The world's most iconic (and oldest) horse - The Ford Mustang

Words: Scott Blackburn

Composed to: Frank Turner - Positive Songs For Negative People


1964: The US economy was booming, and young, happy baby boomers were busy enjoying the fruits of a post-war economy...prior to breaking it but that's beside the point. Lee Iacocca in his position as vice president at Ford wanted to give these young hopefuls something to spend their money on. Specifically he wanted to give them a car with four seats that weighed under 2,500 pounds for under $2,500, and have it designed in a year and a half. The result of this simple yet demanding design brief was one of the most iconic and long-lived American cars the world has known: the Mustang.

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In order to cut a bit of a corner on the tight deadline and keep the price down the desired tag the original Mustang borrowed its chassis from the non horse related Falcon, Ford's family sedan. While the Mustangs we're used to today are muscle-bound V8 Schwarzenegger-esque machines, the original 1964 model made a perfectly respectable 271hp at the top end of the range from its 289 cubic inch V8. This made it a pony car, not a muscle car, originally anyway.


Continuing the theme of getting the new machine out and on sale as fast as possible the 1964  Mustang made its debut at the World's Fair in Flushing Meadows, NY. The very same day the Mustang hit Ford showrooms and sold 22,000 models. The pony cars sold so well that Ford was making 1,200 of them a day to try and keep up with demand and even that wasn't enough. By the end of the first year Ford had sold 400,000 Mustangs, making over $100,000,000.


A year later in 1965 Carroll Shelby was let loose on the Mustang and began its heritage as a muscle car. Shelby modified a 289 V8 to get it to make 35hp more and then put it back in a Mustang, gave it blue racing stripes, a snake badge and named it the GT350. This was essentially a race car for the streets, although when Americans say 'race' they mean Nascar or just anything that doesn't involve turning. To this day the Shelby name is still associated with the Mustang, even after his death.


Come 1967 and the Mustang got a new look and new fastback version...for faster back. If you think Mustang this is likely the model that will come to mind, it was aggressive and strikingly pretty. If its looks weren't enough to win it fame then a film appearance was. In 1968 Steve McQueen drove one in Bullit, in a chase against a Charger no less, through the streets of San Francisco. This was the beginning of the American muscle craze and the Mustang wasn't going to be left behind.


By 1969 America had embraced its muscle fetish and entered a golden age for cars like the Mustang, the Charger and the Javelin. This was the year that Ford announced the Mach I, which came with a matte black bonnet, front splitter, bonnet pins and a 428 cubic inch racing engine. This engine got perhaps the coolest name an engine has ever had, the Cobra Jet. This product of the golden age of muscle didn't even give its competitors a look in.


Shortly after this however the Mustang's outlook wasn't looking quite so good. Petrol prices went on the rise and big, petrol thirsty muscle cars were suddenly a lot less appealing. Ford decided to plough on with the new Mustang regardless though, and released what they called the Mustang II. It shared no components with its iconic ancestors. Dumped out into the market in 1974 this sad sequel lacked the traditional V8 and instead came with either an inline 4 or a V6. Both were crap. Despite this the II still sold....why no-one knows.


Things began to look up in the '80s when the Mustang received a decade-appropriate boxy redesign and a uni-body chassis. This time Ford began to experiment with turbochargers, but despite the apparent innovation and a move back toward actually being a Mustang sales flopped. It got so bad that Ford proposed replacing the Mustang altogether with a front wheel drive design borrowed from Mazda. However Ford found themselves swamped with letters from angry Mustang fans, urging them not to trade out the pony for a sad donkey. As a result 1987 saw a refreshed Mustang with the 302 cubic inch, 5L V8 getting new forged aluminium pistons and new cylinder heads.    


Then came the '90s, not a good decade for car design, not in America at least. This was the decade that saw the SN95 body released, it was round, ugly and just sad. From 1996 it wasn't even offered with the 302 Windsor engine anymore, the engine that in its many forms had been the V8 of choice for the Mustang (when it came with one) since 1967. The SN95 was doubly offensive as it wasn't just ugly, it was slow.


1999 brought salvation though, with the new iteration coming in some encouragingly attractive forms. The SVT Cobra and Terminator (damn I want a car called the Terminator) had supercharged engines, independent rear suspension and to make it better the SVD came with a huge rear wing. That being said, things looked even better come 2005. The new Mustang finally looked like its ancestors again, and sales soared.


In fact the 2005 Mustang's retro design did so well that it shook Chevy and Dodge into taking a page from Ford's book and gave their muscle a much needed redesign in the same fashion. Funnily enough they sold really well too. The 21st century Mustang came with a 4.6L V8 making 310hp and was the first ever Mustang to have its very own dedicated platform. In 2010 Ford updated this design and revealed the new 5L Coyote engine, beefing the Mustang up to 412hp. This meant that there was now a Mustang capable of lapping the Nürburgring faster than a BMW M3. This was the generation that saw the final true Shelby GT500, the last model that the man himself helped design before he passed away in 2012.


This swansong monster made 662hp and had a top speed of 202mph. The current model Mustang was released in 2015 and features the same 5L V8 as well as the return of independent rear suspension. While the 2015 model does appear to be hitting middle age a little it's still, without question, a Mustang. As well as this the last few weeks have given the world a new GT500 with over 700 horses on offer. The Mustang comfortably lives on today then, true to its roots again, an what's more Ford have plans for its foreseeable future too with hybrid and electric ideas meaning that the Mustang should happily outlive fossil fuels.