Jim Smart
April 1, 2004

When the Mustang roared onto showroom floors 40 years ago, it was a rare phenomenon that captured the hearts and minds of people around the world. Forty years later, the Mustang remains a phenomenon because we continue to love it so much.

According to Lee Iacocca, the former Ford Division general manager who conceived the idea of a sporty four-place car, the Mustang's long-hood/short-deck theme came from the Lincoln Mark series from the '40s and '50s. If you were around in 1964, you remember the Mustang madness, with buyers lining up to see the new Mustang in April. The Mustang took the nation by storm, winding up in virtually every neighborhood.

The Mustang began as a rather modest, sporty, four-place car built on the Falcon platform. There was nothing in the marketplace that compared with it, short of Studebaker's Avanti, which was in a much higher price class. Chevrolet's Corvair wasn't even in the same league in terms of styling and performance. The Mustang's base price total got you a six-cylinder hardtop with a three-speed manual transmission, along with carpeting, bucket seats, full wheel covers, and white sidewall tires. For a few hundred more, you could order a V-8, automatic, Limited-Slip differential, console, handling suspension, front disc brakes, power steering and brakes, and more. In 1964, the Mustang was a lot of bang for the buck, a sporty car nearly anyone could afford. There was also nothing else like it for the money at the time. Mustang did something few products ever do: It created a totally new market, one that would become crowded in the years that followed.

'65-'66Through the years, the numbers have consistently proven the '65-'66 Mustang to be the all-time favorite. Some 1.1 million units were built the first two years. Today, parts vendors sell more parts for '65-'66 Mustangs than any other generation. When you say "Mustang," most people visualize the '65-'66 model.

When the Mustang was introduced, two body styles were available: hardtop and convertible, with a modest array of options. The earliest Mustangs are typically called '6411/42 models because they were assembled between February and early August of the '64 model year. All were titled as '65 models. This was a first in the auto industry, as Ford got the jump on everyone with the first '65 model.

The '6411/42 Mustangs assembled between February and early August of 1964 have features that make them decidedly unique. The base engine was a 101hp, 170ci six borrowed from the Falcon. V-8 power included a 260 with two-barrel carburetion or an optional low-compression 289-4V. The 289 High Performance wasn't available until June 1964. Along with this lineup of engines came a generator charging system, which makes the '6411/42 identifiable at a glance.

The '6411/42 Mustang had a stark interior, though it was considered a step up at the time because it was fully carpeted. The instrument panel, with a horizontal-sweep speedometer, came from the Falcon. Door and window handles were a clip-on design, rather than the Allen screw types to come in 1965. These and other features distinguish the '6411/42 Mustang from the '65s.

For 1965, the 170 six was replaced with the more rugged and powerful 200ci six, with 120 hp. The base V-8 became the 289ci two-barrel at 195 hp, while the 289-4V got a boost in compression and 225 hp. The 289 High Performance continued into 1965 without changes. Another improvement was the introduction of an alternator charging system.

On the Mustang's first anniversary, Ford added the Interior Dcor and GT Equipment Group options. Ford interior stylist, the late Damon Woods, penciled out the striking running horses across the seatbacks in the Interior Dcor Group, which has become known as the "Pony" interior. With the Interior Dcor Group was the five-dial instrument cluster, borrowed from the Comet.

The GT Equipment Group included GT badges and stripes, fog lamps, and exhaust trumpets that protruded through the rear valance panel. The GT also came with the five-dial instrument cluster. For performance, GTs had the handling suspension, front disc brakes, and the 225-horse 289-4V engine, with the 289 Hi-Po optional.

Because the Mustang got off to a rough start with performance buffs, Ford looked to Carroll Shelby, who was successful with his two-seat AC Cobras. Shelby, with the help of a lot of great talent, developed a high-performance Mustang that would go after not only Airport Road but racing venues all over the world. The result was the Shelby Mustang GT350. Mustang performance would never be the same.

Mustang segued into 1966 with few changes because it was a smashing success just the way it was. The '66 Mustang is identified by its redesigned grille with multiple die-cast bars and an isolated pony/corral. The '66 Mustang GT kept its grille bars and fog lamps, with a blacked-out die-cast grille, which made the grille ornament look as if it were freestanding. Standard Mustang trim included a multi-finger, quarter-panel side-scoop ornament when accent stripes weren't ordered. The '66 Mustang's gas cap is a redesigned die-cast piece with the pony and tri-bar as standard equipment. The GT received its own, distinctive gas cap.

Looking at the '66 Mustang, it's hard to distinguish from the '65. That's because Ford wanted it that way, continuing one of the greatest marketing success stories in American history.

'67-'68For '67, Ford faced a formidable task: maintaining the Mustang magic while improving the breed in the process. In the Mustang's original form, there was certainly room for improvement. Yet, no one wanted to be responsible for liquidating the passion the buying public had for America's ponycar. Iacocca said, "Change it, but don't change it..."

