A number of pony cars have galloped in and out of the American automotive scene throughout the past four and a half decades, but none have enjoyed the lasting appeal of Mustang. And none have inspired the same degree of passion among car owners. On Friday, April 17, 2009, Ford and the Mustang Club of America will commemorate the 45th anniversary of an American icon – the Ford Mustang – with a four-day celebration in Birmingham, Ala.
During the four weeks leading up to the Mustang’s 45th anniversary, we will take a nostalgic look back at five historic generations of its longest-running nameplate, beginning with the early years, 1964 to 1973.
The First Generation of the Ford Mustang
Flash back to the spring of 1964. The mood of the country is still sullen, following the 1963 assassination of John F. Kennedy. Lyndon B. Johnson is leading the nation forward as president of the United States. “Beatlemania” is sweeping the country, with hits like “I Want to Hold Your Hand” and “Can’t Buy Me Love” at the top of the Billboard charts. The price of gas is 30 cents a gallon, and it costs 5 cents to buy a postage stamp. “The Beverly Hillbillies”, “Bonanza” and the “Dick Van Dyke Show” are among the most popular shows on television, and “From Russia with Love” starring Sean Connery as James Bond, is playing at U.S. theaters.
On April 17, 1964, the Ford Mustang, with its long hood, short rear deck and sporty features, caused a sensation when it was introduced to the public at the New York World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens.
“When the Mustang was unveiled, the reaction was so positive that there was no doubt it was going to be a success,” recalls Joe Oros, chief designer of Ford’s original pony car – dubbed the 1964 – because it was launched at an unusual halfway point in the year.
Don Frey, product planning manager for the original Ford Mustang, says he knew the car was going to be a hit months earlier when the design team gave Ford employees a sneak peek at one of the prototypes.
“We built the first prototype in an experimental garage, and employees flooded the place to see it,” he said. “Their reaction was spectacular, and it was very revealing to us. We knew the car was going to be roaring success from the start.â”
And what a success it was.
The 1964 Mustang debuted at a price of $2,368 – a bargain even in 1964. Ford expected annual sales of about 100,000 units. But 22,000 Mustang orders were taken on the first day, and sales reached an astounding 417,000 in the car’s first 12 months on the market. Within two years, Mustang sales reached one million.
Frey says he believes the car had such dramatic appeal because the styling was very unusual for its day.
“The design was very European, particularly the front end,” he said. “There was no other car like it in North America at that time.”
Another facet of Mustang’s appeal was that it could be any vehicle the customer wanted it to be. The original Mustangs were available in three body styles – convertible, hardtop or fastback – with the most extensive list of options Detroit had ever offered. The Ford Mustang could be an economical “base” car, a macho high-performance car or a luxury car.
“Mustang was designed to be designed by you,” one of the original print ads declared. And it was true. Everyone who owned a Mustang believed no one else had a vehicle like theirs, and the vehicle had broad appeal.
“We were told to design a car that the ladies would love that the men would love just as much, and that’s exactly what we did,” said Oros.
Marketing studies conducted at the time showed that women bought as many Mustangs as men.
“They loved the styling, and the car was very affordable,” said Frey. “Women bought it by the thousands.”
Frey, now 86, is the proud owner of one of the original Mustangs -built in June of 1964. It’s a red hard top with a white interior, and he keeps it parked in his home garage.
“I have a driver who comes by, and we take it out,” he said. “To this day, people stop us and ask if it’s an original Mustang.”
At age 92, Oros says he’s still as passionate about the Mustang as he was 45 years ago. “He wants me to stop in the middle of the freeway whenever he sees a Mustang, and I tell him that we can’t do that,” said Oros’ driver and caregiver Violeta Orlanda. “When we do stop somewhere, he searches the parking lot to find the Mustangs, and he insists on checking them all out in detail from front to back.â”
Oros says his fascination and fondness for the pony car he helped create will never end. “It makes me feel proud every time I see one,” explained Oros. “After all of these years, Mustang has never lost its luster.”
Frey is equally as proud. “We created an icon,” he said. “And I had a hand in it.”