It’s time to celebrate everyone’s favorite little pony.
It was April 17, 1964 when Ford first revealed the Mustang at the New York Auto Show, making the prancing pony 56 years old today. This is yet another milestone for a vehicle that’s impacted not only the muscle car scene but the entire automotive landscape. After all, its influence has even spread into the all-electric crossover segment!
This moment is perfect for taking a look back at some of the highlights from Ford Mustang history.
Shelby Gets Involved
Most people know how Carroll Shelby referred to the Ford Mustang as a “secretary’s car” back in the day. What he didn’t realize at the time was he would elevate the lowly pony car to high-performance status.
Applying lessons he learned building the wildly successful Cobras and running a motorsports team, Carroll transformed the Mustang into the potent Shelby GT350 in 1965. This, along with the successful transformation of the Ford GT40 program, helped strengthen the relationship between Ford and Shelby, leading to the creation of the Shelby GT500. Today, both Shelby models sit at the pinnacle of Mustang performance.
Even non-car people obsess over the Bullitt Mustang, that beat-up green pony driven by Steve McQueen through the hilly streets of San Francisco in pursuit of a villainous Dodge Charger. The car fascinated car buffs, who have been treated by a few different tributes models, including the current S550.
One of the two original Bullitt Mustangs used in filming set a record for Mustang auctions when it hammered at $3.4 million. That’s a lot of money for a pony car, even if it were driven by a star in a cult classic film, so that record could stand for quite some time.
Who’s The Boss?
When 1968 rolled around Bunkie Knudsen and Larry Shinoda departed GM and created two of the most-celebrated Mustangs ever: the Boss 302 and Boss 429. They were fast, loud, and brash, grabbing the attention of younger car shoppers who wanted something to match their personality. In addition, they’re some of the rarer Mustang models ever made, making them solid gold in the collector market today.
Beloved by same and detested by others, the Fox Body Mustang had a long run from 1979 to 1993. It was longer than the dreaded Mustang II so owners had more interior space, and more importantly more room under the hood for tinkering.
Among the highlights for the Fox Body generation was the return of the Mustang GT in 1982 with a 5.0-liter V8, the return of the convertible in 1983 after a nine-year absence, and the introduction of turbocharging with the Mustang SVO in 1984. Prices for these cars have been on the rise lately, thanks to a loyal following.
Back in 1987 Autoweek magazine leaked Ford’s plans to replace the Fox Body Mustang with a front-wheel-drive platform developed by Mazda, slapping the Mustang name on that car while phasing out the old rear-wheel-drive approach. Mustang fans were livid, flooding Ford headquarters with angry letters, threatening to abandon the Blue Oval forever.
Ford listened and badged what would’ve been the new Mustang as the Probe, which has been pretty much forgotten. Then it got to work on creating a new generation of the car, the SN95, which hearkened back to the pony car’s roots.
While by today’s Mustang performance standards it’s not as impressive, when the SVT Mustang Cobra R debuted for the 2000 model year it was a big deal. The fastest production Mustang ever, it had some wicked aero paired with a 5.4-liter V8 pushing 385-horsepower. A true track car, it was lightweighted with extraneous features like air conditioning and a radio ditched.
Available only in Performance Red, the Cobra R was all about brashness with a bite to back it up. A mere 300 were produced, so these are hot items whenever one is posted for sale.
Thanks to a rift with Ford in the 70s, Carroll Shelby stopped working with the Mustang all the way until the 2007 model year. Perhaps he was impressed by the new S197 which launched two years before. What really matters is he helped created the first Shelby GT500 in decades and it was a thunderclap in the automotive world.
When it debuted, the fact the supercharged 5.4-liter V8 pushed 500-hp sure made people stand up and notice. Some questioned if it would remain the top-dog Mustang for a long time, but thankfully they were wrong.
Speaking of pushing the performance envelope, Ford really did that with the S550 Mustang when it dropped the fan-favorite 5.0-liter Coyote V8 in GT models. Out of the gate it produced 412-hp, almost equaling the forced-induction figure from the venerable GT500.
Like French cheese the Coyote has only become better with time, pushing 460-hp in the current Mustang GT.
Shelby had to do something even more special with the Coyote V8 raising the bar. Instead of just pushing the engine further, it went the route of creating the Voodoo, a flat-plane-crank 5.2-liter V8 with 526-hp and an almost unearthly exhaust note you’d expect from something more exotic. Used first in the 2016 Shelby GT350 and GT350R.
The GT500 Strikes Back
This year we’ve been blessed with the new Shelby GT500. There’s a lot to be excited about the car, especially since it took the Voodoo V8, bolted up an 2.6-liter Eaton supercharger, swapped out many of the internals, and boosted output to a peak 760-hp, just shy of double what the Cobra R made 20 years ago.
Whether you’re a Ford fan or not, there’s no denying the sales dominance of the Mustang. The S550 has been selling like crazy since it was launched in a range of foreign markets, demonstrating the international appeal of the pony car.
A clear demonstration of the Mustang’s runaway financial success is on display today with Ford announcing it was the best-selling sports car in the world for 2019. It also has claimed the title of the best-selling sports coupe in the world for five years in a row. Needless to say, it has buried the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro sales-wise, a trend that doesn’t seem ready to let up anytime soon.
Happy 56th birthday, Ford Mustang!
Images credit: Ford Motor Company