The first production Ford Mustang, a white convertible with black interior, rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn, Michigan on March 9, 1964. It was later introduced to the North American public as a 1965 model both at the New York World's Fair on April 17, 1964 and via all three American television networks on April 19 that year by the Ford Motor Company. It was the most successful product launch in automotive history, setting off near-pandemonium at Ford dealers across the continent. The original Mustang is considered to be the first pony car, and inspired many imitators.
1965 Ford Mustang Convertible
Championed by Ford Division general manager Lee Iacocca first as a two-seat mid engined roadster then later as a four-place car and penned by David Ash and Joseph Oros in Ford's Lincoln- Mercury Division design studios (theirs was the winning design in an intramural design contest called by Iacocca), the base, yet well-equipped Mustang hardtop with its 105 horsepower (78 kW), 170 inł (2.8 L) inline six-cylinder engine and three-speed manual transmission listed for US$2,368. Looking like a car that cost hundreds of dollars more with its "long hood/short deck" styling reminiscent of designs such as the Lincoln Continental and two seat Ford Thunderbird with an intentional touch of Ferrari at the grille, the Mustang earned a number of prestigious auto industry awards and accolades its first year including Motor Trend Car of the Year, pace car duties for the 1964 Indianapolis 500 and the Tiffany Design Award for "excellence in design," the first automobile so honored.
Built to order
For such an affordable car, the Mustang had an enormous list of options ranging from a tissue holder to an automatic transmission all the way up to three separate V8 options. First was a 164 horsepower (122 kW), 260 inł (4.2 L) version with two-barrel carburetor based on the 221 inł (3.6 L) "Fairlane" engine introduced in 1962. A 210 horsepower (157 kW), 289 inł (4.7 L) version with four-barrel carburetion was the middle choice with the top-of-the-line engine being a thundering 271 horsepower (202 kW), 289 inł (4.7 L) engine with a four-barrel carburetor and solid-lifter valvetrain. At a cost of nearly $700, this high-performance 289, or "Hi-Po" as it came to be nicknamed, was the single most expensive option available on the Mustang. The option list added to the car's popularity since it could be ordered from "mild to wild," depending on the buyer's taste and budget. The most popular drivetrain combination in the car's first two years would prove to be a 200 horsepower (149 kW), two-barrel "Challenger" version of the 289 introduced at the start of the 1965 model year backed by a three-speed "Cruise-O-Matic" automatic transmission.
Coming to market
The timing of the car's introduction coincided perfectly with the first wave of the postwar "baby boom" which was heading off to work in a strong economy. Incredibly, no domestic manufacturer up until that time had anything remotely resembling an affordable yet youthful and sophisticated automobile aimed at this burgeoning market, and Iacocca knew it. Despite his repeated attempts to receive the go-ahead to produce such a car, his proposals fell on mostly deaf ears. Because the company was still smarting financially after the demise of the Edsel Division in late 1959, upper management at Ford under Robert McNamara (later United States Secretary of Defense under Lyndon Johnson) wasn't willing to take such a major risk.
Still, Iacocca persevered and was given the green light to produce the Mustang in mid-1962, which gave the design team only eighteen months to design and develop the car. Not only did the project wrap up in under eighteen months, it wrapped up under budget as well thanks to the decision to use as many existing mechanical parts as possible. As far as the design itself was concerned, Ford stylists basically threw out the company handbook on design limitations, pushing the stamping technology of the time to its limit in such design areas as the sweep of the rear lower valence and the remarkably complicated front end stampings and castings. Curved side glass was used as well, but at a price since the technology to produce distortion-free curved safety glass was still fairly young. And though most of the mechanical parts were directly taken from the Falcon, the Mustang's body shell was completely different from the Falcon's, sporting a longer wheelbase, wider track, lower seating position and overall height and an industry first: The " torque box." This was an innovative structural system that greatly stiffened the Mustang's unitized body construction and helped contribute to its excellent handling, at least compared to other cars of the time.
From sporty car to sports car
Carroll Shelby converted the Mustang GT into a racing machine built to beat the Corvette. One of these cars was the 1966 Shelby GT-350R Racing Version.