The '67 Mustang rolled into showrooms with more deeply sculptured lines, a wider track, a more mouthy grille, simulated side scoops, a concave tailpanel, three-element taillights, a richer interior, new safety features, and an optional 390ci big-block engine. At first glance, the '67 Mustang was still a Mustang, but with a new persona that made a bolder statement.

For '67, the Mustang came standard with the same 120-horse 200ci six. Base V-8 power was the 200-horse 289 with two-barrel carburetion. Optional V-8 power included the 225-horse 289 with four-barrel carburetion, the 271-horse 289 High Performance, and the new 325-horse 390 High Performance big-block.

Inside, the '67 Mustang had a richer standard interior, with a black camera-case finish, twin-pod instrumentation, windshield pillar pads, an overhead dome light, and controls that were more tastefully blended into the dashboard. The Interior Dcor Group was clad in brushed aluminum for a more striking appearance. The '67 Mustang's Interior Dcor option reminded buyers of Mustang concept cars like the Mustang II and Mach 1.

The GT Equipment Group for '67 returned much as it was for '66, with one exception: You could order a GT with the base 289-2V V-8. The '67 Mustang GT and GTA (GT with automatic) came with GT stripes and badges, fog lamps with blackout grille, a GT gas cap, dual exhaust with quad tips, front disc brakes, and the handling package.

Shelby American redesigned the Shelby Mustang to complement the changes that came from Dearborn. The '67 GT350 and new GT500 had an elongated front end, with a shark's-mouth fiberglass fascia, twin-set headlamps, and a scooped hood. It also had a fiberglass rear decklid, with an upsweep spoiler design, pop-open gas cap, and full six-element taillights. Shelby looked to the Ford GT40 for his inspiration with the Mustang, installing side scoops in two locations.

As in '65-'66, the Shelby GT350 had the 306-horse 289 High Performance. But because Ford was offering big-block power, Shelby went one better, fitting the 428ci big-block between the shock towers of the GT500. The 428 would have twin Holley four-barrel carburetors for dazzling performance.

Although the '68 Mustang is often confused with the '67, it sports significant changes. The '68 Mustang was designed more with safety in mind, with shoulder belts, pushbutton seatbelt buckles, collapsible steering column, locking seatbacks, headrests (later in the model year), redesigned door handles and armrests, and less-intrusive vent-window latches and door lock buttons. The '68 also has side-marker lights and reflectors. In place of the grille bars were a large corral around the more traditional Mustang pony and corral. Although the taillights look the same, they're different too, trimmed in black to create a sharp appearance.

The GT Equipment Group for '68 was watered down, as front disc brakes became optional. Everything else-stripes and badges, pop-open GT gas cap, handling package, and V-8 power-remained standard. The standard V-8 with the GT was the 230-horse 302 four-barrel, but many buyers opted for the 390 High Performance. Where wheel covers were once standard with the GT, Ford gave buyers an extra with Styled Steel wheels and raised-white-letter tires.

Inside, the Mustang's interior changed in subtle ways. Seatbacks became thicker with optional headrests for greater protection. The instrument panel received subtle changes, with critical items, such as the fuel gauge, relocated for better driver visibility. The oversized "crash dome" '67 steering wheel was dropped and replaced with an all-new safety wheel for '68.

The Interior Dcor Group for '68 received rich woodgrain appointments, with rolled and pleated upholstery, door-panel handholds and courtesy lamps, a redesigned console, and a host of other refinements.

Because the Mustang struggled to keep up with Camaro and Firebird on Main Street, Ford stepped up to the plate on April 1, 1968 with the 428 Cobra Jet. Ford sprung this monster on the public at the '68 NHRA Winternationals, standing the racing world, and Main Street, on their respective ears. The Cobra Jet changed the way enthusiasts saw the Mustang from then on.

Shelby American became Shelby Automotive for '68, with Ford taking over Shelby Mustang production and moving it to Michigan. The Shelby Mustang received a redesign of its fiberglass, with single-set headlamps and fog lamps, a louvered and scooped fiberglass hood, a spoiler rear decklid, and revised taillights.

'69-'70The '69 Mustang was the first bold styling step beyond the original concept. It had twin headlamps, and the lines were more deeply sculptured, with redesigned side scoops nestled into broad-shouldered quarter-panels. The Mustang's concave tailpanel became even more pronounced, with bolder three-element taillights.

Inside, the '69 Mustang was completely different. It had twin pods for the driver and passenger, with full instrumentation for the driver. Things that made the Mustang successful remained, such as standard bucket seats and floor shift. High-back buckets were a first in the Mach 1 and with the optional Sports Interior. The '69 model year offered the greatest line-up of powerplants in Mustang history. Buyers bent on economy got the 200ci six, while those who wanted brute speed ordered the 428 Cobra Jet.

There were four new Mustang names for '69: SportsRoof, Mach 1, Grande, and Boss. SportsRoof was a new name for an established body style: the fastback. The Mach 1 was a super-sporty approach to the Mustang. Grande was a luxury Mustang hardtop available for less money than a Cougar.