Ford's wild thing nears 50

By Ben Selby

Ben Selby looks at the story behind America's fave - the Ford Mustang

1966 Shelby GT350H and 2006 Shelby Hertz
1966 Shelby GT350H and 2006 Shelby Hertz

Named after the Wild West pony, the Ford Mustang certainly deserves its elevated status. From its humble beginnings it developed a timeless appeal that saw it become a true American hero.

The Mustang was the brainchild of Lee Iaccoca, the son of Italian immigrants. He became head of the Ford division in 1960, deciding Ford needed a fresh and sporty design in its stables.

Ford began testing prototypes with American racing driver Dan Gurney in 1962 and both Mustang I and II concepts drew the public in, leaving them hungry for more. After several moments of trial and error, Iaccoca and his team of designers and engineers were ready.

1964-1966

Ford Mustang 1964 1/2 Convertible Driven
Ford Mustang 1964 1/2 Convertible Driven

In April 17, 1964, Iaccoca, Walt Disney snr and Henry Ford jnr cut the ribbon on the Mustang exhibit at the New York World Fair - and the American public went wild.

The Mustang and Iaccoca became household names and made the cover of magazines that included Time and Newsweek.

Hardtop and convertible variants were offered initially, with the 2+2 fastback coupe added to the range in mid-1964.

A 260cid V8 was available to start with, plus a 4.7-litre 289cid V8. The 289 quickly became the range's most popular engine. A 170cid and 200cid straight six were also offered.

Both Ford's three-speed Cruise-o-Matic (automatic) and four-speed stick shift manual were available. Customers could choose from optional accessories and extras for their Mustang, including vinyl roof, rally instrument cluster, bucket seats and air conditioning.

It has been said that 100,000 cars found homes within the first month of production. The Mustang still holds the world record for the fastest-selling car.

Ford later introduced the Mustang GT and started a special relationship with a Texan named Carrol Shelby, the father of the AC Shelby Cobra. What resulted was the Shelby Mustang GT 350. Introduced in 1965, the GT 350 only came as a fastback and had no rear seats. Power went up on the 289 from 202kW to 228kW.

Wimbledon white with blue racing stripes was the only colour available.

Mustang sales broke the million mark in 1966. The Shelby GT 350 became available with more features and colours and the vents behind the doors were replaced by windows to give better visibility.

Rental car firm Hertz ordered 1000 GT 350s. Known as the GT 350H or Rent-a-Racer, customers could rent the car for a race on Sunday and return it on Monday. Some Mustang owners even swapped the Shelby engine for theirs before giving it back.

1967-1968

1967 Mustang fastback
1967 Mustang fastback

1967 witnessed a more lean, aggressive look. Customers still had the option of hardtop, convertible and fastback. The old 289 V8 was used again alongside more beefy power units such as the 6.7-litre 390cid V8 producing 242kW. Shelby continued production of the GT 350 to suit the new shape and added the GT500 to the line-up. Powered by a 7-litre 249kW 428cid V8, the GT500 featured dual foglights recessed in the front grille and fake air scoops behind the driver and passenger windows.

In 1968 variants such as the 428 Cobra Jet and California Special were added. Shelby added a convertible GT350 and GT500 to the range and the exclusive GT500KR (King of the Road) topped things off.

1969-70

1969 Mustang Boss 429
1969 Mustang Boss 429

As the sixties drew to a close, the muscle car reigned supreme on American roads and the Mustang was no exception. It grew longer, heavier and was packed with more grunt. The Mach 1, Grande and Boss Mustangs arrived in 1969. The Mach 1 had the 428 Cobra Jet V8 and the optional "shaker hood". The Grande was a regular coupe aimed at luxury-oriented buyers. Boss Mustangs were given a high-performance 5-litre 302cid V8, side stripes, a rear spoiler and magnum 500 wheels.

If customers wanted more, Ford was happy to offer the mighty Boss 429. The Nascar-derived 429 engine meant 429 cubic inches of V8 grunt.

By 1970, Ford was facing stiff competition from other cars in the "pony" segment, such as the Chevrolet Camaro and the Dodge Challenger. Nevertheless, Ford continued with a facelifted Mustang and sales of the Boss, Mach 1 and Grande remained steady. Shelby Mustang production wrapped up at the end of 1970.

1971-1973

Sales of muscle cars started to fall in the early 70s during the oil crisis. The Mustang soldiered on, getting longer and fatter.

1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1
1971 Ford Mustang Mach 1


The Boss 302 and 429 were dropped in favour of the Boss 351, powered by the 351cid Cleveland V8.