Some major changes to the Mustang occurred at the start of 1965 model year production, a mere five months after its introduction. First was an almost complete change to the engine lineup. The 170 inł (2.8 L) I-6 engine made way for a new 200 inł (3.2 L) version. Production of the 260 inł (4.2 L) engine ended with the close of the 1964 model year with a new, 200 horsepower (149 kW), two-barrel 289 inł (4.7 L) taking its place as the base V8. A 225 horsepower (168 kW), four-barrel 289 inł (4.7 L) was next in line followed by the unchanged "Hi-Po." The DC generator was replaced by a new AC alternator on all Fords and the now-famous Mustang GT was introduced, available with either four-barrel engine and any body style. Additionally, back-up lights were added to the car in 1965. Originally, the Mustang was available as either a hardtop or convertible. During the car's early design phases, however, a fastback model was strongly considered. When the 1965 model year production began in September, 1964, the Mustang 2+2 fastback, with its swept-back rear glass and distinctive ventilation louvers made its debut as well.
This was the body style that car builder and former race driver Carroll Shelby would convert, with Ford Motor Company's blessing, into a special model designed with only two things in mind, namely winning races and beating Chevrolet's Corvette. Designated simply as " GT-350", these purpose-built performance cars started as "Wimbledon White" fastbacks with black interiors shipped from the San Jose, California assembly plant and fitted with the 271 horsepower (202 kW) V8, four-speed manual transmission and front disc brakes but less the hood, rear seat and identifying trim. These few cars were converted to street, road racing and drag trim in Shelby's plant at Los Angeles International Airport.
Modifications to both the street and racing versions included a side-exiting exhaust, Shelby 15 inch (380 mm) magnesium wheels (though some early cars were fitted with the steel wheels they were shipped with), fiberglass hood with functional scoop, relocated front control arms to reduce understeer and neutralize handling, quicker steering, Koni shock absorbers, a "Detroit Locker" rear end with Ford Galaxie drum brakes, metallic brake linings at all four corners, rear-mounted battery, rear anti-sway bar with beefed-up front anti-sway bar, dash-mounted gauges, a fiberglass parcel shelf and spare tire holder where the rear seat was intended to be and considerable engine work, boosting output to 306 horsepower (228 kW).
Even the car's basic body structure was stiffened up front with an angled brace intended for the export models and so-called "Monte Carlo" bar triangulating the underhood shock absorber towers. Though Shelby's influence on the car diminished as Ford's influence grew, the 1965-1970 GT-350 and its big-block brother, the 1967-1970 GT-500 are among the most highly sought-after automobiles in the world. So too are the high-performance models offered over the years by other automotive tuners following in Shelby's footsteps...see the "Mustang Club of America" link at the bottom of the page to learn more.
The industry reacts
1966 Shelby GT-350R Racing Version
In its first two years of production, three Ford Motor Company plants in San Jose, Dearborn and Metuchen, New Jersey produced nearly 1.5 million Mustangs, a sales record unequalled before or since. It was a success that left General Motors utterly flat-footed and Chrysler Corporation only slightly less so. Chrysler, more or less accidentally, had just introduced a car that could be considered a competitor, the Plymouth Barracuda. Though the "'Cuda" would grow into one of the most revered muscle cars of all time, it started out as an act of desperation and was not much more at first than a compact Plymouth Valiant with a hastily grafted fastback rear window. As for GM, they were certain that they had a Mustang fighter in their rear-engined Corvair Monza, but the sales figures didn't even come close. The Monza was a fine performer, but was only a six-cylinder compared to the Mustang's available eight-cylinder. It took GM until the 1967 model year to counter with the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird. Even Lincoln-Mercury joined the fray in 1967 with the introduction of an "upmarket Mustang" (and subsequent Motor Trend Car of the Year), the Mercury Cougar, using the name originally given to the Mustang during the development phase. In 1968 American Motors (AMC) would introduce the Javelin and later, the 2-seater, high-performance AMX. This genre of small, sporty and often powerful automobiles was unofficially dubbed the "ponycar" as a tribute to the car that started it all.
