Happy 56th birthday to the Ford Mustang

The Ford Pavilion at the 1964 New York Worlds’ Fair. (Ford archive photos)

6 generations of the Mustang from its debut in 1964 to 2020

It began 56 years ago this Friday, April 17, as more than 51 million people from around the world packed into Flushing Meadows Park in Queens for the New York World’s Fair and the debut of the Ford Mustang. It was 1964 — just 16 days after the debut of the Plymouth Barracuda — and the 1965 model-year Mustang would prove to be Ford’s most successful launch since the Model A.

It was a media-rich event, including a test drive for journalists, the Mustang Road Rally, from the World’s Fair to Dearborn, via Niagara Falls.

Journalists prepare to head out for the first Ford Mustang Road Rally from Westchester Country Club in New York to Dearborn, Mich., in April 1964. (Ford archives)
A rally fuel stop along the way to Dearborn.
Niagara Falls, on the way to Dearborn.

Enthusiasts dubbed the first-year car as the “1964½” Mustang. But all Mustangs were advertised, VIN coded and titled by Ford as 1965 models. Production began in Dearborn, Mich., on March 9, 1964.

Original sales forecasts projected fewer than 100,000 units for the first year, but the mark was surpassed in three months from rollout.  Another 318,000 cars would be sold during the model year (a record), and in its first 18 months, more than 1 million Mustangs were built.

Henry Ford II poses with the all-new Mustang at the Ford Pavilion during the World’s Fair debut.  The sporty four-seater is named after the legendary P-51 Mustang fighter plane from World War II. The price at launch: $2,368.

In August 2018, Ford produced the 10 millionth Mustang, a 2019 Wimbledon White convertible with a V-8 engine (matching the first 1965 Mustang).

First generation, 1965–1973

An early 1965 Mustang hardtop.

To meet its advertised list price of $2,368, the Mustang was based heavily on components that were already in production for other Ford models (just as Ford did with the first-gen 1955-1957 Thunderbirds). Many (if not most) of the interior, chassis, suspension and drivetrain components were derived from the Falcon and Fairlane.

1965 Ford Mustang T5 prototype, titled for the project name and the nameplate for early German-market sales.

From 1967 until 1973, the Mustang got bigger, allowing a big block engine to be offered for the first time. Front and rear end styling was more pronounced, and the “twin cove” instrument panel offered a thicker crash pad and larger gauges.

The 1964 Dearborn, Mich., assembly plant.

Hardtop, fastback and convertible body styles continued as before.

Around this time, the Mustang was paired with a Mercury variant, called the Cougar, which used its own styling cues, such as a “prowling cat” logo and hidden quad headlamps.

A 1965 advertisement.

New safety regulations by the U.S. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration for 1967 included an energy-absorbing steering column and wheel, 4-way emergency flashers, a dual-circuit hydraulic braking system, and softer interior knobs.

1965 Ford Mustang Fastback.

The 1968 models received revised side scoops, steering wheel and gasoline caps. Side marker lights were also added that year, and cars built after Jan. 1, 1968, included shoulder belts for both front seats on coupes. The 1968 models also introduced a new 302 cu in (4.9-liter) V-8 engine, designed to meet new federal emissions regulations.

1965 Mustang interior.

The 1969 restyle added more heft to the body as width and length again increased.

A 1966 Mustang GT fastback.

Weight went up markedly too.

The 1966 Shelby Mustang GT-350H, the so-called rent-a-racer.
Mustang sales pass the 1 million mark in March, 1966.
The 1967 instrument panel.

Due to the larger body and revised front end styling, the 1969 models (but less so in 1970) had a notable aggressive stance.

The 1968.
The 1969 Boss 302.

The 1969 models featured “quad headlamps” which disappeared to make way for a wider grille and a return to standard headlamps in the 1970 models.

Ford designer Larry Shinoda in the design studio courtyard with the 1969 Mustang Boss.

This switch back to standard headlamps was an attempt to tame the aggressive styling of the 1969 model, which some felt was too extreme and hurt sales, but 1969 production exceeded the 1970 total.

Prototype testing the Boss 302.
The 1970 Fastback.
The 1971 Mustang Mach 1. The biggest Mustangs ever – nearly a foot longer and some 600 pounds heavier than the originals – are introduced. The Boss 351, with its “Cleveland” block and Cobra Jet heads, debuts. The Mach 1 comes with a variety of powertrains, topped by the 429 Super Cobra Jet (SCJ).
A 1972 hardtop.
For 1972, styling is unchanged from 1971, and the only new model offering is the Sprint – a special red, white and blue exterior paint-and-tape package with coordinated interior.

Second generation, 1974–1978

The 1974 Mustang II hatchback. For the first time since the car’s 1964 introduction, Mustang II was available in a hatchback body style for some added practicality.

Lee Iacocca, who had been one of the forces behind the original Mustang, became president of Ford Motor Co in 1970 and ordered a smaller, more fuel-efficient Mustang for 1974. Initially it was to be based on the Ford Maverick, but ultimately was based on the Ford Pinto subcompact.

The 1975 Mustang II Ghia. V-8 power returns to Mustang with the 302 cubic-inch small-block.
Workers perform quality control checks at the Dearborn Assembly in 1975.

The new model, called the “Mustang II,” was introduced on Sept. 21, 1973, two months before the first 1973 oil crisis. Its reduced size allowed it to compete against successful imported sports coupés such as the Datsun 240Z, Toyota Celica and the European Ford Capri (then Ford-built in Germany and Britain, sold in U.S. by Mercury).

The 1978 Mustang II King Cobra.

First-year sales were 385,993 cars, compared with the original Mustang’s 12-month sales record of 418,812. Ultimately, the Mustang II would be an early example of downsizing that would take place among Detroit’s Big Three later in the decade.

