Celebrating 60 years of Ford Mustang

By: Mark Higgins, Photography by: Ford & Prime Creative Media


Considered as significant to Ford as the Model T, the Mustang remains a blue oval icon

Celebrating 60 years of Ford Mustang
Happy anniversary!

For the Ford Motor Company, April 17 will always stand as one of significance. 

It was on this date in 1964 the covers were whipped off the Mustang, which became an instant hit and an icon for the brand.

With a sale price of A$3580, the Ford Mustang was revealed at the 1964 New York World Fair.

Proudly smiling at its debut was its father and creator, Lee Iaocca, Ford’s then-vice president. 

He opened his speech with, "Welcome to one of the proudest moments of our lives."

He went on to say, "We don’t claim the Mustang is a universal car, or that it can be all things to all people. But we do believe the Mustang will be more things to more people than any other automobile on the road."

Iaocca was proved right. 

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Ponies on parade. 

Initially offered as a two-door hardtop and convertible, with a 2+2 fastback added in September 1964, the Mustang was an instant success with 22,000 orders taken on the first day, and over 400,000 sold in its first year, against an estimate of 100,000. One million Mustangs found owners in the first two years and over six decades and six-generations, the 10 millionth was sold in its 50th anniversary year. Mustang is the most popular sportscar in the world. 

And sometime in 2024, the highly-anticipated seventh-generation Mustang will arrive on our shores. 

The Mustang is Ford’s fifth biggest-selling model, the company’s longest-produced nameplate and was at the forefront of the Pony car phenomenon. 

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Walt Disney designed the Ford Magic Skyway where people could ride in a full-size Ford including the new Mustang which was revealed at the 1964 New York World Fair.

Always rear-wheel drive, in its first 40 years, the Mustang shared its chassis with other models. From 1964 to 1973 its underpinnings were based on the Falcon and from 1974 to 1978 the pony badge sat on a stretched version of the Pinto. The ‘Fox’ platform served the Mustang from 1979 to 2004 and was common with 14 other models, but since 2005 and the fifth-generation Mustang, a unique chassis for the model has been created. 

No sooner had the Mustang appeared in dealer showrooms, it also turned up on racetracks and movie screens, appearing in the three James Bond movies: Gold Finger, Thunderball and Diamonds Are Forever.  

In 1965 on American racetracks, the Shelby Mustang dynasty first appeared in the form of the GT350, fettled into a race winner by Carroll Shelby, an American racing hero and mostly driven by Ken Miles. Ford’s partnership with Shelby lasted decades and notched up hundreds of race wins, including Le Mans, as well as many of the most desirable and collectable Mustangs of all time. 

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Our very own Uncle Phil in his GT350-H.

Locally, touring car hero Norm Beechey debuted his 1964 Mustang at Calder (Vic) to a first-up win and new lap record in January 1965. Beechey was also victorious in the single-race Australian Touring Car Championship in 1965. Mustangs also took out the Touring Car Championship from 1966 to 1969. 

Production of the first generation Mustang commenced in Dearborn, Michigan on March 9, 1964, five months before the normal start date of 1965 models. Hence the very early cars are referred to as 1964½, with the first recorded sales on April 14, 1964, at a Ford dealership in St John’s, Newfoundland, Canada. 

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The ‘64 development.

Within its first year, upgrades to the Mustang included reversing lights on some variants, with alternators replacing generators, six-cylinder engines from 170 to 200ci and the V8 from 260 to 289ci.

In 1965, Ford Australia imported around 200 Mustangs, which were converted to right-hand drive at the Geelong plant in Victoria and then used to promote the upcoming ‘Mustang-Bred Falcon XR’ and sold through Ford dealerships alongside the XR. 

Come 1967 and the first facelift saw Mustang become larger, so big-block engines could be fitted. The cosmetic changes were most obvious around the nose and tail. The twin-rise dash panel was thicker and gauges larger. New safety regulations saw the addition of an energy-absorbing steering column and wheel, a new braking system and softer interior knobs. A year later heralded the arrival of the 302ci V8. 

For many Mustang aficionados, 1969 was the styling high-water mark with the body gaining width and length and a more aggressive stance. With the Trans Am series (for modified touring cars) being hugely popular, it was no surprise to see several performance models arrive: Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429, the latter two built to get engines homologated for racing. 

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1969 was a styling highpoint.

They sported air scoops, bonnet tie-downs, rear wings and front spoilers, mimicking the racers. The year 1969 saw the end of the GT. The final iteration of the first-gen Mustang saw it go from muscle to meek, transforming in to a luxo barge due to customer demand. Over its lifespan 2,981,259 sales in the USA
were recorded.  

