Ford Mustang Generation 1

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There are many stories about the long-awaited and much ballyhooed arrival of the Ford Mustang. Major U.S. daily newspapers, news magazines and several overseas journals carried "exclusive" features detailing the newest entry in the Detroit sweepstakes.

Its been estimated that nearly 30 million television viewers witnessed the unveiling on April 16 and, on the day of the launch at the New York World's Fair, over 2,500 newspapers ran advertisements.

Between March 9th 1964, when the first Mustang emerged from the Dearborn factory and early April, the company produced 8,160 units so that each Ford dealer across the United States had at least one Mustang in the showroom.

Four Million Curious Visitors

On Friday, April 17th 1964, the official launch day, the crowds flocked to dealers and the media blitz leading up to the debut resulted in numerous apocryphal accounts. Four million curious visitors visited their local Ford showrooms that first weekend. Dealers couldn't get them fast enough, booking over 22,000 orders during the opening hours. The demand far exceeded expectations with 100,000 selling in the first four months. To meet the public's demand, Ford's San Jose, California plant was converted to the production of the Mustang.

One year later, On April 16th, 1965, the 418,812th Mustang was sold in California. Close to half a million units in the car's first year sold was a new record. By the end of the first full model run, April 1964 through August 1965, a total of 680,989 were purchased, and by March 1966, the 1,000,000th Mustang rolled off the assembly lines.

The Mustang Gets The 1964 Indianopolis 500 Pace Car Gig

One compelling manifestation of the Mustang's immediate impact and acceptance was its selection as the 1964 Indianapolis 500 pace car, only six weeks after its April 17th 1964 introduction. For the record, 92,705 hardtop and 28,833 convertible "early" Mustangs were manufactured. Based on the reception of the sporty new models, a fastback, also referred to as the "2+2," was introduced in September, 1964.

"Late" production statistics reveal 372,123 standard, 22,232 luxury and 14,905 (with bench seats) hardtops, 65,663 standard, 5,338 luxury and 2,111 bench seat-equipped convertibles, 71,303 standard and 5,776 luxury fastbacks were released. Base sticker prices were US$2,321.00 for a hardtop, US$2,558.00 for a convertible and US$2,533 for the 2+2 fastback.

For purposes of clarity, it is useful to note that Ford never referred to Mustangs as "'64" or "'64 1/2" models. These designations are the work of collectors who seek to differentiate an early '65 from a late '65. That said, Ford made midstream changes throughout the model year. The 289 cid V8 replaced the 260, the driver's seat became adjustable, an alternator replaced the direct-current generator, spare tire brackets are revised and more.

If It Ain't Broke, Don't Fix It

Showered with superlatives during its first year of existence, what could management do to help the 1966 Mustang further assert its birthright? Precious little! Using "If it ain't broke, don't fix it" mentality, the 1966 Mustang underwent mostly cosmetic makeovers. The stamped sheetmetal body remained essentially the same, however, in keeping with the concept of offering customers the ability to customize their own Mustang, the options list went from 50 variations in 1965 to 70 variations in 1966.

The roof line remained unchanged on the hard top and fastback. The convertible's five-ply vinyl laminated canvas tops were structurally reinforced and came in only two colors, black and white, a tan option being eliminated later. A dealer furnished alternative for convertible owners was a removable roof that converted the rag top into a snug hardtop. An optional convertible power top, priced at US$52.95, replaced manual roof raising and lowering.

The honeycomb grille gave way to a blacked-out, extruded egg crate design with the horizontal strips chromed. The chrome bars positioning the galloping steed emblem were removed, leaving it suspended in its corral at the grille's center, (except in the GT Equipment Group option where the horizontal strips remained black). A bright metal lip was added to the front of the hood with FORD spelled across the hood's leading edge in large, widely-spaced bright letters.

A More Powerful Evolution

To offset competition that was sure to follow Mustang's early reception, the next edition of the ponycar would address some of the refinements and engineering considerations overlooked in rushing the original Mustangs to market. The new model would have to handle and perform better, give greater comfort and efficiency and run quieter and smoother, while still being rich in options. But how do you change a winner while not changing it...assuring that it will be readily identifiable with the more than one million Mustangs already on the road? Key to the evolution was a bigger engine, 390 cubic inches worth.

And, to accommodate that muscle and the additional 130 pounds, the basic platform was slightly enlarged. To improve weight distribution, the wheelbase remained 108 inches but the front end moved forward an additional two inches, width grew from 68.2 to 70.9 inches and half-an-inch was added overhead. Serendipitously, the increased dimensions also allowed for a bit more leg room for those sitting in the rear seat.