The Mach 1 was still available, as was the regular hardtop and convertible which remained until 1973.

By then, Ford realised the small Pinto compact was outselling the Mustang at a great rate. It decided something had to be done. The Mustang was in line for a rethink.

1974-1978

1974 Ford Mustang II
1974 Ford Mustang II

When Ford unveiled the Mustang II to the market, the oil crisis was in full swing.

The second-generation car left a number of purists outraged. They couldn't believe Ford had neutered the mighty pony car.

For its first year of production no V8 was offered. Buyers had the option of either four or six cylinders with only 65kW/78kW on tap.

No convertibles were offered either, because of government regulations. Only the coupe and luxury ghia were available, with the hatchback following later in 1974. Little really changed until 1976, with the launch of the Mustang Cobra II. Styled like the original Shelby GT350, the Cobra II featured louvres on the rear window, front and rear spoilers and lots of Cobra and snake details. The return of the 302 V8 and a starring role in the Charlie's Angels TV series helped.

A T-Bar roof arrangement, the closest Mustang customers could get to a soft top at that time, was introduced in 1977.

1979-1986

Sporting dual headlights and a new angular design, the 1979 Mustang outsold the 1978 Mustang II by 150,000 units. It was also the official pace car at that year's Indy 500. Two, four and six pots were offered with the 5-litre V8 topping the range. This disappeared in 1980 and was brought back for 1982.

The first real Mustang convertible for 10 years arrived in 1983. The SVO name was introduced to the range in 1984. This meant the oomph came from a four-cylinder turbocharged engine. It produced 130kW, the same as its V8 counterpart. Power went up in 1985 to 152kW with SVO production ending in 1986.

1987-1993

Mustang SVO
Mustang SVO

Inspired by the SVO, the 1987 Mustang was given SVO-style headlights, a more squat stance and air scoops in front of each wheel, which remained relatively unchanged until 1989.

The Mustang's 25th anniversary was in 1989, and Ford ran off 2000 anniversary edition specials. Other limited-edition cars were released throughout 1992 and 1993, including the SVT Cobra. Power was rated at 175kW.

1994-1998

1994 Ford Mustang GT
1994 Ford Mustang GT

Entering its fourth generation, the Mustang adopted the 90s curved design trend. Plus, the pony logo had been moved back to its rightful place in the front grille. The Cobra nameplate continued, this time with 178kW, in the regular and GT versions of the car.

The workhorse 5-litre V8 breathed its last in 1995. A new, 4.6-litre modular V8 was introduced which gave 160kW in the GT and 227kW in the Cobra.

1999-2004

2000 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
2000 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

The Mustang turned 35 just shy of the new millennium, bringing an edgier design with it. Production during 1999 consisted mainly of coupes and convertibles, with 35th anniversary special editions proving popular.

The year 2000 brought little change to the Mustang, although the exclusive Cobra R cannot be ignored.

Only 300 (in red) were made. They featured a lightened body with bigger scoops and intakes, a stripped-out interior, and a boot-mounted rear wing - plus a 5.4-litre 287kW V8.

The Mach 1 nameplate returned to Ford showrooms in 2003, with a functional shaker-hood scoop and decals like the original.

2005-2009

2005 Mustang GT
2005 Mustang GT

By 2005, the Mustang had been around for 40 years.

The world received a look at the first fresh Mustang design for years - well, sort of.

Echoing previous models, yet looking modern inside and out, the Mustang continued to offer V6 and V8 powerplants, and convertible and coupe variants. The big news for this model was the reintroduction of a legend. Carroll Shelby began working once again with Ford to recreate the Shelby GT.

These started with the GT-H (H stood for Hertz), followed by the supercharged 333kW GT500 in 2006 and the KR in 2007.

After that, little changed until 2009.

The Mustang was given a mild facelift and a tad more power was extracted from its engines. Increasing competition came from the resurrected Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger, so Ford decided something had to be done.

In 2012, Carroll Shelby died, aged 89, as the most powerful mass-produced Mustang left the factory. Powered by a new 5.8-litre supercharged V8, this bonkers Shelby GT500 kicked out 494kW and could touch 320km/h.

Other tuning companies such as Saleen and Roush have been squeezing more oomph out of the Mustang over the years, but none has enjoyed such a cult following as those bearing that all-important Shelby badge.

When will the Mustang die? Who knows?

But as we gear up to celebrate its 50th birthday next year, one thing is certain. This horse will be hard to rein in.

- NZ Herald

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