The Ford Mustang, which debuted on 1964, started the pony car movement that made compact, highly-styled sports cars affordable to the masses. From the moment the Mustang was introduced, it has become one of the world’s most successful sports car, with 10 million sold globally.
While the Ford Mustang has gone through many changes from its debut to the current generation, this car brand is truly a classic and much-loved American icon. Take a look at the history of Ford Mustang and discover the significant moments that led to its development.
First Generation (1964-1973)
When the Mustang was first conceptualized in the early 1960s by Ford’s design team, there were many different requirements it had to fulfill. First it needed to seat four adults comfortably. It also must have a floor-mounted shifter so it can be used by those who race it, but it must also cost less than $2,500 to buy.
The first Mustang that started it all debuted on April 17, 1964, at a price of $2, 368. It was named after the legendary P51 Mustang fighter plane used in World War II. This car was available as a coupe or a convertible. The vehicle sold over a million units during the first 18 months.
Shortly after its introduction, the vehicle’s success became official when it was featured on the racetrack as the pace car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500. It even began making big-screen appearances in the same year like in James Bond film Goldfinger.
Hoping to inject some performance credentials to the Mustang, they went to American racing legend Carroll Shelby and asked him to make a race car out of the Mustang. In 1965, Ford and Shelby created the first Shelby-made Mustang that raced onto the scene – the GT350. It became the first mass-produced car that was ready for the racetrack and was approved by the Sports Car Club of America. The GT350 dominated the racing scene for the next three years. Shelby Mustangs became an important part of the Mustang history, and now it’s almost impossible to disconnect the two.
In 1965, Ford introduced the 2+2 fastback, along with a bigger 289 V-8 engine. Almost 560,000 units were sold that year, to the astonishment of many, even Ford. In 1967. The 2+2 Mustang gets upgraded from a semi-fastback to a sweeping fastback roofline. The GT500 was introduced, dubbed as “the first car I’m really proud of” by Carroll Shelby. This was a grown-up sports car for smooth touring, powered by a hefty 7.0L v8 engine.
The Mustang got its reputation as the bad boy car of the Sixties, thanks to Steve McQueen’s Bullitt movie that immortalized the Mustang on screen. Featuring wider, longer body, with bigger engines, the Bullitt-era Mustang of 1967 to 1968 took Hollywood car stunts to the next level.
However, it faced some serious competition: the Chevrolet Camaro had just been released, along with the Pontiac Firebird and Plymouth Barracuda. Because of this, the Mustang was given more powerful engines and more aggressive styling, like the Boss 302 and Boss 429. As some of the rarest and most desirable Mustangs ever produced, the Boss 429 has become a lifetime goal of luxury car collectors.
The year 1961 saw the debut of Mustang Mach 1, powered with an ultra-high performance 428 Cobra Jet engine.
In 1971, Mustang released its biggest unit ever – 310 kg heavier and 30 cm longer than the original. It was the Boss 351, with its Cleveland block and Cobra Jet heads. However, sales of the Mustang plummeted in 1973 as the fuel crisis took its toll and customers decided to downsize. The 1973 Mustang was the last for the original Falcon-platform unit, and the last convertible for the decade.
The stripes, spoilers, flares, and hood scoops were popular in the Mustangs of the late 1960s and early 1970s. However, competition from other muscle cars meant that sales have dropped, and a new design tactic needed to be implemented for the rest of the 70s.
Second Generation (1974-1978)
The second generation of Mustang was a tough period for many Mustang enthusiasts. Due to the rising gasoline prices, oil crisis and new EPA regulations, Ford focused more on fuel economy than performance. The new Ford Mustang II, which was released in 1974, seemed like the right car for American drivers at the time. It was a dramatic change from the powerful and heavy muscle car Mustangs, yet it was instantly popular. It looked like a return to the basic styling of the original Mustang coupe, and its production ran until 1978. The Mustang II came with a smaller Pinto chassis, which is smaller and more efficient. Its engines include a 2.3L four-pot and 2.8L V6, but no V8. Those who loved the Mustang for its smooth performance wasn’t impressed with the Mustang II.
Fortunately, it wasn’t long before V8 power returns to Mustang. In 1975, Mustang came with a 302ci small-block. It’s the first Ford engine to be recognized by its 5.0L metric displacement.
In 1976, the Cobra II package joins the lineup, featuring non-functional hood scoop and racing stripes, as well as front and rear spoilers. This striped masterpiece was designed to be reminiscent of the famous Shelby Mustang.
