April 1, 2004

Seems strange to think the Mustang is 40 years old. In "car years," the Mustang has been around quite a long time. Most models die a slow and painful death in a short five-to-ten-year life span. But not the car that created the slang term "Pony Car." its legacy is a long one that has seen the car grow, shrink, lose power, and, finally in the last several years, regain the dominance of its market. So much so, the Camaro and Firebird-last of the competitors for the Mustang-have bid an adieu. Even as the lone player in its field, the Mustang has finally come into its own as a wild performance ride.

The Mustang didn't start out as a knuckle-dragging behemoth. It was intended as a sporty car to capture the youth market, with little attention paid to the powerful. The hot performance stuff came later. In fact, when introduced, there wasn't even a true powerhouse in the line up. Even so, as time went on the Mustang increasingly began to carry the performance banner for Ford.

March 1964-1966
271hp 289 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.70

It was a heady time at FoMoCo, the new little filly was a runaway sales success, and the horizon was bright. The car was selling faster than Ford could build them, and they wanted to amp up the initial engine lineup from its sleepy core, which consisted of a 170 six, 260 2V V-8, and 289 2V V-8. In June 1964, Ford changed all that with the addition of the 289 HiPo and its 271 horsepower. And so it began.

The Hipo was not, however, the startling beast that some of us remember. The best time we found for the mighty small-block was a 15.70 at 89 mph knocked down by Motor Trend's gearheads-not exactly earth shattering. But when compared to the Plymouth Barracuda, the only other car near its size and weight, it was nearly 2 seconds faster. So now Ford had set the banner and was about to embark on a journey into the wilds of performance selling.

1967-1968
271hp 289 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.90
320hp 390 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.60
428 Cobra Jet:Best e.t. 13.50

Without a doubt the Mustang started to come around to performance buff in this body series. Back in the day, there was no substitute for cubic inches, and Ford initially felt the 390 was enough. Sadly, it was only two-tenths faster than the 289 HiPo. Its major advantage was that it was cheaper, but performance wise it really wasn't. With the advent of the Camaro's 396 and a new 'Cuda with a 383, both faster by a second, Ford had a problem. they solved it in 1968 via more cubes.

Though the 390 FE is dismissed by many as a lack-luster performer, it was not really that bad back then-unless you compare it to the 428 Ford unleashed in April 1968, or the aforementioned 'Cuda and Camaro. Then the 390 takes on boat anchor connotations.

With the help of Tasca Ford and Hot Rod magazine, Ford took off-the-shelf parts and built a legend. In our Ford world, and, indeed, in the whole performance world, the 428 Cobra Jet is the mac daddy of the early Mustang line. It was prolific, it was fast, and it was sturdy-all the things a legend is built upon.