I’m probably the millionth person to write about Ford’s golden boy, the Mustang, but since April 17, 2014 was the day that America’s Pony turned 50 years old, feel it’s my turn to speak my peace. Ford hosted a huge birthday bash for the Mustang and every auto magazine or automotive writer wrote about the history of the car and how great the new 2015 model is going to be. So all summer long I sat on the sideline watching the feedback everyone was saying in regards to the car and it made me realize something. The Mustang is like a bottle of Coca-Cola. People that love coke will freak out if a restaurant does not serve it, people that hate it will pour it down a sewer drain to make room for Pepsi, but everyone knows what a bottle of Coca-Cola looks like.
The Mustang has done what the Model A did during the 1930’s, which was giving a generation a fun yet affordable means of transportation. What separates the two cars is the impact they had on pop culture, because it took the Model A another 20 years to accomplish what the Mustang did for America’s youth. The model A’s achieved legendary status the moment a returning WWII veteran decided to remove the fenders and add another carb to the flathead V8, but the Mustang achieved it the second it was introduced in 1964 at the World’s Trade Fair, New York City.
If America’s history could be measured in the lifespan of a human, the 1960’s would be the awkward and rebellious years between 13 and 16 years old. The election of JFK, almost starting a nuclear war with USSR (Russia for you younger readers), the Beatles starting a new wave of British fueled rock n roll, the Cold War coming to its peak just before cooling off as the Vietnam conflict heats up like a napalm drop, and the sexual revolution that became as the result of the new created birth control pill. America was an awkward teen discovering new changes that it never had to deal with before and in the mist of this psychedelic era FoMoCo introduces a new sports sedan for the everyman which jumpstarted yet another revolution for the history books.
The option list, along with a humble price tag, meant that a family of 4 could each have their own Mustang tailored to them: You have the white, V8 powered 3-speed manual for dad, the baby blue straight six automatic for mom, a red convertible for Sally who’s going off to college, and in later years, a GT fastback for little Billy who likes to go draggin on the weekends. It gave the American consumer the luxury of optioning a car not seen since the Duesenburg, which was only limited to the higher social class. The Ford Mustang, (after the 1963 Pontiac V8 powered Tempest, but before the 1964 GTO respectably), started the famed “Pony Wars” later known by fans and historians as the Muscle Car Era. An era I think all Gearheads, regardless of preference, is thankful for. The Mustang even gave tuning legend Carroll Shelby a blank canvas to create some amazing Shelby branded ponies in the mid to late 60’s and early 70’s.
Although the Mustang did stumbled during the 70’s and 80’s with the Mustang II, and awful four cylinder powered cars, it soon found redemption with a new body style in 1979 and new engine in 1982. The Fox body mustangs, named after the fox platform they were based on, was a facelift on the aging prince of FoMoCo. The European styling stuffed with a brand new 5.0 V8 was a combination beloved by both hot rodders and law enforcement, which they used to satisfy their acceleration addiction. Some of you readers, who are umm let’s say vintage enough, can remember seeing certain members of the highway patrol cruising around interstates in police interceptor Mustangs used for high speed pursuits.
Fast forward to the turn of the century and the Mustang came to a full circle when it reignited the pony wars (once again, after Pontiac released their GTO). The 2005 Mustang set the trend for retro styling muscle cars that gave a new generation their own chance to live through a muscle car era as well as giving the baby boomers a blast from the past flashback to the, “Good old days”. It inspired Chevrolet to redesign their Camaro, Chrysler to bring back the Charger, Challenger (and technically the Dart) back from the dead. Even Mr. Carroll Shelby, may he rest in speed, had a chance to leave his final stamp of approval on the 2013 Shelby GT500 which boasted the more powerful V8 production engine, at the time, at over 600 horsepower!
A lot of Gearheads would argue saying that Mustangs are overrated and slow compared to other cars, and they are right to a certain degree, but they have to look at it from a different vantage point. If you’re a teenaged Gearhead looking for your first set of wheels that is: easy to wrench on, huge selection of aftermarket parts, and looks halfway decent. When it comes down to buying a car with all three qualities you usually end up with three options: a pickup truck, a Honda Civic, and the good old Ford Mustang. (Yes, I understand there are plenty of other cars that fit the bill, I am just making a point that Mustangs are “overrated” for a reason.)
In my humble opinion, I love first generation Mustangs and a 1970 Mustang Boss 1 is on my list of must own. That being said, I prefer other muscle cars to the Mustang and any Mustang that is not v8 is not a muscle car! Nevertheless, Mustangs have a soft spot in my heart, mostly because my dad loves them and I respect them as an automotive pioneer. I say that because if it wasn’t for the Mustang creating lines of people at Ford dealerships, who knows if our other favorite muscle cars would have ever made it to production. The Ford Mustang is one of those cars that changed what the idea of a car can be, much like the Volkswagen Beetle and Lamborghini Miura. It gave the idea of premium performance and styling at a base price.
So let’s all take a moment to give thanks to Ford Motor Company and their Detroit Stallion for impacting our hobby in one form or another. Whether in a showroom or at a streetlight. Happy 50th birthday Ford Mustang, may your wheels never stop rolling.