Third generation, 1979–1993


The redesigned 1979 Mustang was moved to the larger Fox platform, initially developed for the 1978 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr.
With introduction of the Fox Body Mustang in 1979, more European design language was adopted inside and out. The two-spoke wheel from Mustang II was replaced with a four-spoke wheel, which was later shared with other Ford products.

The 1979 Mustang was based on the larger Fox platform (initially developed for the 1978 Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr). The larger body with an increased wheelbase yielded more interior space for four passengers, especially in the back seat, as well as a larger capacity trunk and a bigger engine bay.

For 1980 (shown), the 302- cubic-inch V-8 engine is dropped and replaced by an economy-minded 119-horsepower, 255-cubic-inch derivative of the “Windsor” small-block V-8.
From 1981.
The 1982 Mustang GT.

Body styles included a coupé (or notchback), hatchback and convertible.

The GT-350 20th Anniversary Edition was added in 1984, and the high-performance SVO odel ran from 1984–1986 followed by the Cobra R in 1993.

After 10 years, Mustang again has a convertible model for 1983. It featured a power top and a tempered glass back window.

The third-generation Mustang had two different front-end styles. From 1979 to 1986, the front end was angled back using four rectangular headlights, known by enthusiasts as “Four Eyes.” The front end was restyled for 1987 to 1993 model years to reflect the contemporary, rounded-off “aero” style of the Ford Taurus using flush-composite headlamps and a smooth grille-less nose.

The 1986 Mustang SVO.

The Mustang was selected as the 1979 Official Indianapolis 500 Pace Car with replicas sold to the public. Its special body-appearance parts were adapted by the Cobra package for 1980-81.

The Mustang received a major restyling for 1987, including the interior, which carried it through the end of the 1993 model year.

The 1987 GT convertible.

Under the newly-established Ford SVT division, the 1993 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra and Cobra R were added as special, high-performance models which closed out the third generation of the Mustang.

Fourth generation, 1994–2004

The launch of the fourth-generation Mustang included a nod to the original 1964 pony car, with a twin cockpit layout and sculpted modern styling for the steering wheel and airbag.

The interior redesign made the various buttons easier to use, while allowing for the driver to keep eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. Horn buttons were replaced with a hinged air-bag cover, acting as horn control at the wheel’s center.

In November 1993, the Mustang debuted its first major redesign in 15 years. Code-named “SN-95” by the automaker, it was based on an updated version of the rear-wheel drive Fox platform called “Fox-4.” The new styling by Patrick Schiavone incorporated several styling cues from earlier Mustangs. For the first time since its introduction 1964, a notchback coupe model was unavailable.

The 1995 Cobra coupe.

For 1999, the Mustang was reskinned with Ford’s New Edge styling theme with sharper contours, larger wheel arches, and creases in its bodywork, but its basic proportions, interior design, and chassis remained the same as the previous model.

Output of the 1998 Mustang GT’s 4.6-liter V-8 increases to 225 horsepower.

There were also three alternate models offered in this generation: the 2001 Bullitt, the 2003 and 2004 Mach 1 and the 320-hp 1999 and 2001,  and 390-hp 2003 and 2004 Cobra.

Convertibles from 1999, 1994 and 1965.
The 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra.
The 2001 Mustang Bullitt GT, in the likeness of the 1968 from the movie.
The 2003 Mach 1.
Bill Ford presents the 300 millionth Ford vehicle, a 2004 Mustang GT convertible 40th anniversary edition. The 2004 Mustangs are the last cars built at Ford’s Dearborn Assembly Plant, which had produced every model Mustang year since the car’s inception.

Fifth generation, 2005–2014

The redesigned model for 2005.

The redesigned 2005 Mustang recalls the styling echoes of the fastback Mustangs of the late-1960s. Ford’s senior vice president of design, J Mays, called it “retro-futurism.” The fifth-generation Mustang was manufactured at the Flat Rock Assembly Plant in Flat Rock, Mich.

A 2005 GT convertible instrument panel.

The refreshed 2010 Mustang was released in the spring of 2009 with a redesigned exterior — which included sequential LED taillights.

2007 Mustang Shelby introduces a 500-horsepower supercharged version of the 5.4-liter V-8.

For 2012, a new Mustang Boss 302 version was introduced. And in the second quarter of 2012, Ford launched an update to the Mustang line as an early 2013 model.

The 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca.
The 2013 U.S. Air Force Thunderbirds Edition Mustang.

Sixth generation, 2015 to present

The sixth generation redesign added a wider and lower body and, for the first time, a fully independent rear suspension A 2015 Mustang GT is shown.

The sixth generation Mustang was unveiled on Dec. 5, 2013, in Dearborn, Mich., New York City, Los Angeles, Barcelona (Spain), Shanghai (China) and Sydney, Australia. The internal project code name is S-550.

The 2017 Mustang, with the choice of a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine.

Changes include a body widened by 1.5 inches and lowered 1.4 inches, a trapezoidal grille and a 2.75-inch lower decklid.  A new independent rear suspension (IRS) system was developed specifically for the new model.

The 10 millionth Mustang sold was a 2019 Wimbledon White GT
convertible with a 460-hp,V-8 and six-speed manual

The 2018 model year Mustang featured a minor exterior redesign and the debut of a 310-hp, 2.4-liter turbocharged (Ecoboost) four-cylinder (and the 3.-liter V-6 was dropped). The 5.0-liter  V-8 got a power boost to 460 hp and 420 lb-ft torque The automatic transmission for all model was upgraded to a 10-speed.

The 2020 Mustang GT500, the most powerful street-legal Ford to date. Powered by a supercharged 5.2-liter V-8 producing more than 700 horsepower.

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