The Mustang grows up
Ford Mustang fastback
The 1966 Mustang debuted with only moderate trim changes, and a few new options such as an automatic transmission for the "Hi-Po," new interior and exterior colors, an AM/eight-track "Stereosonic" sound system and one of the first AM/FM monaural radios available in any car. The 1967 model year would see the first of Mustang's many major redesigns with the installation of "big-block" V8 engines in mind. The high-performance 289 option now took a supporting role on the option sheet behind a massive 320 horsepower (239 kW), 390 inł (6.4 L) four-barrel engine direct from the Thunderbird. A drag racer for the street bowed during the middle of the 1968 model year as the 428 Cobra Jet (7 L), underrated at 335 horsepower (250 kW). 1969 saw the introduction of both the car's third body style and a handbuilt muscle car intended solely to satisfy the homologation rules of NASCAR, the Boss 429.
Available in 1969 and 1970 only, and looking like a standard Mustang SportsRoof (the new corporate name for the fastback) with the new Mach 1 musclecar version's deluxe interior, the Boss 429 sported none of the garish decals and paint schemes of the day. Only a hood scoop, 15 inch (380 mm) "Magnum 500" wheels with Goodyear "Polyglas" tires and a small "BOSS 429" decal on each front fender hinted that the largest and, in racing trim, most powerful Ford V8 of all time was fitted under the hood. Intentionally underrated for advantages both in racing as well as insurability at 375 horsepower (280 kW) and 450 foot-pounds (610 Nm) of torque even with racing touches straight from the factory such as aluminum heads with hemispherical combustion chambers and a combination of O-rings and seals in place of head gaskets, it was believed that yet another 75 to 100 horsepower (50 to 75 kW) was on tap once the single four-barrel carburetor and intake, restrictive factory exhaust system and engine speed governor were replaced or removed. While power steering was a "mandatory option" on the Boss 429, neither an automatic transmission nor air conditioning were available. In the case of the latter, there simply wasn't enough room under the hood!
Also available during that two-year period was another homologation special for the up-and-coming sport of Trans-American sedan racing. The Boss 302 was Ford's attempt to mix the power of a musclecar with the handling prowess of a sports car. The automotive press gushed over the result, deeming it the car "the GT-350 should have been." Boasting a graphic scheme penned by Ford designer Larry Shinoda, the "Baby Boss" was powered by an engine that was essentially a combination of the new-for-1968 302 inł (4.9 L) V8 and topped with cylinder heads from the new-for-1969 351 inł (5.8 L) "Cleveland." This combination meant that the Boss 302 was good for 290 horsepower (216 kW) through its four-speed manual transmission. Ford originally intended to call the car Trans Am, but Pontiac had beaten them to it, applying the name to a special version of the Firebird.
The next generation
1978 Ford Mustang II 2+2
Now based on the mid-sized Ford Fairlane/ Mercury Comet instead of the compact Falcon, the Mustang grew larger and heavier with each passing year, culminating with the 1971-73 models designed under the supervision of Ford's new product design manager, Seamon "Bunkie" Knudsen, originally of General Motors. Knudsen's turn at the helm would see the last high-performance big-block Mustang, 1971's 375 horsepower (280 kW) 429 Super Cobra Jet. Ironically, that very same body style that was designed for the sole purpose of big-block installation versions were limited to a maximum of 351 inł (5.8 L) in 1972 and 1973, due almost entirely to extremely strict US emission control regulations. Two more high-performance engines were introduced in 1972, the 351 "HO" and 351 Cobra Jet. Both cars were excellent performers, but at nowhere near the level of the Boss cars and original Cobra Jet. This was more radically different a car than anyone could have imagined in 1964, and Ford was deluged with mail from fans of the original car who demanded that the Mustang be returned to the way it was.
The 1974 introduction of the short-lived Mustang II earned Ford Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year honors again and actually returned the car to more than a semblance of its 1964 predecessor in size, shape and overall styling. Though Iacocca insisted that the Mustang II be finished to quality standards unheard of in the American auto industry, the II suffered from being not only smaller than the original car, but heavier and slower as well. Available as a hardtop or three-door hatchback, the new car's base engine was a 2.3-liter, overhead-cam four-cylinder, the first fully metric engine built in the US for installation in an American car. A 2.8-liter V6 was the sole optional engine, meaning the popular V8 option would disappear for the first and only time in 1974, and Ford was swamped by buyer mail and criticized in the automotive press for it.
