Ford Mustang History

The Ford Mustang has had a long and successful history (for the most part – *cough* Mustang II’s), and while nearly everyone remembers the 1964 1/2 Mustang, few know what happened before the first Ford ponycar was built. Below is some of what took place prior – and up to -the very first classic Mustang being built.

In the early 1960s, the American car makers noted the growing popularity of imported European – and especially British – sports cars and roadsters. Losing sales to the likes of MG, Triumph, Jaguar and Austin-Healey, the then Ford boss Lee Iacocca and product planner Donald Frey came with up a proposal for an affordable, fun sports car that would appeal to the baby-boom generation just entering the car market, and take over from the shelved two-seater Thunderbird.

The first prototype, Mustang 1 – named after America’s fighter aircraft – was assembled in Los Angeles and featured a steel tube frame with an aluminium body, an integral rollbar, fixed seats but racing-style adjustable pedals and steering, and, unusual for the time, four-wheel independent suspension. Thoroughly state-of-the-art, all the shock absorbers and springs were adjustable and there was rack-and-pinion steering. Power came from Ford’s 1500cc V4 engine, front-mid-mounted and tuned for 90bhp with a single Solex carburettor or, in a competition prototype, 110bhp with twin Weber carbs and a crossflow manifold. Mustang 1 had a four-speed transaxle manual gearbox, front disc brakes and weighed less than 1200 lbs; although the engine was small, its light weight ensured a top speed of around 120mph.

A two-seater prototype was demonstrated by race ace Dan Gurney at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October 1962; tests at the time put 0-60mph acceleration at around ten seconds and fuel economy around 30mpg. It met with a mixed reception, however; enthusiasts raved about the car, but it was considered too futuristic, unusual and expensive to make to be suitable for mass-market production. Instead, Iacocca ruled that Ford must keep it simple: the production Mustang was to be based on Falcon and Fairlane saloon components, it was to be visually stunning but technologically conservative, and above all, it was to be cheap both to produce and for customers to buy. 1963 saw the longer, wider Mustang II prototype at Watkins Glen, an altogether different car.

The production Mustang was officially launched in April 1964. A 2+2-seater, it was offered in hardtop coupe form, as a convertible or with a raked fastback bodystyle. The underpinnings were conventional Detroit: a live rear axle with leaf springs and independent suspension up front, and drum brakes all round as standard (discs were optional), though testers praised the car’s torsional rigidity and almost European-like handling dynamics. The engine choices ranged from a 100bhp 3.2-litre six-cylinder to a 289-inch (4.7-litre) V8 giving up to 250bhp, and buyers could choose from three- or four-speed manual or three-speed auto gearboxes. Prices started from well under $2,500, as targeted by Iacocca – around half the price of Chevrolet’s new Corvette – and buyers could effectively build their own car, pick’n’mixing from the engine, specification and extensive option choices, still quite a novelty. A sportier chassis set-up and later, a GT package were offered – disc brakes, driving lights, sportier trim – but the Mustang was not intended to be a car for the hardcore enthusiast.

Ford spent much of the development money it had saved by using recycled Falcon and Fairlane components on marketing: a huge advertising campaign was launched, 100 cars were lent to the American media – and the public loved it. Over 22,000 orders were taken the day it went on sale, and in its first year, over 418,000 Mustangs were sold. By its second birthday, sales had topped the million mark. And the rest they say, is history.