Third Generation (1979-1993)
The third generation Mustang is all about the Fox body. Mustang’s new Fox platform increases the width, length, and interior space of the car, yet reduces weight by 90 kg. It’s available in coupe and fastback body styles, and the range was initially powered by V8 engines, carryover fours and sixes. The Fox bodies have been maligned, but it quickly found favor among fans of cheap and easy horsepower.
As petrol prices subside, the Mustang GT returns in 1982 after a 12-year absence. In 1983, Mustang releases a convertible model again after 10 years. The Ford Mustang GT came with a power roof and a tempered glass rear window.
While Mustang’s legacy continued to burn bright from the early to mid-80s, Ford sought out an alternative to the popular Fox body. So, in 1987, designers gave Mustang’s Fox body a facelift with new “Aero” body and a 5.0-liter V8 with 225 horsepower.
In 1993, Ford’s new Special Vehicle Team introduced the limited-production Mustang Cobra SVT, which sported subtle yet distinct styling and performance upgrades. To purchase the SVT, Ford required buyers to have a racing license to ensure that it’s not just seen as a collector’s car.
Fourth Generation (1994-2004)
In 1994, Ford redesigned Mustang to evoke the car’s heritage, making a return to the styling and design features of the previous successful versions. After 15 years of the same Fox platform, the redesign was a do or die for Mustang that time. The fourth generation Mustang brought back the side scoops, three-segment taillights, Pony seats and dash clusters.
To salute the 35th birthday of the Ford Mustang in 1999, Ford unveiled a prototype version of the 2000 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R. When it debuted, it was the fastest factory Mustang that was ever produced. It’s powered by a 5.4L DOHC V8 engine that gives the car 385 horsepower. It was stripped of any feature not needed for track use to not add extra weight, meaning it had no AC or radio. Only 300 units of the car were released, making it one of the rarest Mustangs in the world.
In 2001, a Bullitt version was added to the range. The Mustang Bullitt GT, inspired by the Mustang that Steve McQueen drove in the 1968 movie, nailed it much more than the old. This launch was a success, so Ford followed it up with the revival of the Mach 1 nameplate in 2003 with a retro-inspired model –featuring a 227 kw Cobra motor with functional bonnet scoop, 1960s era comfort weave seats, and Magnum-style wheels.
In 2004, Ford produced its 300 millionth car – the 40th anniversary edition Mustang GT convertible. The 2004 Mustangs were also the last ones built at Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant, where every Mustang model was produced since its inception.
Fifth Generation (2005-2014)
The 2005 Mustang paved the way for the Mustang that we know and love today. It took design cues from the original muscle cars and managed to make it look both retro and modern, dubbing it “retro-futurism.”
The fifth generation Mustangs appealed both to those who grew up with first generation Mustangs as well as younger people who loved the retro look of the original but also wanted modern, safety features. The fifth generation also brought the best-performing and most powerful-looking Mustang designs. It was the most successful since the original.
In 2007, the Shelby Mustang made a comeback with the Ford Shelby GT500. There wasn’t a Shelby Mustang created since the second to the fourth generation, but the Shelbys returned, along with the Cobra snake. The Shelby GT500 was based on the new S197 Mustang platform and is equipped with a supercharged version of the 5.4L V8 and a 500 horsepower. The partnership continues with 2008 Shelby King of the Road that has a carbon fibre bonnet.
To compete with Dodge and Chevy, the entire Mustang lineup gets update powertrains. Ford released its own V8 engine called Coyote. This Coyote engine was built as a Mustang performance engine to produce 412 horsepower for the 2011 Mustang GT. Besides the new and improved engine, the 2011 Mustang comes with a new 3.7L aluminum block V6. This engine design allows enthusiasts not to sacrifice performance for fuel economy.
Sixth Generation (2015-present)
In 2015, the Ford Mustang was modernized once again. For the first time after 51 years, Mustang met independent rear suspension that improved dynamics. Right-hand-drive production was confirmed, and the wider and lower body increased interior space. Though it looks a lot similar from the past version, the sixth generation Mustang was a new vehicle from the ground up. Ford also brought back the fastback styling that was popular in the 1960s and 1970s.
One of the most significant additions was the EcoBoost engine, which is a turbocharged, four-cylinder that came with optional performance packages. This engine allowed performance and fuel economy go hand-in-hand.
In 2016, Ford introduced the Voodoo engine, or the 5.2L flat plane crank V8 engine installed in the 2016 Shelby GT350. In addition to that, Ford also released the GT350R that featured the same Voodoo engine but without AC, trunk floorboard, rear seat, stereo, carpeting, and backup camera, since it’s a race-spec car.
Mustang received another major makeover in 2018, and featured a few exciting changes like a 10-speed transmission, digital instrument cluster, Generation 3 5.0L Coyote engine, and an aggressive front end and rear bumper.