Since the car was never meant to have a V8 in the first place, it became a mad scramble to re-engineer the car in order to reinstate the 302 inł (4.9 L) V8 option in time for the 1975 model year. Like the car that preceded it, the Mustang II had its roots in another compact, the Ford Pinto, though less so than the original car was based on the Falcon. The car sold well, with sales of more than 400,000 units its first year. Despite innovations such as rack-and-pinion steering and a separate engine subframe that greatly decreased noise, vibration and harshness, the Mustang II never caught the public's fancy like the original ten years prior had.
The Arab oil embargo, skyrocketing insurance rates and aforementioned US emissions and safety standards that destroyed the straight-line performance of virtually every car of the period certainly didn't help. Chrysler ended production of the Barracuda and its stablemate, the Dodge Challenger in 1974 and GM nearly discontinued the Camaro and Firebird. But this dark chapter in automotive history would not last. On the momentum of the Mustang II's understated success and under the direction of Ford's new styling chief, Jack Telnack, a totally new Mustang hit the streets in 1979. This "third generation" 1979 model (known as the Fox platform - it was introduced a year earlier as the Ford Fairmont) gives much to its successors for nearly the next 25 years, along with thousands of upgrades, improvements and restyling over that time.
"The Boss Is Back"
Modified 1969 Ford Mustang Hardtop
In 1982, Ford reintroduced a high-performance Mustang GT which opened the door for an entirely new era of the muscle car. Wringing a then-respectable 157 hp (134 kW) from its "5.0" (actually 4.9 L, 302 inł) Windsor V8 and backed by a four-speed transmission, aggressive tires and stiff suspension, magazine ads of the period shouted, "The Boss Is Back." Over the years, power and torque gradually increased, peaking in 1987 at 225 hp (168 kW). That year, the Mustang received its first stylistic redesign in eight years, incorporating both interior and exterior changes. Although this would be the last major redesign for years, popularity of the Mustang remained high due to its low cost and high performance. The "5.0" Mustangs, cars that gave birth to an entire aftermarket performance industry, continue to remain extremely popular today.
1999 Ford Mustang GT
In 1994, the Mustang underwent its first major redesign in 14 years. This incorporated some stylistic throwbacks to early Mustangs. The car remained rear-wheel drive. It greatly revived the popularity of the brand. The base model came with a 3.8 L V6 engine and the GT the "5.0" 4.9 L V8. A high performance 240 hp (179 kW) 5.0, larger brakes, and suspension modification was available on the Cobra models. The Mustang was Motor Trend magazine's Car of the Year award for the third time in 1994.
In 1996 the 5.0 engine was replaced by a 215 hp (160 kW) 4.6 L SOHC V8 known as the modular motor. The Cobra version was modified that year with a 305 hp (227 kW) dual over head cam configuration of the 4.6 L V8. Power in the GT was increased to 225 hp (168 kW) for '98.
In 1999 the body style was updated and the Mustang GT's power increased to 260 hp (194 kW), while the Cobra claimed 320 hp (239 kW). Testing by Car and Driver magazine and numerous buyers contradicted these claims, and Ford was later proved to have misstated the power gains. As a result, the Cobra was not produced in 2000, and the company developed new parts to replace the missing power.
1978 Ford Mustang II 2+2
Special Cobra R versions were available, in limited edition, in 1993, 1995, and 2000. Mostly race cars, they were stripped of air conditioning, radios, and back seats. The suspensions were finely tuned. In 1995 and 2000 the Cobra R's had increased displacement engines (5.8 L and 5.4 L, respectively) that made these cars extremely potent track machines.
As electronic engine management and emissions technology developed, so too did performance. The lone remaining 1960s muscle car marques, Mustang, Camaro and Firebird, grew in power and handling better than the cars that preceded them. With production of the Camaro and Firebird ending in 2002, only the Mustang remains as the sole survivor of the ponycar era.
In 2004, Ford produced a special 40th Anniversary Edition of the Mustang. Available in both Standard and GT editions, it consisted of 40th Anniversary badging, special metallic red paint with gold stripes, enhanced interior, and some "special" collectable items for the owner. It also marked the end of this design of the Mustang, as 2005 ushered in an all-new model.
