The Evolution of the Ford Mustang
Iconic. Legendary. Here at Kentwood Ford we could go on and on about the storied Ford Mustang; the car that inspired a whole class of American automobiles, the pony car. A car that has continued to evolve over the years, inextricably tied to the politics and pop culture of the country that birthed it. The Ford Mustang is an American success story, not without its setbacks (or Fastbacks).
First Generation: 1965-1973
The Ford Mustang was conceived by famed Ford executive Lee Iacocca; he wanted to sell the public a car under 2,500lbs for under $2,500. No one, not even Iacocca, could have predicted how popular the Mustang would be, as Ford sold 22,000 cars the first day. Even while producing 12,000 models a day, Ford couldn’t keep up to demand, and they made over a billion dollars selling over 400,000 units in the first year. It took all of eighteen months for Ford to hit the million vehicle mark, making it Ford’s most successful launch since the Model A.
The Shelby Cobra
It’s rumored that Carol Shelby woke up in the middle of the night after having a dream, scribbled something on a notepad beside his bed, then went back to sleep. When he woke up in the morning, the notepad had one word on it: “Cobra”. This gave birth to the 1965 Shelby GT350; this version of the Mustang was not built for a drive to the diner — it was built for power and performance. Starting off as a stock Mustang, the cars were shipped to Shelby American where they received a number of upgrades that took the Mustang from 271-hp to a whopping 306.
The Mustang on the Big Screen
The 1968 Ford Mustang GT 390 Fastback can be summed up in one word: Bullitt. While the original 1964 model made its big screen debut in the James Bond film, Goldfinger, it was Steve McQueen racing through the streets of San Francisco in a ‘68 Fastback that made the car part of the cultural lexicon. An accomplished driver himself, McQueen did about half of the driving in that famous chase. Make sure to check his rearview mirror for proof.
Second Generation: 1974-1978
The Mustang’s first major setback came during the American oil crisis — Ford rolled out the second generation Mustang in 1974 as a smaller, less powerful model to appease the American public who were paying as much as four times what they used to at the pump. Not great for Mustang enthusiasts, but then again when gas climbed to 55 cents per gallon ($2.75 a gallon in the current economy) the U.S. government changed the national speed limit to 55 miles per hour, so even those with the older, more powerful Mustangs had to slow down a bit. Even a change in presidents from Nixon to one named Ford couldn’t salvage the Mustang’s popularity at this time in history.
Third Generation: 1979-1993
The third generation of the Mustang was released in 1979, and based on the longer Fox platform, originally developed for the ‘78 Ford Fairmont. It was more spacious, and a brand new rack-and-pinion steering system upgraded the handling. It was also the first Mustang to use a turbocharged engine, in this case a 2.3-L turbocharged four-cylinder engine. In 1987 the Mustang received a bit of a face-lift, resulting in a sportier look and improved aerodynamics, and the resulting Fox Bodies were able to recapture a bit of the Mustang’s popularity.
Fourth Generation: 1994-2004
When the fourth generation Mustang was released in 1994, it was the first major redesign in 15 years. The next few years were all about exclusivity — the ‘95 Mustang SVT Cobra R and 2000 Cobra R were limited to 550 units total, and averaged about 340hp, between the two of them. The Mustang line is no stranger to major shake-ups either, dropping the beloved 5.0L V8 in ‘96 for a 4.6L V8. That didn’t the public from buying the Mustang, but their homage to Steve McQueen and the 1968 film Bullitt in the form of the 2001 special edition Bullitt model wasn’t nearly as popular 33 years later. Ford did manage to win back Mustang fans with the final iteration of the fourth generation Mustang, and believe it or not this one wasn’t named after a movie; The Mustang SVT Cobra “Terminator” was named as such because the team at Ford behind it knew that this supercharged, 390hp model would “terminate” the Camaro in the ongoing battle between the two cars.
Fifth Generation: 2005-2014
The fifth generation of the Mustang was released in 2005. It had a positive reception two years prior at the International Auto Show with a style, dubbed ‘retro-futurism’, that recalled the original Fastback Mustangs of the 60s. 2007 saw the release of the Shelby GT 500 — the first Shelby model in over 35 years. The luxurious aspects of the car were completely upstaged by the 5.4L V8 engine that cranked out 500hp, easily making it the most powerful Mustang up to that point. Call us old fashioned, but the return to the roots of the Mustang in both aesthetics and performance was not only a nice nod to the past but also an example of the Mustang’s enduring legacy.
Sixth Generation: 2015-Current
In 2015 not only did the current generation of Mustangs adopt a striking, modern look, but for the first time in 50 years the Mustang scrapped its live axle suspension for an independent rear suspension. Ford introduced the Mustang to the new turbo 2.3L EcoBoost 4-cylinder engine, which not only offered better fuel economy, but also a more environmentally conscious way to get around quickly and in style.
2018 and Beyond
What does the future hold for the all-mighty Mustang? 2018 has seen a mid-cycle refresh for the sixth generation of this American icon, and while there are a few aesthetic revisions, the re-tuned suspension and 10-speed automatic transmission, alongside other performance enhancements like Brembo® brakes and the MagneRide(™) Damping System suggest that the Mustang will keep motoring along — each year faster than the last.