In 1961, Lee Iacocca, vice president and general manager of Ford Division, had a vision. His vision was a car that would seat four people, have bucket seats, a floor mounted shifter, be no more than 180 inches long, weigh less than 2500 pounds, and sell for less than $2500.00.
Out of this vision, the Mustang was born.
After many months of meetings, discussions and market surveys, funding was finally approved for the Mustang in September of 1962. On March 9, 1964 the first Mustang rolled off of the assembly line. Only 18 months had elapsed since the Mustang had been approved for production.
In order to keep production costs down, many of the Mustang’s components were “borrowed” from the Falcon, including most of the drivetrain. With a multitude of different interior, exterior, and drivetrain options, the Mustang would be able to be ordered as plain, or as fancy, as economical, or as fast, as the buyer wanted. In general, the Mustang was designed for everyone and was advertised as “the car to be designed by you”. The Mustang was heavily advertised during the latter part of its development.
On April 16, 1964, the day before it’s release, Ford ran simultaneous commercials at 9:30pm on all three major television networks, ABC, NBC, and CBS. The following day, April 17, 1964, people “attacked” the Ford showrooms. Everyone was in a frenzy to be one of the first to own the Mustang. Ford sold over 22,000 Mustangs the first day. By the end of the year, Ford had sold 263,434. By the end of the Mustang’s first anniversary, April 17, 1965, Ford had sold 418,812 Mustangs.
The Mustang had made a name for itself, and it was here to stay!
The Pre Production Factors
In 1962, Chevy unexpectedly beefed up the lowly Corvair (Monza) and left Ford standing at the starting line wondering what happened. To offset this embarrassing situation, Ford started to beef up the Ford Falcon.
They “borrowed” the new 221 cid V-8 engine out of the Fairlane and installed it into the Falcon. However, the Falcon had undersized tires, brakes and a poor suspension. While Ford engineers were testing the vehicle, they kept breaking parts. So, the Falcon also got the beefier front spindles, brakes, steering parts, transmissions, radiators, axles and lots of other parts. Although Ford now had an answer to the Monza, they also had a car that sold for $600 more than the Monza and since $600 as a lot of money in 1962, it did not sell as well as expected.
About this time Hal Sperlich was doing product planning on Lee Iacocca’s sporty little car committee. He saw an opportunity to use the existing vehicle as the base for a new car that was to end up being the Mustang. What he did was reskin the Falcon Sprint, install a new interior, add trim and turn it into a sporty little car.
The Falcon Sprint was significantly different from the new car. IT had a long hood and a long trunk. The new car when completed had a longer hood and shorter trunk. What really turned Ford on was that it was really cheap to design because they were using an existing vehicle and just changing the body. Thus was born the Ford, Mustang
Everyone at Ford loved the car. Although there we disagreements about small things, no one could sabotage the project and it went on to be developed pretty much as the 1962 prototype was presented.
Ford was marketing the Mustang. As interest grew, and the price was announced, more and more potential buyers were waiting for the production. Iacocca went to Ford and upped his sales projections from 40,000 cars sold per year to 200,000 per year and then revised that projection to 360,000 cars per year. So Ford modified two of their plants to produce the Mustangs.
1963 October 6th,
On October sixth, Ford unveiled the Mustang at the Watkins Glen Grand Prix. Public interest kept growing and always the nagging question, “When?”
However there were problems with the prototype units that were sent out for testing. They kept breaking! To rectify the problem, Sperlich and Iacocca decided to create a convertible. In other words make the convertible and then just add a top on it to make a coupe. The logic is simple. Convertibles have a stronger subframe. They have a stiffened body because they have no roof to provide structural support. Thus if they had a convertible that worked, a coupe would follow very easily.
The Mustang was still a go. Base sales price was announced to be $2368. Of course there were options that could boost the cost and the cars and make the car custom designed by the owner.
Some Quick Facts
April 17, 1964 the most successful car ever launched in the history of automobiles was unveiled in New York City at the World’s Fair. The Ford Mustang created a following that has lasted for over 50 years.
It was the most successful automobile product launch ever. Over 22,000 Mustangs were sold the first day. The “Pony” car as it was called was a stylish sporty car that appealed to both men and women as well as singles and married people.
The very first “Production” Mustang off the assembly line was bought by Gail Wise in 1964. She still owned the car in 2014. It was a light blue convertible with a black top, spinner wheels (non Spoke), 289 V8.
The four seat mid-engine roadster was the idea of Donald Frey. He gained the support of Lee Iacocca who was the general manager at the time. John Najjar designed the first prototype, and called it the “Mustang”. This prototype was a 2 seat mid engine vehicle and debuted on October 7th at Watkins Glen race track in New York. One year and a day later, the Mustang 2 prototype was introduced at the same location.
Production started on March 9th, 1964. Because the production date happened to be in the middle of a production year, the first Mustangs were referred to as 1964 1/2’s. However all serial numbers start with 5 and therefore technically they are early 1965 models.
The base price for an early 1965 Mustang coupe was $2,360. Originally only coupes and convertibles were manufactured. 100,000 Mustangs were sold in the first 90 days, and on the last day of 1964 they had sold 263,434 Mustangs. In 1966 they sold their 1 millionth Mustang.
The VIN number of the first Mustang was 5F08F100001. This vehicle was NOT supposed to be sold but was accidently sold to an airline pilot who kept the car for decades. It was later traded back to FORD far an new car.
In 1965 Ford cut a 1965 convertible Mustang into 4 sections. Carried it to the 88th floor observation deck of the Empire state building in a freight elevator, reassembled it and left it on display.
Top speed of a 289 CID Mustang was 135 MPH.
The Mustang was chosen as the pace car in Indianapolis three times, in 1964, 1979 and 1994.
Steve McQueen drove a GT 390 Mustang in the movie Bullitt. The 9 minute and 42 second chase scene is the most famous car chase scene ever filmed.
Not surprisingly the lease favorite Mustangs were manufactured from 1974-1978. They are known as the Mustang II’s. However, the Mustang II’s, although made flimsy by today’s standards greatly improved in steering, handing and performance. Performance only if you bought a 302 V8 and tweaked it. Also the 302 was reduced to a 255 CID anemic engine for several years. It was terrible as a sport car and did not help sales.