Posted By Margery Krevsky on April 7, 2010
April 17, 1964 was a major mark in history for the Ford Motor Company. On that day the first generation Ford “Mustang” was introduced at the New York World’s Fair. The suggested retail price was $2,368. This was the automakers most successful launch since Henry Ford’s Model A. It was initially based on the second generation North American Ford Falcon, a compact car. The “Mustang” created the “pony car” class of American cars – sports car like coupes with long hoods and short rear decks. Keeping proven engineering: much of the chassis, suspension and drive train components were derived from the Ford Falcon and North American Ford Fairlane.
Production of the “Mustang” began in Dearborn, MI on March 9, 1964. This is Ford’s third oldest nameplate in current production along with the F-Series pickup truck line, and the Falcon which is still produced in Australia. Original sales projected less than 100,000 units to be sold in the first year. This mark was surpassed in three months from rollout. A record 318,000 would be sold during the model year, and in its first eighteen months more than one million Mustangs were built. The public went crazy to own this vehicle.
There are conflicting tales of how the vehicle was named. There is real drama here on whom to give the “naming accolade”. One story goes that executive stylist, Pres Harris, is believed to have suggested the name and designed the body. He was a fan of the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plane and extended his admiration to the vehicle he designed. An Alternate view credits Robert J. Eggert, Ford Division market research manager. Mr. Eggert, a breeder of quarter horses received a birthday present from his wife of the book, ‘The Mustangs ‘by Frank Dobie in 1960. This gave him the idea of adding the “Mustang” name for Ford’s new concept car. But this did not fly as the designer preferred Cougar or Torino and Henry Ford II wanted T-Bird II. Trying the name again he added “Mustang” to the list to be tested by focus groups for a new vehicle.”Mustang” came out on top by a wide margin and the name became part of car culture. Interestingly the name “Mustang” is used everywhere in the world but Germany because it belongs to a lawnmower manufacturer; there, “Mustangs” are called T-5s.
Mustangs grew larger and heavier with each model year until, in response to the 1971-1973 models, fans of the original 1964 design wrote to Ford urging a return to its size and concept. There have been several platform generations and designs. Although some other pony cars have seen a revival, the Mustang is the only original pony car to remain in uninterrupted productions over four decades for development and revision. The car inspired competitors to created Gm’s Chevrolet Camero, AMC’s Javelin and Chrysler’s Plymouth Barracuda. It also inspired coupes such as the Toyota Celica and Ford’s Capri, which were imported to America.
Donald N. Frey was the head engineer for the Mustang project supervising the overall development in a record breaking 18 months. At the time Lee Iacocca was the Ford Division Chief. Product Design Chief, Joe Oros told his design team he wanted “A car to appeal to women, but I want men to desire it too”. The “Mustang” gave everyone what they wanted.
Margery Krevsky is the author of “Sirens of Chrome: the enduring allure of auto show models” published by Momentum Publishing, available at amazon.com. See the www.sirensofchrome.com for more of Margery’s automotive stories.