The classic Ford Thunderbird was a major success in the 1950s for the Ford Motor Company but the 1960s were marked by the failure of the Edsel followed by the lackluster sales of the Falcon. At the time all the U.S. automobile manufactures were experimenting with mid-sized, economical cars and while General Motors chose to emulate the Volkswagen Beetle with the Chevrolet Corvair, Ford chose to follow the more conservative path of the American Motors (AMC) American and Studebaker Lark when they designed the Falcon. The Falcon was nothing to get excited about but it was destined to lay the groundwork for the Mustang, which was.
Lee Iacocca was a district sales manager for Ford during the 1950s and oversaw the car and truck group in the 1960s and 1970s. As such, he was very involved with the Thunderbird and sensed that Americans wanted a more affordable version of the sporty car: a position that the Falcon did not fill. He wanted a car that would seat four, be fun to drive and priced between $2,000 and $3,000 so he held a competition among his designers and Joe Oros and Dave Ash got the job. They considered names such as "Cougar", "Torino" and "T-bird II" before settling on Mustang and the long hood and short rear deck gave it the nick name of "Pony Car". To keep the price down they had to rely on off-the-shelf parts as much as possible so they cannibalized the Falcon's suspension and other pre-made Ford components. Then they powered it with an unimpressive 100 horsepower six-cylinder engine.
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The Ford Mustang was introduced at the 1964 New York World's Fair and made available as 1964½ model for the 1965 model year. The six-cylinder engine may have been a dud but the optional 165 horsepower V-8 was a winner and despite poor reviews about its handling its $$2,360 price tag caused customers to storm dealership showrooms. Fortunately Lee Iacocca saw the writing on the wall and had the foresight to convert several factories for Mustang production, allowing them to sell over 500,000 units the first year and even more the next. However it wasn't long before competition from the Pontiac GTO, Chevy Camaro, Plymouth Barracuda, and Dodge Charger took the edge off of the Mustnag's success.
As the years went by Ford continued to upgrade the mustang in both appearance and performance. A fastback model was introduced in 1965 and the size and weight were increased every year until 1974. The 289 cubic inch V-8 engine became the most popular source of power because with the right options it could produce 271 horsepower and take the relatively light 2,500 pound car from zero to 60 mph in just over eight seconds, assuring it of true "classic car" status. The 1969 model got two extra headlights (that were removed the following year) and three new optional performance packages, the "Mach 1", "Boss 302" and "Boss 429". However as the Mustang grew it got a reputation for becoming "fat and lazy" so Iacocca decided to put it on a diet for 1974.
Lee Iacocca became the president of Ford in 1970 and was not happy with the direction the Mustang was taking. So when he realized that many customers were preferring the smaller and lighter Pintos and Mavericks he directed the Mustang designers to follow suit. As a result the 1974 Mustang got a complete makeover to be smaller and lighter and the badge was changed to "Mustang II". However Iacocca also wanted the car to be well equipped and that, along with the loss of horsepower that resulted from the new EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) standards, made the 1974 Mustang more like a gelding than a stallion.
The next remake came in 1979 when Ford gave the Mustang a longer chassis to provide more comfort in the rear seat and they went back to four headlights. The 1994 model year brought another major redesign with more electronics and improved engines and the process was repeated again in 2005. And while optional engines produced over 500 horsepower and could exceed 200 mph, they came at a high price and were mostly found on the race track.
The 1965 Mustang was the most successful classic cars built by Ford since their Model A's in the 1930s and the moniker is still in use today. However despite Ford's efforts to keep the momentum of their earlier success going no amount of enhancements have been able to replace the excitement of affordable power that was available during the Muscle Car Era.