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BEACON Senior News - Western Colorado

Ford Mustang: America's first practical "sports" car

May 30, 2023 10:39AM ● By Randal C. Hill

The debut of the Ford Mustang, named after the famed World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane, took place at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. 

That same day, 22,000 people, undoubtedly fueled by ads on all three TV networks and in 2,900 newspapers, bolted to their local dealers to secure a shiny new 1964 1/2 Mustang for themselves. The car became such an overnight hit that a New York diner posted a sign in its window that read “Our hotcakes are selling like Mustangs!”

In 1959, after Ford’s Edsel died a quiet death (the automaker had failed to accurately gauge the potential market for such a vehicle), the company honchos were determined not to repeat such a costly blunder. By the early 1960s, a young Princeton-educated Ford executive named Lee Iacocca had become the head of the product development division and supervised a 20-person market-research group with its eyes fixed on the prize. 

“We have experts who watch for every change in the customer’s pulse-beat,” Iacocca explained. “For a long time now, we have been aware that an unprecedented youth boom was in the making.”  

It was obvious to Iacocca that Ford needed to offer a “youth car”—something stylish yet affordable—aimed squarely at the upcoming generation that longed to own a car that was different from that of their parents. It was almost as if Baby Boomers were saying, “Please, we don’t want another ho-hum four-door sedan. Give us something exciting! Something unique! Something for us!” 

Related statistics revealed other important data to Iacocca. The number of women drivers had soared 53 percent between 1956 and 1964, and recent college grads were now making 46 percent of all new car purchases. 

Iacocca’s team knew that their product must offer a sporty look, be an early type of “muscle car,” be appealing to women and, perhaps most importantly, be affordable. 

The Mustang’s style had been influenced by low-slung British roadsters such as the MGB and the Sunbeam Alpine, and Ford’s product offered a comparable elongated hood and a chopped rear deck. 

The Mustang could seat a family of four (okay, so it offered only a token back seat) and it was affordable, priced at $2,368 for the basic models. To lower costs, Mustangs were built on the same platform as Ford’s boring old Falcon, which lent its engine—and a host of other items—to the new vehicle. Customers could choose from a list of 50 different options. 

Mustangs graced the covers of Newsweek and Time. Assembly plants ran 24-hour shifts and still couldn’t keep up with the demand. By 1966, 1 million Mustangs had found their way into the garages of enchanted owners. Not since the 1928 Model A had Ford hammered such a sales home run. 

Yet for a long time, Iacocca kept silent about something: The Mustang couldn’t be too idiosyncratic. 

“The American public doesn’t [really want] a sports car,” he said. “It wants one that looks like a sports car.”

My new cars have never been new

My new cars have never been new

To me, a car is merely something that transports me from point A to point B. All I care about is that it runs and doesn’t explode into flames when I turn it on. Read More »