Next year Ford will be celebrating 50 years of its successful pony car. Here are 10 iconic Mustangs that made it all happen.
1964: The Mustang is born
1966: The Shelby Mustang
1969: The Boss 302
1978: The King Cobra
1984: The SVO Mustang
1998: The Super Stallion
2003: The Mach 1
2008: The King of the Road
2015: The new Mustang
After the first Mustang – a white convertible with a plush red leather interior – left the factory in Dearborn, Michigan on March 9, 1964, it became a star at the New York World’s Fair. For one, the Mustang looked nothing like any other Ford product (or any other car at the time for that matter) even though it borrowed many components from its Fairlane and Falcon siblings. It was smaller, sportier yet still practical; was available with a V8; and could be had as a 2+2 coupe or convertible. And it was cheap. This intoxicating combination of cost and fun allowed Ford to sell one million Mustangs within the first 18 months of production.
Ford made the Mustang GT fast enough with a 271-horsepower V8 and manual transmission, but Carroll Shelby knew how to make it even faster. Starting in 1965, Ford hand-picked GT fastbacks and sent them off to the Shelby American factory where they became lighter, earned a pair of racing stripes and a high-power 289 V8 that churned out over 300 horsepower, more than 30 horses above the standard, straight-from-the-factory Mustang’s eight.
By the late ’60s, the Mustang had already proved a massive commercial success, not only launching a new “pony car” segment but outselling the rival Camaro 100-to-one. It was only a matter of time before the Mustang made its leap to the silver screen and the driveways of celebrities. In 1968’s drama-thriller flick Bullitt a forest-green Mustang GT fastback roared onto the cinema screens with Steve McQueen behind the wheel, giving audiences (and car fanatics) one of the best car chases ever portrayed on film.
After the release of the GT 350, Ford was beginning to wonder how they could make their top-selling car even more exciting. The result was the “Boss,” of which there were two: the 302 and 429, each fitted with heavier-duty suspension, free-flowing intakes and exhaust systems, and with manual transmissions only. In other words, a hardcore Mustang for a hardcore driver. The Boss nameplate appeared again in 1970 and 1971, but wasn’t to be seen for another 20 years or so after that.
For nearly a decade, the Mustang had enjoyed record sales and gathered heaps of praise from the international automotive press. However by the mid-‘70s, its performance image had taken a few hits thanks in no small part to the oil crisis and increasingly stringent emissions standards. In an effort to swing the car back into the spotlight, the Mustang Cobra II was introduced in 1976, followed by a powerful “King Cobra” model in 1978 (pictured above), giving the car just enough momentum to carry it to the launch of an all-new Mustang in 1979.
The “Fox-body” Mustang was introduced in 1979 with a new look and fresh set of engines, but after all the regulations and oil embargoes had taken their toll, the course of the big American V8 car had shifted forever. The Mustang was powered by a turbocharged four-cylinder for the first time, but even with that added boost it couldn’t match its hairy-chested V8 brother. By 1984, not only was the “5.0” back with more oomph, but a new four-cylinder SVO Mustang had joined the lineup, providing the same 175 horsepower as the now-tweaked V8.
Following the successful release of the third-gen Mustang four years prior, Ford wanted to celebrate with a truly special version of its beloved pony car: the Super Stallion. With its supercharged 5.4-litre, 590-horsepower V8, and a top speed of a 175 miles per hour, it was well deserving of its title. Other iconic Mustangs of the generation? The venomous SVT Cobra.
By the early 2000s the dated-looking ‘Stang was beginning to show its age, but the success of retro-inspired trims like the Bullitt edition gave Ford some ideas. They introduced yet another special edition Mustang in 2003: the ice-cool Mach 1. Basically, a classic mix of blue paint; a slightly tweaked 305-horsepower Lincoln VIII 32-valve V8; and a big ram-air hood scoop. This blast-from-the-past Mustang showed the world yet again that Mustang’s always got an ace up its sleeve—and sure enough, this generation ‘Stang enjoyed another five years of service before finally retiring.
The Mustang came a long way since it first rattled the automotive world in the mid-1960s, but the fifth-gen model made a big leap by looking back: the thing looked like a retro-modern depiction of the original, a spiritual successor of sorts. As a result, it made a lot of sense for Ford to bring back a whole slew of retro-inspired trims and packages, including a new Shelby GT500. The silver-with-blue-stripes “King of the Road” GT500KR is perhaps the most iconic of the new Shelbys, and the most powerful, thanks to its 540-horsepower supercharged V8.
When your car’s refresh lines up with its 50th anniversary, you know you’ve got to make it count. Ford has, with a Mustang with global appeal that we’re already pretty sure is going to be a new icon. The new ‘Stang gets an independent rear suspension for the first time, plus a right powerful four-cylinder (the EcoBoost turbo makes 300-plus horsepower!) and fresh-but-familiar looks.