This car doesn’t really need an introduction does it? It’s a car synonymous with raw power and true American grit, built in a time when car development was still very much alive and audacious new strides were being made to create the most outrageous machines. New words such as Muscle Car and Pony Car were being embedded on the public conscience, and the car that has been credited for starting the ball of everything that followed rolling is this, the Ford Mustang of 1968.
The origins of the Ford Mustang and indeed the Pony Car itself are owed largely to the Ford Company itself, with the original Pony Cars of the late 1950’s being the two seater Ford Thunderbird. A Pony Car, for all intents and purposes, is an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance orientated image, essentially a sports car that isn’t a sports car in the traditional sense, but looks like a sports car.
The Mustang development began in September 1962, and was designed by assistant general manager and chief engineer, Donald N. Frey. Previously, Frey had worked on a concept car known as the Mustang I, a mid-engined sports car similar to that of the early Italian supercars. Frey was tasked with redesigning the concept into a smaller car, and was given 5 goals to fulfill; seat four, have bucket seats and a floor mounted shifter, weigh no more than 2,500lbs and be no more than 180 inches in length, sell for less than $2,500, and have multiple power, comfort, and luxury options.
The Lincoln–Mercury design studio ultimately produced the winning design in the intramural contest, under Project Design Chief Joe Oros and his team of L. David Ash, Gale Halderman, and John Foster. To decrease development costs, the Mustang used chassis, suspension, and drivetrain components derived from the Ford Falcon and Fairlane. It used a unitized platform-type frame from the 1964 Falcon, and welded box-
section side rails, including welded crossmembers. Although hardtop Mustangs accounted for the highest sales, durability problems with the new frame led to the engineering of a convertible first, which ensured adequate stiffness. Overall length of the Mustang and Falcon was identical, although the Mustang’s wheelbase was slightly shorter. With an overall width of 68.2 inches, it was 2.4 inches narrower, yet the wheel track was nearly identical. Shipping weight, approximately 2,570lbs with the Straight-6 engine. A fully equipped V8 model weighed approximately 3,000lbs. Although most of the mechanical parts were from the Falcon, the Mustang’s body was completely different; sporting a shorter wheelbase, wider track, lower seating position and lower overall height. An industry first, the “torque box” was an innovative structural system that greatly stiffened the Mustang’s construction and helped contribute to better handling.
Finally, after a record 18 months of development, the car entered sales five months before schedule in April 1964. Cars were manufactured alongside 1964 Ford Falcons and 1964 Mercury Comets, the earliest Mustangs are widely referred to as the 1964½ model, and production was divided among the Ford factories at Dearborn, San Jose, Metuchen, Valencia and Mexico City. Entry-level models were produced with a 2.8L Straight-6 engine from the Falcon, and came at a respectable $2,368 (about $16,180 in 2015, the equivalent cost of a small family hatchback!). Several developments were quickly made to the car in 1965, with engines upgraded to 3.3L 120hp units, and the previous 4.3L V8 was replaced by a new 4.7L two-barrel carburettor unit as the base V8. This was later complimented by a 225hp four-barrel carbureted V8. The Mustang GT version was introduced as the “GT Equipment Package” and included a V8 engine (most often the 225hp), grille-mounted fog lamps, rocker panel stripes, and disc brakes. In the interior the GT option added a different instrument panel that included a speedometer, fuel gauge, temp. gauge, oil pressure gauge and ammeter in five round dials (the gauges were not marked with numbers, however.)
Following its launch, the Ford Mustang caught everyone napping, with General Motors having absolutely nothing that could come close. Although a hastily reworked version of Chrysler’s newly released Plymouth Barracuda attempted to fight back, the sales numbers for the Ford Mustang were just completely off the scale. The world over people lauded the car’s beautifully grunty image, it’s comparatively good 20mpg fuel economy at 60mph, its grand interior, even the name was praised, Mustang, a strong word for a breed of American Horse. Its style hearkened back to the lawless and raunchy Wild West era, and its name just added to that premise. So great was this car that it took even the British by storm, a country that has never had a ‘Wild-West’, with Ford stealing a lucrative market with their derivative European version, the legendary Ford Capri, the wet dream of so many British youths!
The most famous version of the original Ford Mustang MkI’s however is almost unanimously considered to be the model of 1967/68. The 1967 model year Mustang was the first redesign of the original model. Ford’s designers began drawing up a larger version even as the original was achieving sales success. The major mechanical feature was to allow the installation of a big-block V8 engine. The overall size, interior and cargo space were increased following earlier customer complaints about legroom, and exterior trim changes included concave taillights, side scoop (on the 1967 model) and chrome (on the 1968 model) side ornamentation, square rear-view mirrors, and usual yearly wheel and gas cap changes. A new 320hp 6.4L FE engine from the Ford Thunderbird, which was equipped with a four-barrel carburetor, was made available in place of the previous 289hp power unit. Top Speed of the top-range GT version was 105mph. During the mid-1968 model year, a drag racer for the street could be ordered with the optional 7.0L Cobra Jet engine which was officially rated at 335hp.
My personal favourite though, and the favourite of many other Pony Car fans, is the 1968 Ford Mustang Fastback, primarily due to its appearance in the crime thriller Bullitt. In an exciting chase across San Francisco, Lt. Frank Bullitt, played by actor Steve McQueen, drove a modified Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT fastback with a 6.4L 4V engine in pursuit of two hitmen in a black 1968 Dodge Charger, jumping over the city’s many steep hills and streets, sweeping down narrow roads and dodging traffic and the ever popular SFO Cable Car! The chase has gone down in history as one of the most exciting car chases in movie history, and elevated Bullitt’s Mustang to everlasting stardom.
The original lines of this particular Mustang ended essentially in 1969, when then model for that year modified the body to make it look more macho. Many Mustang enthusiasts I know choose to forget this particular generation, citing it as the beginning of the long
slide down into obscurity that the Mustang went to in the 70’s and 80’s. Although one of these Mustang’s did take part in the spectacular Las Vegas car chase in the James Bond movie Diamonds are Forever, the car simply had not the same style and magnificence that the 1968 model had obtained before in Bullitt. The 2nd Generation Mustang of 1974 however is where most Mustang enthusiasts believe the true spark was lost, with its big chunky panels and downgraded engine being considered a husk of the original, compounded by the 3rd Generation which was to be based off a Mazda!
But it’s the original that most people remember as the car that imprinted the word ‘Mustang’ into the urban dictionary. A car that is simply a telling of raw power, a bandit against any form of environmental consideration, a lawless figure in a world of legislation. So iconic is this amazing machine that Ford went back to its design with the latest generation of Mustang, although a bit more bulky and angular.