Ford Mustang: An American Icon Turns 50
Ford Motor Company
Fifty years ago today, the Ford Motor Company unveiled the Mustang at the World's Fair in New York. With a sporty look and an affordable price, the Mustang was the car for the up-and-coming generation of the era, the Baby Boomers.
In the decades since it first won critical accolades and the public's attention, the Mustang is nearly as potent a symbol of the United States and its values as the Stars and Stripes. But how did the Mustang, which outpaced and outlived other muscle cars of the era, earn its place as an American icon?
Ford Motor Company
Two years before the unveiling of the first commercially available Mustang, Ford presented its Mustang I concept car. Named after the famous World War II-era P51 Mustang fighter plane, the original design was a mid-engine two-seater.
The Mustang I did provide glimpses into what the body of the car would eventually look like, such as the thin body and the long nose.
The Mustang was the brainchild of Ford general manager Lee Iacocca, who later became president of the company. Advertised with the slogan, "Mustang was designed to be designed by you," the car came in three different models -- base, high-performance and luxury -- three different body styles -- convertible, coupe and hardtop -- and more available options than similarly priced cars.
The car's launch drew immediate and widespread media interest, with Iacocca and the car he conceived appearing on the covers of TIME and Newsweek.
Selling at a suggested retail price of $2,368 for the base model, the equivalent of roughly $18,000 today, the earliest Mustangs borrowed components from other Ford models, particularly the Falcon. These first Mustangs were dubbed 1964-1/2, even though Ford referred to them as the 1965 production models.
Sales numbers blew away initial expectations, with 22,000 vehicle sold in its first day. The first 100,000 Mustangs drove off in the first three months, a sales figures not expected to be reached until the first year of its launch. By then, 418,812 Mustangs were sold.
In this photo, Tom and Gail Wise of Park Ridge, Ill., drive what is believed to be the first known retail purchase of a Mustang.
The Mustang made its feature film debut in 1964 with the movie "Goldfinger," the third installment in the James Bond franchise.
The car's first movie scene hardly showcased its best attributes, as James Bond's iconic Aston DB-5 initially leaves the Mustang to admire its tail lights, at least until Bond utilizes the Aston's custom tire shredder and sends the Mustang careening off the road.
Seven years later, Bond would get behind the wheel of a Mustang himself in "Diamonds Are Forever," in a car chase through a Las Vegas parking lot that ended in a poorly choreographed scene with the Mustang entering an alley on two wheels on its passenger side and leaving on the two wheels on its driver's side.
In 1968, the movie "Bullitt," starring Steve McQueen and a '68 Mustang GT, premiered and was well received by critics and audiences alike. This time, the Mustang doesn't play second fiddle to another car.
The highlight of the film is a 10-minute-long car chase sequence between McQueen's Mustang and a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T through the streets of San Francisco. The scene is considered among the best car chases in cinema history.
In addition to glowing in the light of the silver screen, the Mustang also earned a reputation for its ability on the asphalt, at least for driver who went beyond the base-model engine.
During its debut year in 1964, the Mustang appeared as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. The first competitive Mustang racer was the Shelby GT-350 in 1965, in the hands of factory driver Ken Miles won its first race on Green Valley Raceway in Texas, sponsored by the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA). The car proved itself formidable at navigating different events including drag races, rallying and road races throughout the decade.
Ford Motor Company
Over its 50 years, the Mustang has also made some mistakes. The Mustang II, introduced in 1974, may have initially sold well at the time, but has been derided by automotive critics as the biggest blunder in the car's history.
A response to the oil crisis that curbed the nation's appetite for thirsty muscle cars, the Mustang II was a lightweight compared to its predecessors, in that it had a weaker engine, worse handling and in fact weighed less. Just as the original Mustang borrowed from the Falcon, the Mustang II borrowed from one of the most notoriously terrible cars in history: the Ford Pinto.
In the late 1980s, Ford's once popular pony was in serious jeopardy of a one-way ride to the glue factory, so to speak, when slumping sales nearly meant the end of the brand. The fact that some jurisdictions adopted it as a cop car probably didn't help with popular perceptions.
In an effort to save costs, Ford attempted to work with Mazda, a Japanese automaker rival, by basing the next Mustang on the underpinnings of the 626 and MX-6. The idea of a Japanese base on an American icon drew a public outcry, leading Ford to change its plans and instead issue its Mazda-derived front-wheel drive car as the Ford Probe at the last minute.
If there's one sure-fire sign that you're a true blue American icon, it's to have your likeness placed on a postage stamp.
In 1999, the United States Postal Service (USPS) commemorated the 35th anniversary of the debut of the Mustang with its own stamp, which featured the 1964 1/2 Mustang convertible. In 2013, the USPS later issued another series that featured the 1967 Shelby GT-500.
Ford Motor Company
Five generations of Mustangs have come and gone, and the sixth, starting with the 2015 production model, is on its way. To commemorate its 50th anniversary, Ford revealed its 2015 Mustang Convertible from the observation deck of the Empire State Building. Ford engineers actually disassembled the vehicle and reassembled it from the top of the tower.
The stunt is actually a recreation of a scene that took place 50 years earlier, when, following the World's Fair, Ford engineers similarly placed the 1965 Mustang at the top of the Empire State Building.