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The Mustang Turns 45

2010 Ford Mustang GT

Old Horse Meat

I fondly remember April of 1964 and the introduction of Ford’s Mustang, when my godfather, John Chilcott, a wonderful man known throughout the Old First Ward as Chick, presented me with a scale model of the pony car which he had obtained from a Ford dealer after purchasing a new 1964 Falcon, which was white with a red interior. I remember the toy car was blue, and I remember my father also obtaining one through the dealer from whom he’d recently purchased a 1963 Galaxie to replace my mother’s green 1960 Falcon, which had been rear-ended and totaled by a guy from Pennsylvania driving a ’59 Chevy. (I’m sure these detailed automotive memories continue to fascinate my wife, as I usually can’t remember what I’ve eaten for lunch on any given day.) This model was tan, and for the life of me I still can’t figure out how it ended up in the hands of my younger brother instead of the much more deserving me.

1964 Mustang

The original Mustang, actually a 1964 1/2 model, was largely based on the compact Falcon. The body and interior though, had nothing at all in common with the rather boring little compact, but instead were given a sporty look which placed many a buyer (over 400,000 the first year) smack in the middle of either a second childhood or a midlife crisis, depending on one’s outlook. What made that initial Mustang so popular? After all, at it’s introduction Ford was predicting first year sales of maybe 100,000 or so. I guess there’s something to being the first in the market with a totally new idea. The American compact car caught on big in 1959 with the success of Studebaker’s Lark and Rambler’s American. The recession of 1958 and the ugliness of full-sized 1958 and 1959 cars didn’t hurt, either. Then in 1960, the Big Three (remember them?) jumped on the bandwagon with the Falcon, Chrysler Corporation’s Valiant (it wasn’t officially a Plymouth until 1961), and Chevy’s Corvair. They were all fine little cars, certainly cheaper than the full-sized offerings, but nothing to get excited about.

Then came the Mustang. Six or eight cylinders, sporty-looking two-door hardtop or convertible, bucket seats, and an option list as long as your arm. There were literally thousands of potential combinations of colors and equipment available which meant almost anyone (at least, anyone who didn’t need to carry more than five people and a minimum amount of cargo) could tailor a Mustang to their liking. How about a combo AM radio/eight-track tape player for $184? You could (but who would) order a full-width front seat in lieu of buckets for around $25. Whitewall tires. Wire wheel covers. Front disc brakes (not available with power brakes, and only available with the V-8). Or, if you wanted to save yourself $31.29 you could ask that your new Mustang not be equipped with a heater!

1972 Mustang II

The Mustang spawned a whole series of competitors in the next couple of years. Chevy Camaro/Pontiac Firebird. Plymouth Barracuda. Even American Motors got into the act with their snazzy Javelin. As the 1970s dawned, gas became a problem, as did safety and overpowered cars in general. One by one the competition dropped off. In 1974, much to the horror of Mustangophiles, the venerable pony car was downsized, its new parentage—the Pinto! Yikes! It was different enough that Ford renamed it Mustang II. Sales were brisk, but something was lost.

But, was goes around, comes around. Eventually the “II” was dropped from the Mustang name as the car grew again. Lo and behold, now there’s competition again, as we see the new Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro in showrooms. But the Mustang is the only pony car to have seen the last 45 years in production. It may not be the inexpensive, sporty little car it started out to be, but it still manages to turn heads.

Jim Corbran is a regular contributor on the Artvoice blogs. You can read more "You Auto Know" on AV Daily.

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