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The Ford Mustang: Retro Ride Revisited

The Ford Mustang rocked the auto world when it hit showroom floors in 1964 with a revolutionary design that changed the landscape of the car industry in the U.S. The long front end, short rear deck, sleek, sporty cockpit and low-slung carriage were unique for an American-made car.  But the vehicle we know and love that sent U.S. automakers in a new, sportier direction, originally looked quite different.

As detailed in How Stuff Works, the original Mustang I that was unveiled in 1962 looked radically different. It was a two-seater sports car that featured an angular wedge shape, a built-in roll bar, a German V-4 engine, and a front-wheel drive power-train with the engine behind the front seat. It was rolled out at the 1961 press review of new car models and reporters were wowed by it, begging for rides in the sporty new vehicle.  The reviews of the Mustang I were spectacular, and Ford added to the uproar in October 1962, when they had racecar driver Dan Gurney wheel it around the racecourse at Watkins Glen before the Grand Prix.

Despite the glowing public and press adulation of the Mustang I prototype, which would have been the first true sports car turned out of an American auto factory, Ford execs deemed it too risky and expensive to mass-produce. Chairman Lee Iacocca laid down the requirements for the ‘Think Young’ car he wanted to build with a sporty profile that the company would unleash on the American public:  It had to seat four passengers, have a $2500 price tag, a standard floor shift, and maximum use of the Ford Falcon’s components.

After a brief creative frenzy, the company’s design team narrowed their prototypes down to seven candidates, which were revealed to Ford bigwigs. One stood out and was chosen as the vehicle that would eventually hit showrooms in 1964, with slight modifications to the bumpers, headlights and windshield angle.  The name ‘Mustang II’ was chosen after much debate.  Other considerations included the Cougar, Thunderbird II, T-Bird II, Torino, Turino, and T-5. Other equine-inspired names were also considered, including the Colt, Bronco, Maverick and Pinto, all of which would end up on other Ford models.

Ford launched a six month publicity campaign as a prelude to announcing the Mustang before they revealed it on January 21, 1964 at what they called the Mustang Technical Press Conference.  Ford Chairman Lee Iacocca told the crowd of gathered reporters, "Frankly, we can hardly wait for you to get behind the wheel of a Mustang. We think you're in for a driving experience such as you've never had before."  Thus began the ‘Think Young’ car revolution among U.S. automakers, as they jumped headlong into the fray to capture their share of the market with the next sport sedans, which would become known as ‘pony cars’.   General Motors came up with the Chevrolet Camaro, AMC released the Javelin, Chrysler restyled their Plymouth Barracuda and re-released the Dodge Challenger.

Ford’s first TV commercial for the Mustang calls it “A new generation of Ford for the new generation of Americans…” That is, those who wanted the comfort and convenience of a sedan that seats four people, with the style, power and performance of a European sports car.  The Mustang hit showrooms in April of 1964, causing it to be known as the 1964.5 model year vehicle. Ford projected sales of less than 100,000 in the first year, but much to their amazement, the Mustang surpassed that amount in just three months, breaking sales records by selling another 318,000 that year alone. They ended up building more than one million Mustangs in the vehicle’s first 18 months of release.  It didn’t hurt that a Mustang was driven by James Bond in ‘Goldfinger’, which hit movie screens in September of 1964.

On April 17, 2013, the 49th anniversary of the iconic vehicle’s launch, Ford unveiled a ruby red Mustang GT convertible with a jet black interior to commemorate the one millionth Mustang produced at the Ford factory in Flat Rock, Michigan.  Now Ford is designing its latest generation of the Mustang, and is asking the public, “Should we borrow a few of these style elements for the next iteration of the Mustang?” They’re referring to the style elements of the original Mustangs from the 1960s.  It remains to be seen which ones, if any, they will incorporate into future iterations of the iconic car.