Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
April 1, 2004
Photos By: Dale Amy, The Mustang Monthly Archives, Courtesy Of Jerry Heasley, From Ford Media

On April 17, 2004, the Mustang will turn 40. That's quite an accomplishment for an automotive nameplate if you think about all the once-popular models that have fallen by the wayside: Falcon, Fairlane, Thunderbird, Cougar, and even Camaro and Firebird. Only the Corvette can lay claim to a longer tenure.

Many things have contributed to the Mustang's long-lasting success. People such as former Ford executive Lee Iacocca and current SVT boss John Coletti have led the cheerleading within Ford. Cars like the Shelby, Boss, and Mach 1, both new and old, contributed to the Mustang's visibility. Oh, we almost lost the Mustang in the '80s. But, in the end, it was you, the Mustang owner/enthusiast, who came to the rescue by letting Ford know you wanted your car to stay sporty-and rear-wheel-drive.

This is our tribute to America's fun car, and to the milestones that have kept it running strong for the past four decades.

November 2, 1960:Lee Iacocca Named Ford Vice PresidentNo one knew it at the time, obviously, but when a young Ford executive by the name of Anthony Lido "Lee" Iacocca was promoted to vice president and general manager of Ford Division in late 1960, just days before John F. Kennedy was elected President of the United States, it set in motion a four-year project of ideas, teamwork, marketing research, design sketches, and prototypes that would evolve into a sporty version of the Falcon called the Mustang. Just 36 at the time, Iacocca acknowledged Ford's stodgy image, especially to the emerging baby-boomer generation, and set out to do something about it. After debating designs and names (Torino and Cougar were also in the running), Iacocca's vision of a car for baby boomers debuted in 1964 as the Mustang, a car based on the Falcon, but with sportier long-hood, short-deck styling.

September 10, 1962:Henry Ford II Approves Iacocca's ConceptWhile keeping a close eye on the sales success of the Corvair Monza, Iacocca initiated a design contest at Ford. As a result, the team, headed by Ford Studio Chief Joe Oros, came up with the short-hood, long rear-deck styling and sculpted side scoops for a clay model they called "Cougar." In September 1962, Iacocca made his pitch to Henry Ford II, who approved the car on the spot, assigning $40 million and setting production at 150,000 units. The target date for Job One was March 9, 1964, with public introduction set for five weeks later

October 7, 1962:Mustang I DebutThe Mustang name and running-horse emblem first appeared on a two-seater, mid-engine concept car, which debuted to the press and public at a Watkins Glen road race in early October 1962. Designer John Najjar picked the Mustang name because he admired World War II fighter planes, particularly the P-51 Mustang; but marketers at J. Walter Thompson, Ford's ad agency, felt the image of a "wild American horse" was a better fit. It also provided designer Phil Clark with a concept for sketching out a running-horse logo over tri-color bars. The two-seater Mustang, which became known as the Mustang I, received favorable public reaction and press, so the car toured the United States for auto shows and even colleges with mechanical engineering programs.

November 1962:"Mustang" is the NameJoe Oros, who created the winning long-hood, short-deck styling for Iacocca's "sporty Falcon," lobbied to keep the Cougar name for the production car. But J. Walter Thompson, after sifting through 6,000 possible names, narrowed the list to six: Cougar, Bronco, Puma, Cheetah, Colt, and Mustang. By November 1962, Henry Ford II and Iacocca had made the decision to go with Mustang, although many at Ford continued to call the car by other proposed names, including T-5, Cougar, Special Falcon, and Torino.

October 6, 1963:Mustang II Debuts At Watkins GlenWith the decision made to name the four-seat car Mustang, Iacocca faced a dilemma: The public associated the name with the two-seater concept sports car from the previous year. To bridge the public's perception, a Mustang II show car was built from a preproduction Mustang prototype. It retained the four-seat configuration, but also featured some of the Mustang I's styling cues and paint scheme-white with blue racing stripes. Fiberglass nose and tail pieces, along with a modified roofline, gave a sleeker appearance than the production Mustang to come. The Mustang II debuted almost exactly a year after the Mustang I at the same Watkins Glen venue.

March 9, 1964:Mustang Production BeginsThe first production Mustangs rolled out of the Dearborn Assembly Plant right on schedule. Although there is still some debate about whether it came off the line first, serial number 5F08F100001, a white convertible, has been recognized by Ford as Mustang No. 1. Many of the first cars were shipped to distant dealerships, like George Parsons Ford in St. Johns, Newfoundland, where Mustang No. 1 was mistakenly sold to airline pilot Stanley Tucker. Like Mustang No. 1, many of the first production Mustangs were intended to serve time as showroom display models.

