, three suspension packages, three brake systems, and three wheel sizes were also available to further dial in the performance of the vintage Mustang.
1965 would bring quite a few changes to the Mustang, namely the introduction of the Mustang Fastback to the lineup and the introduction of the Mustang GT. Now ubiquitous with performance, the GT Equipment Package included a suite of visual and performance cues such as:
- Disc brakes
- Dual exhaust
- Driving lights
- Rocker panel racing stripes inspired by GT40, and a
Full gauge cluster
Most GT models were ordered as fastbacks and were equipped with the 289 V8. These models were among the most desirable models at the time and are among the most sought-after classic Mustangs.
Shelby = Performance
In 1965, the world would also witness the introduction of a certain guy named Carroll Shelby to Ford via the 1965 Shelby GT 350. This was one of the first mega-performance muscle cars of the 1960s and even essentially turned the Mustang into a street-legal race car that was built to handle. As cool as the Mustang was, it was more of a straight-line speed machine but Shelby changed all of that.
A one-inch anti-roll stiffened up the front of the car, which was rolling on high-performance 15” inch tires and KONI shocks. The suspension geometry was also altered, and steering speed was dramatically increased over the stock setup. Brakes were upgraded front discs, complemented by huge drum brakes out back. Power came courtesy of a hot 289 with high-riser intake manifold, welded-tube headers, and cast-aluminum valve-rocker covers. Power was a heady 306 horsepower, which was more than ample when paired with the relatively lightweight Mustang. Rounding out the goods was a limited-slip differential and a 4-speed short-throw transmission.
The result was focused enough for SCCA Class B racing but was totally street legal.
Pony Car Legacy
Ford’s first generation Mustang was put out to pasture in 1973, but not until it sold well over 1 million units, spawned countless numbers of special editions, and spurred on the greatest era in American motoring. We won’t say that the Mustang was the first muscle car, that title belongs to the Hemi ‘Cuda of 1964. What we will say is that the Ford Mustang is by far the most iconic and successful muscle car, and it has come to embody the rebellious spirit of Detroit.
Velocity Restorations is proud to continue this era of American rebelliousness and exceptionalism by offering a selection of Modern Classics that keep the attitude of the past while providing luxury and technology on par with today’s modern vehicles. Hand-sewn interiors, modern electronics, and hardcore performance blend together in a seamless package that defines the true spirit of American ingenuity.
Ready to experience the best of the past and the present? Contact Velocity Restorations today.