Nearly 50 Years On, Ford’s Mustang Is Still Galloping

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The new Mustang from Ford (NYSE:F) has been getting a lot of media attention and speculation recently, and for good reason, as next year will be the iconic car’s 50th anniversary year, and Ford has been gearing up for a new model in order to celebrate.

Detroit News gave a run down of the Mustang’s five-decade history, going back to 1964 when the car was first released. The original Mustang served a variety of different purposes: it was meant to compete with the Chevrolet (NYSE:GM) Corvette, stand in for the recently-axed two-seater Ford Thunderbird, and respond to the overwhelming demand for Chevy’s Corvair Monza.

Nowadays, the Mustang and Corvette are in two very distinctly different classes. Back then, however, the lines were a bit more blurry. The Corvette was introduced in the 1950s originally, as an American response to the growing sales of European sports cars. By the time the 1960s rolled around, Ford and GM both were using smaller, more compact cars like Ford’s Falcon and the Chevy Corvair to combat the ever-increasing number of foreign rivals.

In that matchup, the Falcon did exceptionally well in comparison to the Corvair; that is, until Chevy introduced a four-speed transmission in the more sporty Corvair Monza. Sales then didn’t climb, they exploded — 12,000 units in 1960 turned into 143,000 units in 1961, Detroit News observes. And they just kept getting higher as the new Monza Spyder model joined the lineup in 1962 with its convertible body and 150 horsepower turbocharged engine helping sales blow past 200,000.

With the ball back in its court, Ford’s general manger Lee Iaccoca sprung into action, and in 1964, the first Mustangs rolled into showrooms. The introduction of the car was not only a turning point for Ford, but represented a turning point for the market as a whole, as well. Domestic competition soon sprang up, and the Mustang continued to morph after its initial introduction to the point that in 1974, it was hard to tell that the car wearing the Mustang tags was related to the same model from a decade earlier.

“First, the Mustang grew so large and heavy that by 1974, it went on a diet. Sharing its architecture with the Ford Pinto, the ’74 Mustang lost its V-8 engine,” the Detroit News says. While things began to look up again in about 1979, when a newer, sleeker and more aerodynamic model was released, but it wasn’t the end of the Mustang’s troubles.

“At the same time, Ford executives considered slapping the Mustang name onto a front-wheel-drive Mazda. The Mustang faithful were furious; Ford renamed it the Probe,” Detroit News points out.

This started to pick up again in 1994, with a redesign that brought the car back to its roots, at least from a design point of view. Since then, the retro-throwback has become a core theme for the car, but that could change somewhat with the new model.

“No doubt designers will remain true to the Mustang’s design heritage for 2015, but will dramatically modernize the look to make it more palatable to overseas markets, where the sixth-generation Mustang will be sold for the first time,” Detroit News surmises. “Don’t be surprised if a turbocharged four-cylinder EcoBoost engine is offered — like the SVO Mustang — alongside six- and eight-cylinder models. So this new car should have an international flair while remaining distinctly American.”

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