April 16, 1964:Media Blitz BeginsAt 9:30 p.m. on Thursday, April 16, 1964, Ford aired Mustang infomercials simultaneously on the three major television networks, where some 29 million viewers got their first glimpse of the new Mustang. The blitz continued the next morning and through the weekend with articles and ads in some 2,600 newspapers. Iacocca and his Mustang even appeared on the covers of Time and Newsweek at the same time. Three days previously, the Mustang had been introduced to the press at the New York World's Fair, where Mustang convertibles were also used, along with Galaxies, Fairlanes, and other Fords, to transport visitors on the "Magic Skyway" through the Ford Rotunda, which featured a number of Disney exhibits.

April 17, 1964:Mustang Goes on SaleThe media blitz obviously worked. When Ford dealerships opened their doors on Friday morning, they were swamped with people anxious to check out Ford's new Mustang, either the economical hardtop or the sporty convertible. The stories are legendary: the man who slept overnight in the Mustang he purchased while waiting for his check to clear the bank; the dealer who couldn't get a Mustang off the wash rack because so many people were around it all day; and police being called and dealers locking their doors to control the rush. Ford had produced some 16,000 Mustangs during the six weeks of production prior to the car's official introduction. By the end of the day on April 17, Ford was already 6,000 cars behind.

May 30, 1964:Mustang Paces Indianapolis 500As if it needed the additional publicity, the Mustang was chosen as the official Pace Car for the '64 Indianapolis 500. To commemorate the honor, Ford produced a number of Pace Car replica hardtops for top-performing Ford dealerships. Approximately 190 were built, with 105 going to the best dealers at a special celebration in Dearborn, where Iacocca presented the keys himself. The replicas were white with blue interiors, with a blue racing stripe over the center of the car (some stripes were placed toward the driver side due to a press photo that had the stripes placed incorrectly). For actual race duties, three '6411/42 convertibles were prepped by Holman-Moody. Another 35 convertibles were prepared as "dignitary cars."

August 1964:Fastback IntroducedThe Mustang's sporty image was further enhanced in late summer 1964 with the introduction of the 2+2, a fastback version with a sleek roofline that swept back to the trunk. With functional vents on the C-pillars and a fold-down rear seat that opened into the trunk for increased cargo area, the fastback added yet another reason for people to purchase a Mustang. Fastbacks added 68,784 units to the Mustang's already record-breaking 1965 sales figures.

January 27, 1965:Shelby GT350 IntroducedIntroduced in the midst of Ford's Total Performance campaign, the Mustang needed more of a performance image than a 289 High-Performance engine in a standard fastback. The answer came from Carroll Shelby, who was successfully campaigning Ford-powered Cobras at racetracks around the world. Iacocca wanted the Mustang to be involved in SCCA production racing, so he approached his old friend Shelby about turning the Mustang into a race car. The result was the '65 GT350 with a 306hp version of the 289 Hi-Po, numerous suspension modifications, side-exiting exhaust, and a fiberglass panel in place of the rear seat to turn the GT350 into a two-seater sports car to fit into SCCA's production class rules. All '65 Shelbys were Wimbledon White with Guardsman Blue side stripes, although the optional LeMans stripes over the top quickly became synonymous with Shelbys. The Shelby Mustangs, with a GT500 model added in 1967, would anchor the Mustang's performance image for the next five years.

February 14, 1965:Shelby R-Model Wins First RaceOn Valentine's Day, 1965, driver Ken Miles showed the love to other SCCA B/Production competitors at Green Valley Raceway in north Texas by winning the first race the GT350 ever entered. The R-Models, as the race versions were known, went on to capture the B/Production championship in 1965.

April 17, 1965:GT and Interior Dcor Group DebutExactly one year to the day after the Mustang's official introduction, Ford added to the option palate two new and attractive packages. The GT option, available only with the 289 4V and High-Performance engines, added grille-mounted fog lights, side stripes and emblems, trumpet exhaust tips, standard front disc brakes, a five-dial instrument cluster, and a quicker steering ratio. For the inside, the Interior Dcor Group jazzed up the cockpit with luxury seats (with running ponies embossed into the seatbacks, thus inspiring the "Pony Interior" name), molded door panels, woodgrain on the five-dial instrument cluster and glovebox door, and other premium components.

November 2, 1965:Hertz Orders First GT350H ShelbysAdding to the legend of the Mustang was the fact that the Hertz Corporation offered a GT350H version of the Shelby Mustang as a rental car to members of the Hertz Sports Car Club. The first 100 cars were ordered in early November 1965, followed by a subsequent order for 100 more, then a final order for another 800, bringing GT350H production to 1,000. Most were painted in the Hertz corporate colors-black with gold-although some were built in other Shelby colors, but always with the gold stripes. Most of the cars were equipped with automatic transmissions, and some later versions were fitted with piggyback brake master cylinders to assist with the nonpower metallic-lined brakes.

February 23, 1966:One-Millionth Mustang ProducedNothing underscored the Mustang's runaway success better than the fact that one million were sold in less than two years. Both Lee Iacocca and Product Planning Manager Donald Frey showed up at the end of the Dearborn Assembly Plant line for the One-Millionth Mustang celebration photo op with a specially lettered '66 convertible. That's Iacocca opening the door for Frey in the photo