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A Ford Mustang History (excerpt for 64.5-67)
By Edmunds.com Editors
Date Posted 03-12-2003

For a car enthusiast, knowing the history of the Ford Mustang is as basic as knowing the laws of thermodynamics are to a physicist, knowing Hebrew is to a rabbi or knowing when the bacon is done to a cook at Denny's. The Mustang is a pillar of American automotive lore, and the car that brought sporting dash and styling at a price almost anyone could afford.

The Mustang has never been an exotic car. Even the rarest, most powerful Mustangs ever built (such as the '69 Boss 429) were assembled with haphazard care by a UAW workforce facing a quick-moving, continuous production line with parts that were shared in common with six-cylinder Falcons, four-door Fairlanes and stripped Galaxies. Handcrafting and taking the time to do something extra special has never been part of Mustang production.

But that hasn't kept the Mustang from capturing the hearts of drivers for nearly 40 years. As ordinary a car as the Mustang has always been, it has always been extraordinarily attractive.

First Generation (1964 1/2-1966) Ford's Mustang was conceived in full knowledge that in the mid-'60s the biggest population bubble in history was coming of age in America. Baby boomers would rule the '60s and there was little reason to think they wanted cars that were anything like their parents' cars. The production Mustang was shown to the public for the first time inside the Ford Pavilion at the New York World's Fair on April 17, 1964 two months and nine days after the Beatles first came to New York to appear on The Ed Sullivan Show. It went on sale at Ford dealers that same day.

The 1964 1/2 production Mustang followed two Mustang concept cars. The Mustang I shown in 1962 was a midengine two-seater powered by a V4. The Mustang II show car first displayed at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y., during October 1963, was a front-engine, four-seater foreshadowing the production machine that went on sale six months later. Compared to those two, the production machine was dowdy. Compared to every other American car then in production, except the Corvette, the Mustang was gorgeously sleek.

To make the Mustang affordable it needed to share much of its engineering with an existing Ford product. That product was the smallest Ford of the time, the compact Falcon. In fact, the first Mustangs were built in the same Dearborn, Mich., plant as the Falcon.

Initially offered as either a notchback coupe or convertible, the Mustang's unibody structure was laid over a 108-inch wheelbase and stretched out 181.6 inches from bumper to bumper. While it shared its front double-wishbone/coil spring and leaf spring rear suspension as well as its overall length with the Falcon, the proportions of the Mustang were different. Its cockpit was pushed further back on the chassis, resulting in a longer hood and shorter rear deck design, and both its roof and cowl were lower. It's with those proportions detailed with such iconic touches as the running horse in the grille, the side scallops along the flanks and the taillights divided into three sections the Mustang became a car people were instantly passionate about.

Engine choices started with the utterly lame 170-cubic-inch (2.8-liter) OHV straight six that made just 101 horsepower; then proceeded through a 200-cubic-inch (3.3-liter) OHV straight six rated at a flaccid 116 horsepower; a 260-cubic-inch (4.3-liter) OHV V8 breathing through a two-barrel carburetor and making 164 horsepower; a 210-horsepower two-barrel-equipped 289-cubic-inch (4.7-liter) V8; a four-barrel 289 making 220 horsepower; and, at the top, the famous 'K-code' high-compression, solid-lifter, four-barrel 289 pumping out a lusty 271 horsepower. K-code-equipped cars got a special badge on their front fenders indicating that not only did the engine displace 289 cubic inches, but that it was also the 'High Performance' version.

A three-speed manual transmission was standard with every engine except the 271-horse 289, which was available only with the four-speed manual that was optional on other models. The Cruise-O-Matic three-speed automatic transmission was also offered.

Nothing could stop the 1964 1/2 Mustang (especially not its four-wheel drum brakes) and with Ford furiously adding production capacity for the 'pony car' at plants around the country, the company sold an amazing 126,538 of them during that abbreviated 1964 model year 97,705 coupes and 28,833 convertibles. The V8s outsold Mustangs equipped with the six by nearly three to one.

The three most significant additions to the Mustang for 1965 were the neat 2+2 fastback body, the optional GT equipment and trim package and optional power front disc brakes. Gone forever was the 260 V8 that few buyers were choosing anyhow.