Second Generation

Smack at the start of the oil crisis, the second-gen Mustang broke cover late 1973. Built on to a stretched Pinto frame, featuring frameless doors, the gen-two Mustang was available as a hatch and a hardtop, and the line-up included the Mach 1 and an upmarket Ghia with a vinyl roof. Aside from the pony on the grille, it was completely opposite to the gen-one cars. Smaller in size to tackle the Japanese Datsun 240Z and Toyota Celicas, power was from a 2.3lt four-cylinder Pinto donk or a 2.8lt Cologne V6 from the Capri. Blunting performance further was its heft, due to new emission and safety regs. 

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The 1975 year-model saw the 302ci V8 back under the bonnet but bolted to an auto, and an MPG model with different gearing for better economy. A ‘Stallion’ trim package was also offered. The Mach 1 lasted the entire gen-two run. Other performance models were the Cobra II and in 1978, the King Cobra Mustang was launched with the 302ci and a run of 4972 units. The hatchbacks of 1977 and ’78 could be optioned with a T-top roof. Generation-two Mustang sales totalled 1,107,718 units in the States.

Third Generation

Rolling into 1979 came the third-generation of the Mustang. It sat on a larger ‘Fox’ platform, giving it a bigger cabin. Available as a notchback, hatchback, and later a convertible. A plethora of variants was offered including Ghia, Cobra, L, GL, GLX, GT, Turbo GT, LX, GT-350 20th anniversary edition, SVO and Cobra R. Carried over were the 2.3lt Pinto engine, 2.8lt V6 and 4.9lt V8. There was also a problematic turbocharged 2.3lt that was withdrawn early on, revamped and put back in service. The 2.8lt V6 was replaced with a 3.3lt engine in 1979, which then got flung in 1983 for a 3.8lt V6. Dropped for 1979 was the 302ci V8, replaced by a 253ci V8 which also got dropped for a more powerful 302ci V8 in 1982. 

The third-gen Mustang wore two different noses. From 1979 to 1986 it was angled back and had four rectangular headlights, changing to a more rounded-off ‘aero’ style like the Taurus, with flush-composite headlights and a smooth grille-less nose.

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Mustang was the Official pace car of the 1979 Indy 500, featuring unique body adornments and replicas were sold to the public. The Mustang GT returned in 1982 replacing the Cobra and was powered by a specially-modified high-output 302ci V8. 

After a nine-year absence, the convertible returned in 1983, with a new nose and grille and a blue oval badge. Ford Special Vehicles Operation (SVO) created a Mustang with a turbo 2.3lt four, unique bodywork and released a 20th anniversary GT350 model, while 1985 saw another facelift to the nose. 

Slow sales and rising fuel costs saw Ford consider a variant of the Mazda MX-6 front-wheel drive as the next Mustang, but consumer objection saw them abandon that silly notion. It became the Probe instead. In 1987 there was a major restyle inside and out and in 1993, the last year of gen-three Mustang production, the newly established Ford Special Vehicles Team (SVT) created the SVT Cobra and Cobra R high-performance models in 1993. US sales for this series was 2,608,812 units.

Fourth Generation 

Debuting late 1993 with a major redesign, the first in 15 years, the gen-four Mustang rode on an updated Fox platform and had several styling cues from earlier Mustangs. For the first time, a notchback wasn’t offered and while the doors were once again frameless, it did have B-pillars and rear windows. To get the Mustangs mojo back, the weedy Pinto engine was ditched for a 3.8lt V6 bolted to a five-speed manual or a four-speed auto. The 30-year-old 5lt V8 sat in the Mustang GTS, GT and Cobra, but in 1998 Ford retired it replacing it with a modular 4.6lt SOHC V8, putting out a more Mustang-like 163kW. 

Just before the end of the century, the Mustang was restyled under Ford’s ‘new edge theme’, gaining sharper lines, bigger wheel arches, and bodywork creases. But its size and interior remained the same as the previous model. Power output of the V6 and V8 increased and the Bullitt made a reappearance, while the Mach 1 and Cobra were included in the gen-five Mustang range.

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Ford Aus imported a small batch early 2000s.

