Mustang 50 years of history: the car’s and mine
“A bucket of bolts,” my late Uncle Harry said in his Manchester accent. He was referring to the first Mustang we saw in 1964. I was in his black Mercury Comet with his son Rob who was, & still is, my big brother-buddy. I was 5 and Rob was 7. We disagreed with Uncle Harry…us Junior Car Nuts thought this new car was “neat!” Uncle Harry was a wonderful man; a WWII Allied Vet and a diesel train mechanic with Canadian National Railroad.
Lee Iacocca, a Mechanical Engineer, tried to sell safety to the Ford Motor Company in the early 1960’s. He failed. He was too far ahead of his time. Today, even the least expensive new car has many airbags! So he had lemons (safety), but he then realized the North American car buyer wanted (lemonade) a fun, inexpensive, sporty car. Iacocca took a page out of Chrysler’s Plymouth division. Take a reliable, but boring car, and put a “sexy” body on it. Plymouth took the Valiant and transformed it into the Barracuda. Later, Ford did the same with the Falcon and viola, the Mustang was born. The new car was launched on April 17, 1964, at the World’s Fair in New York City. That day, Ford sold 22,000 cars, which is still an automotive launch record! The car was named after the WWII fighter plane, but he used the horse logo. Ford also did a much better job of marketing than Chrysler.
The car was value priced, starting at around $2,350 for a 120 horsepower, 6- cylinder coupe. Ironically, the first Mustang sold went to a Canadian, a pilot in Newfoundland. Ford bought the car back and today it resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Detroit.
Iacocca moved to Chrysler in the 1980’s and the Marketing Engineer came up with the inexpensive ‘K’ Car, which saved the company from bankruptcy. He also marketed the ‘Magic Wagon.’ This was the very successful “garageable minivan” and is still built today in Windsor, ON. Ironically, Volkswagen’s early 1960’s Microbus was actually the first minivan. Iacocca just did a great job of targeting it to suburbanites and soccer (hockey in Canada) moms.
Just like the 1960’s, GM was snoozing. Their “Pony Car” answers, the Pontiac Firebird & Chevrolet Camaro didn’t reach the market until 1967. By then, Ford had sold close to 1 million Mustangs. In the late 2000’s, Camaro & Dodge Challenger were relaunched, well after the 2005 Mustang . They were 500 pounds heavier than an equally equipped Stang. Why? That negatively affects the car’s power-to-weight ratio. However, recent sales have put the Oshawa-built Camaro ahead.
In 1968, my Dad had a co-worker who bought a new Highland Green (same colour as Steve McQueen’s famous Bullitt Mustang), monstrous 428 Cobra Jet, 4 gear Fastback Mustang. This was my first, “pinned in the seat” experience! On June 1, 1969, my “cool” Uncle Kenn took me for my first trip to Mosport for the CanAm sports car race. I rode in his 1968 Presidential Blue, 289 V8/3-speed manual coupe. 10 years later, almost to the day, I earned my CASC racing license. June 1, 1985 is my wedding anniversary. Who knew that date would be so special! Mustang did very well on various motorsport events. It won 6 SCCA Trans Am championships compared to Pontiac’s namesake Trans Am which only won 1 title. The Mustang won many drag races with the likes of Funny Car Ace and John Force. Weekend Bracket racers often choose Mustangs due to being fast, but inexpensive. Mustang Pace Cars were used for 3 Indy 500’s. Today, Mustang competes in Nascar’s Nationwide Series. After college I worked for 1 year and bought a year-old 1978 Z28 Camaro. It was a 350 cid/ 5.7L V8, 180 horsepower, 4-speed. Ford offered the Mustang II in the mid- 1970’s. It didn’t turn my crank, so I bought the Z28. My wife and I owned 2 other Camaros. In 2004 I required major surgery. On the Friday afternoon prior to the surgery I picked my wife up at work, on Highway 9. Blackstock Ford just got a new retro designed (build code S197) Mustang GT on the lot. Very conveniently, our Aerostar magically made a stop so we could gawk at the new model. We didn’t get to drive it that day, but we sat in it. I said to my wife; “after my recovery, we’re buying one!” Prior to buying mine, a good friend took me to Mosport. His father, who was in his seventies, loaned us his new 2006 Legend Lime convertible Stang. We’re stopped at a red light and 2 cute young girls were at the bus stop. I said to my friend; “look, they’re looking at us.” He said; “you idiot, they’re looking at the car!” It was a great test ride. I had a very long recovery but eventually found a year-old, 2006 Redfire V6 Pony Package coupe/fastback on Autotrader. Due to my health, I bought an automatic transmission. The car had never seen snow and it only had 10,000 kilometres on it. The gentleman lived in Streetsville and, sadly, had lost his job and had to sell it. Prior to my test drive I told my wife; “I don’t need a rocket, but I won’t buy it if it’s a “dog.” Some of the 1970-1980 Mustangs had the anemic, 2.3L 4 cylinder engine. My lawn mower has more power! Boy, was I pleasantly surprised with the 2006’s performance! I promised the seller I’d baby it and I’ve kept my promise. It has never seen salt and it now has 40,000 km’s on it. It’s 8 years old and still like new! The 4.0L produces 215 horsepower, and more importantly, 240 pounds-feet of torque. When the executives at Ford spoke to their engineers about the 4.0L V6, they said; “make it go like a 289 V8!” They did! On 2 trips to see friends near Chicago, we averaged a very respectable 34 MPG. The
standard 4 wheel disc brakes are terrific! I’ve owned many cars from various manufacturers. This car has been far cheaper to own (cost per kilometre) than the Journalist’s choice, our ex-Toyota Camry. The overall build quality is equal. Thank you Auto Alliance plant, in Flat Rock, (near Detroit) Michigan. Ford recently unveiled the 50th Anniversary 2015 Mustang. For the first time it will be sold off of North American soil. Both the Ecoboost
turbo 4 cylinder and the V6 will produce over 300 horsepower. The 5.0L will turn out 400+ horsepower. If that’s not enough, the Shelby will crank out over 500 horsepower. All cars will have new independent rear suspension, replacing the old “live” axle which Mustang Fox Body (’79-’93) drag racers love. Personally, I’m neutral on the new model’s looks. I, like most Mustang owner’s early reviews, seem to like the rear-end treatment but we’re not fussy on the Ford “corporate”-looking front end. The headlights look thin & long. The side view gives way to Aston Martin-like rear windows.
The ‘famous’ sideways triangle design window is gone. Base price for a well-equipped 2015 is around $24,000. This year will see many Ontario Mustang 50th Anniversary events, such as Plunkett’s in London in early June. Ford in Oakville will host a huge GHMC event in late July, and the Ford dealer in Wingham has an event in early August. If you want to see some fun Mustang history, Google the 1968-“Make it happen” commercial. It’s 3 minutes long! Mustangs have hit the silver screen many times. Bullitt, Grand Prix, 007 James Bond films, & recently, Need for Speed, to name a few. Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” is a classic song. The car was Motor Trend Magazine’s Car of the Year (1974, and 1994). In 2005 it was runner-up in the North American Car of the Year award and was named Canadian Car of the Year. There are about 400 Mustang clubs and 5.3 million fans on Facebook. More than half of them from outside the U.S. Rob was my Best Man and is retiring shortly so he’ll have lots of time to wax his 2005 Mustang. I guess he and I still play with cars. We switched from Dinky Toys, Gorgi, and Hot Wheels to the real, full sized Mustangs. HAPPY 50TH ANNIVERSARY MUSTANG! 9.2 million of us owners can’t be wrong. Thanks Mr. Iacocca. Written by Larry Barnett