Overall, the effect would give the 1967 Mustang a slightly heavier, more solid look. It is interesting to note that Ford, in addition to the popular Gran Turismo and Shelby specials, also offered a limited edition Indy Pacesetter Special in conjunction with the 1967 Indianapolis 500 race, even though Mustang was not the official pace car. Its increased dimensions notwithstanding, the 1968 embodied little if any new sheetmetal, the long hood and short rear deck remained. Slight cosmetic restyling, ever-increasing safety features in response to government regulations, a broadening of available special editions and more complex option packages, and a change in the line-up of motors were the thrust of Ford's 1968 marketing strategy.

The roof design for all three models remained the same as the previous year with the hardtop and 2+2 using chrome drip moldings above side windows. The convertible's top boot was color-coded to the interior and used new hidden fasteners at the front corners and a stiffened tongue to hold the boot securely in a groove across the top of the back seat. A power convertible top option was available as was the folding glass window.

Growing In Size

With an eye toward pleasing the performance and luxury-oriented segments of the market, the substantially redesigned 1969 Mustangs were unveiled on August 28th 1968. Longer by almost four inches, (187.4 inches overall), it was the longest Mustang to that time. The metal grill was replaced by a dark gray rectangular plastic mesh, the running pony its chrome corral and reverted to the pony with tri-color bars logo, now placed off-center on the driver's side of the grille.

The sides were smoother with the sculpted cove replaced by a body line that ran from the upper edge of the headlight housing sloping gently downward to a point just above and forward of the rear wheel wells. Quad headlights were introduced, two inside and two outside the grill. The front had a gentle V-shape, accented by a wider windsplit down the length of the hood. A revised MUSTANG script exterior identification was used, scoops decorated the rear quarter panel on all models except the Boss, a larger windshield with more slope provided greater visibility and the rear deck lid on all models became flush with the rear panel.

The 1970 Mustang, now approaching thoroughbred status, was basically a repeat of the 1969, with few styling changes to set it apart. Two seven-inch headlights, (instead of four), were placed inside an enlarged grill cavity and simulated scoops replaced the outboard head lamps in the front fender extensions. New red, white and blue striped bars with galloping pony emblem occupied the grill centre. The engine lineup was little changed with the exception of the all new 351ci, four-barrel V-8.

Canted valves and larger ports resembled the 429ci V-8. The Mach 1 received grooved aluminum rocker moldings along with prominent die-cast "Mach 1" marking. 40,970 were built. On-board air conditioning became the rage, causing convertible sales to shrink by nearly half from 14,746 units to 7,673.

The "Big" Mustang

The "Big Mustang" entered the market in 1971. The basic platform was lower, longer, heavier and wider with a one-inch longer wheelbase, approximating the mid-size Torino rather than the original ponycar. Prospective buyers faced a dilemma in their search for raw power. Rising insurance premiums, continuing federal insistence on safety and an impending oil crisis were prominent distractions. Outwardly, the 1971's features remained pure Mustang.

The pony and corral with horizontal bar returned to the center of the grill cavity that now stretched the entire width of the front end. The grill mesh was hexagonal molded plastic. Large headlights were mounted at the extreme outboard end of the grill opening. All three models offered a sloping front end and "hop up" in the rear. To comply with emissions standards, an air injection system was fitted to all except the Boss 351 and SCJ429's.

Mustang found itself in the midst of a dilemma. It had been in a race to pack more power and performance into each model, but tighter emissions controls contradicted those efforts. Consequently, marketing strategy would play down or ignore horsepower in favor of compliance with clean air standards and more emphasis would be put on styling and luxury.

Inside and out, the 1972's were virtually the same as the 1971's. One example of the direct carryover is the fact that, for the first time in its history, the Mustang's front grill remained unchanged. Woodgrain trim, vinyl finished seats and one-touch convertible roof controls become prime selling points and the standard hardtop was the year's best selling model. At mid-year, a "Sprint" decor option became available for hardtop and SportsRoof models.

In most respects the 1973's were unchanged from their 1972 counterparts, but there were some differences to distinguish them. The front grill size and shape remained the same but the plastic egg-crate mesh was larger and mounted further forward. The pony and corral lost the horizontal bars but the shorter vertical ones, similar to the 1966, returned. 1973 would mark the end of the "true," albeit overweight, first generation of the ponycar.

Since its inception, the Mustang had gained 575 pounds and was over a foot longer. Mustang was destined to undergo an extensive change in design for the 1974 model year. 1973 also marked the last year for convertibles until their re-introduction in 1983. Announcement of the cancellation jump-started convertible sales by 5,700 units.

Also see: Mustang Engines, Mustang Highlights, Mustang Prototype, Racebred Mustangs, Mustang Identification
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