Ford Australia imported several gen-five Mustangs in 2001 and 2002, to tackle the Monaro. Conversion to right-hand drive was given to Tickford at a cost of $4 million. Sales were slow, partly due to the runaway success of the Monaro and partly due to the Mustang’s high price. Just 377 sold in Australia between 2001 and 2003. Ford Racing Australia built a Mustang V10 convertible, which was powered by a Ford Modular 6.8lt V10 from the American F-truck series and fitted with an Australian-made Sprintex supercharger. Home-grown sales were 1,562,569 units.

Fifth Generation

In 2005, an all-new Mustang took centre stage with styling echoing the fastbacks of the late 1960s. Development was overseen by Hau Thai-Tang, a veteran engineer for Ford’s IndyCar program, with exterior styling by Sid Ramnarace. At the time, Ford’s senior vice president of design, J Mays, called it ‘retro-futurism’ and assembly was undertaken at Flat Rock, Michigan. 

Stuck in the nose of the base model was a 4lt SOHC V6, with the GT getting an aluminium 4.6lt, three-valve, modular V8 with variable valve timing, and you could have a five-speed manual or a five-speed auto. 

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Come 2010, a new exterior appeared with reduced drag and LED tail-lights. The GT got a power boost, the suspension got new spring rates and dampers, bigger wheels, while traction and stability controls became standard. The following year, electric power steering was standard, six-speed manuals and autos offered, and Brembo brakes were an option along with 19-inch alloys. The Shelby GT500 had a 5.4lt supercharged V8 with an aluminium block, as opposed to the cast-iron block in the GT. 

As 2012 rolled in, so did a new Boss 302 V8 with 331kW-520Nm. A ‘Laguna Seca’ edition was available, with extra body bracing, flinging the rear seat for a steel ‘X-brace’ for stiffening, and other powertrain and handling enhancements.

In a break with tradition in the second quarter of 2012, Ford launched an update to the Mustang line as an early 2013 model. The Shelby GT500 now had a 5.8lt supercharged V8 producing 494kW. Both the Shelby and Boss came with six-speed manual transmissions and the 5lt V8 got more grunt, up to 313kW. Sales in the US of this generation totalled 1,006,975.

Sixth Generation

This is the generation, known as the FM series, Australia had been licking its chops for. Forget the handful that came in to promote the XR Falcon in the mid 1960s or the ones at the turn of the century, these were the fair dinkum ones. Built at Flat Rock, Michigan as right-hand drives. It wasn’t hard to see where the design inspiration for the sixth-gen ’Stang came from, the 1969 model, considered by many to be the pinnacle of Mustang design. 

It was launched on December 5, 2013 in Michigan, New York, Los Angeles, Barcelona, Shanghai and Sydney, and when the news of its pending arrival hit the airwaves, dealers were swamped with buyers throwing cash at them to get a high spot on the waiting list. Anticipation was high and the gen-six didn’t disappoint.

It was wider and lower than the previous generation, with a trapezoidal grille and a bigger cabin. Here, it was available with a 2.3lt turbo four or the snarling 5.0lt Coyote V8. It
came with a Getrag six-speed manual or a six-speed auto
with paddle shifters. 

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New meets old. Seperated by many generations.

All-new, independent rear suspension was developed for this new car and the gen-six was the first factory designed Mustang made as a right-hand-drive export model. 

After phenomenal success, the FN series was launched in 2018 with minor changes to the exterior. Carried over were the turbo four and five-litre V8 and six-speed manual. The auto became a 10-speed number, aimed at improving the V8’s thirst.

A limited-edition Bullitt model was released in 2018, commemorating the golden jubilee of the movie starring Steve McQueen. Just 700 of the Highland Green, manual-only models came here and were snapped up. 

For the 2021 model-year, Ford reintroduced the Mach 1 after a 17-year hiatus. 

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Mach 1 returned in 2021.

The 2021 Mach 1 uses the Coyote 5lt V8 with many GT350 components like the intake manifold, boosting power to 358kW and 569Nm, the lightweight Tremec six-speed manual gearbox, oil-filter adapter, engine oil cooler, and GT350 front and rear subframe. 

The Mach 1 also has the GT500 rear-axle cooling system, rear toe link, and rear diffuser. Like the Bullitt, the Mach 1 was limited to 700 units offered as a 10-speed auto as well and sold out in not time. Both are destined to become sought-after modern classics. US sales of the sixth-generation Mustang amounted to 672,677 units.

Since 2015, more than 30,000 Mustangs have sold in Australia, keeping the title the most popular sports car in the world tag, well and truly alive and well. 

Now we patiently wait for the seventh-generation Mustang to hit out shores in 2024, especially the top-spec Dark Horse.

Happy 60th anniversary Ford Mustang. 

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