Feature: History of the Ford Mustang

By: Drew Hardin, Photography by: Courtesy of Ford Motor Co. and the Petersen archive

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History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang
History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang
History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang
History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang History of the Ford Mustang

The big story - and little-known trivia - about America's favourite Pony car...

Feature: History of the Ford Mustang
History of the Ford Mustang



On April 17, 1964, the automotive world changed. Displayed in a pavilion at the New York World’s Fair was a new car from Ford that would not only be a huge success for the automaker, but would be the envy – and target – of Ford’s rival automakers for decades to come.

Really, the first Mustang was little different under the skin from the Fairlane. But, oh, that skin: long, sensuous hood, short rear deck, a snug cockpit for two-plus.

The car begged to be taken out on the open road, to transport its owner to new horizons, unexpected adventures, as free as the wild mustang at full gallop on the grille. It’s no wonder that Ford sold a remarkable 400,000 units in the Mustang’s first year, and more than a million in less than two years.

Chrysler didn’t know what hit it, its Barracuda left spinning in the Mustang’s wake. And Chevrolet, quickly realising the Corvair wouldn’t cut it, took several years before bringing out its own pony car, the Camaro.

Pony car. Yes, the Mustang was an overnight sensation, and one that launched its own vehicle category. Can you think of another car whose name doubles as its niche? We can’t.

Many of you are familiar with the Mustang’s trajectory, from boulevard cruiser to fire-breathing muscle car to gas crisis victim to the Phoenix – called Fox – that rose from the ashes of underhood anemia and brought performance back to the brand to stay. Rather than treading that familiar ground, we dug into various photo archives to bring you a rarely seen history of the birth of the Mustang, plus a few variations that never quite made it.


In 1962, Ford’s design studio created a sports car concept dubbed ‘Mustang’ after the WWII fighter plane. The two-seater was built with an aluminum body mounted on a tubular chassis. A mid-mounted 1500cc V4 engine sourced from Europe put out just over 100hp (75kW) – enough for Dan Gurney to get the car to 120mph (192km/h) at its debut in front of the press at Watkins Glen in October. While this first Mustang seems far removed from the production vehicle to come, it did establish the long-hood/short-deck look that would become a hallmark of the car.


No, not that one. This was also a concept car, built in 1963, that was much closer to the final production version. It was, in fact, a developmental prototype disguised with a nose job, a fake rear end, and a chopped top. While the first Mustang concept was met with rave reviews, the reception for this car was nowhere near as enthusiastic. "It’s rather a shame that the Mustang name had to be diluted this way," wrote Motor Trend.


"The Mustang fits into the ‘Total Performance’ picture very neatly and finally fills a long-neglected gap in the American automotive picture; the small, sports-like coupe or convertible which can deliver good operational economy with a low initial price tag. Unless we miss our guess, the exploding youth market will have the assembly lines working nights and weekends trying to keep up. We can guarantee this car is going to be popular."
– Hot Rod, May 1964

"The heart of this tough new Mustang [a Hi-Po GT] is a 289ci V8 that pulls 271hp at 6,000rpm. It is coupled to a four-speed, close-ratio gearbox... the rear end assembly (a 4.11 ratio in our test car) is of the Galaxie variety and, needless to say, contains more than enough ‘beef’. If you are wondering about the muscle, it’s there in abundance, feeling stronger than some of the big, hairy, early experimental Sting Rays that I drove in the Sebring 12-hour enduro. The car delivered some interesting acceleration figures, turning 0 to 60mph in 6.9 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds – indicative of definite dragstrip potential."
– Hot Rod, June 1964

"With a single four-barrel carburetor, the 289 fires up quickly and a loping idle in true hot-rod tradition advises the cam has big lungs. You can certainly hear the valvetrain working, but exhaust noises are not objectionable at all; a good healthy growl under load. The car goes, and damn well. The stability is excellent and you can honk around almost any corner at racing velocity well under control."
– Sports Car Graphic, September 1964



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