Even Ford was shocked at America's appetite for the Mustang during '65. It sold an astounding 409,260 coupes, 77,079 2+2 fastbacks and 73,112 convertibles that year. That's a total of 559,451 Mustangs for the '65 model year.

With that many Mustangs in the nation's automotive bloodstream, it was natural that many of them would be raced. But in order to go road racing head to head against Chevrolet's Corvette, Ford needed a two-seater. And rules said that Ford had to make at least 100 of them by January 1965. That's where Carroll Shelby came in.

Shelby, a Texan and longtime racer, saw the potential to slay Corvettes with the Mustang and took 100 of the first 2+2s equipped with the K-code engine built at Ford's San Jose, Calif., plant down to Los Angeles for modification into 'GT 350' models. Tossing the rear seats aside, Shelby added such performance items as oversize front disc brakes, a fiberglass hood and a lowered suspension with oversize tires on 15-inch wheels. Shelby's legendary series of modified Mustangs would be built through 1970 in various forms and are today considered some of the most desirable Mustangs ever built. It's impossible to ignore the Shelby Mustangs (which carried Shelby VIN numbers) when recounting Mustang history, but space considerations prevent further discussion of them in this article.

The easiest way to tell the 1966 Mustang from the '65 is the later car's lack of horizontal or vertical dividing bars in the grille the running horse logo seems to float unsupported in the '66's slatted grille. Other changes were limited to color variations, a revised instrument cluster and a few trim tweaks. Incredibly, the '66 was even more popular than the '65 and Ford sold 607,568 of them 499,751 coupes, 35,698 2+2s and 72,119 convertibles. That's still the most Mustangs ever sold during a single model year.

How do you follow total sales of 1,288,557 Mustangs over just two-and-a-half years? Carefully.

Second Generation (1967-1968) By 1967, the Mustang had something it hadn't had before: competition. Chevrolet was now making the Camaro, Pontiac the Firebird, and Plymouth had redesigned the Barracuda into a more serious machine. Even within Ford, Mercury was now selling the Cougar.

Ford's response to that competition was a new, slightly larger Mustang with an all-new body over what was pretty much the same chassis. The wheelbase was still 108 inches, but total length was up two inches to 183.6 inches and every styling feature was just a little bit exaggerated the grille opening was bigger, the side scallops deeper, the taillights were now larger and concave instead of modest and convex, the 2+2 fastback's roof now extended all the way back to the trunk lid's trailing edge and the convertible's rear window was now a two-piece item made of real glass instead of instantly hazing plastic. A hood with dual recesses was optional.

The standard power plant was now the 200-cubic-inch six making 120 horsepower with a 250-cubic-inch (4.1-liter) 155-horsepower six and the 200-, 225- and 271-horsepower K-code 289 V8s optional. New on the menu was a 390-cubic-inch (6.4-liter) 'big-block' V8 breathing through a Holley four-barrel carburetor making 315 horsepower. Accommodating that wider engine meant that the front suspension's track needed to be widened by 2.5 inches for clearance.

With its wider track, the '67 Mustang was a more stable car than the '66. The seats were more comfortable, and the instrumentation was easier to read. It was, generally speaking, a better car in every way that counted. Ford sold 356,271 coupes, 71,042 2+2s and 44,808 convertibles during '67 despite the new competition. Of those, only 472 cars were equipped with the 271-horsepower 289, while around 28,800 had the 390 under their hoods.

Federally mandated side marker lights and a revised grille distinguished the 1968 Mustang from the '67 on the outside, while a slew of new engines set it apart mechanically. A low-performance 195-horsepower 289 V8 was still an option, but the other 289s were gone in favor of two new 302-cubic-inch (4.9-liter) versions of the small block V8. The two-barrel 302 made 220 horsepower, while the four-barrel-equipped version put out 230 horsepower.

More glamorous than the revised small V8s were new 427- and 428-cubic-inch (both convert to about 7.0 liters) versions of the big-block V8. The more radical 427, which had a slightly higher-compression ratio and wilder cam, was rated at 390 horsepower, while the more civilized 428 knocked out 335 horsepower. Both the 427 and 428 were very rare options. Those big engines hinted at what was in store for the Mustang over the next few years.


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