The 2005 Mustang
Modified 1985 Ford Mustang GT "5.0"
At the 2004 North American International Auto Show, Ford introduced a redesigned Mustang for the 2005 model year, with styling inspired by 1960s Mustangs. This car gets Ford's new S197 platform and will continue the tradition of low cost, rear-wheel drive performance.
The base Mustang uses a 210 hp (156 kW) Ford Cologne V6 engine. The GT has a 300 hp (224 kW) 4.6 L 3-valve Modular V8 with variable valve timing. It retains the traditional but controversial live rear axle, and offers improved handling and ride. Modern production facilities and computer aided design have allowed the new Mustang to have 100% more strucutal rigidity over its predecessor, and have greatly increased build quality as well as fit and finish. One particularly interesting feature are the optional color-changing gauges.
Shortly after its launch at the North American International Auto Show in January, Ford started production of the Mustang convertible, available with either the V6 or V8 engine. The 2005 Mustang convertible was designed from the ground up to deliver a more rigid body structure without additional weight. Ford engineers designed a z-fold top that gives it a finished appearance with the top down.
Shelby Cobra GT500
Shelby and Ford will return with a Shelby-branded Mustang, the Shelby GT500 for 2007. Introduced at the 2005 New York International Auto Show, the GT500 will make use of a 5.4 L Modular supercharged V8 developed from the 4.6 L engine in the outgoing Mustang Cobra. 450 to 500 hp (336 to 373 kW) and 450 ft.lbf (610 Nm) will be available, making this the most powerful Mustang ever built, and providing healthy competition for the Chevrolet Corvette. A Tremec 6-speed manual transmission, suspension tuning, a body kit, 3.31 gears, and 18 inch (457 mm) wheels will complete the car.
See also Motor Trend, May 2005 
Ford continues to sell about 150,000 Mustangs annually. And, many view the 1964-1973 models as American automotive icons the equal of the 1955, 1956 and 1957 full-size Chevrolets and the Corvette. Thanks to continued interest in the marque, restoring Mustangs is a popular hobby. Mechanical parts are as close as the corner auto parts store, Ford dealer or wrecking yard with most out-of-production parts available as highly accurate reproductions.
Even the very first production Mustang is still around. Originally purchased new by Stanley Tucker, an airline pilot from St. John's, Newfoundland, Ford Motor Company offered him Mustang number one million in exchange in 1966; he chose a new made-to-order Mustang instead. Number one is currently on display at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan and a photo of the car can be viewed at their website.
Today, with its supercharged 4.6-liter, 32-valve, four-cam V8 (underrated at 390 hp) the present SVT Cobra Mustang is the fastest, most powerful factory model in the Mustang's history. The all-new 2005 Mustang GT will come standard with a 300 horsepower (224 kW) single overhead-cam 3 valve modular V8. A supercharged 400+ horsepower (300 kW) Cobra is quite likely for 2007.
With the conversion of River Rouge Plant to F-150 trucks in Dearborn, Michigan on May 10, 2004, a plant that built Mustangs from the very beginning, production has been moved to the AutoAlliance International plant in Flat Rock, Michigan. The last car off the Dearborn line was a bright red 2004 Mustang GT convertible. On hand for the closing ceremonies was the aforementioned first production Mustang, also built at Dearborn.
Popular Mustang engines
- 289 Windsor
- 302 Windsor
- BOSS 302
- 351 Windsor
- 351 Cleveland
- BOSS 351
- 390 FE
- 428 Cobra Jet
- 428 Super Cobra Jet
- BOSS 429
- Modular 4.6
- Ford Essex V6 3.8/232
- 2.3 Turbo
Body style years
Special editions and modified Mustangs
Shelby Mustangs (GT-350 and GT-500), Mach 1, BOSS 302, BOSS 429, BOSS 351,M81 Mclaren, GT Enduro's(1982), Bullitt (2001), Cobra (1993-2004, except 2000 and 2002), Cobra R (1993, 1995, 2000, and the last Factory built Special Edition, the 2003-2004 MACH 1. Current tuners include Saleen, Roush, and Steeda.
The Mustang has been named to Car and Driver's Ten Best list four times: 1983, 1987, 1988, and 2005. The new Mustang was also nominated for the North American Car of the Year award for 2005 and won the Canadian Car of the Year award that year.