Ford Mustang Timeline: The Good, The Bad, and The Muscly

March 10, 2010
2011 Shelby GT500

2011 Shelby GT500

The Ford Mustang is one of a handful of cars rightfully called icons. Since its first spin on a car-show turntable at the World's Fair in 1964, it's been the auto industry's standard measure of overnight success. And for at least some of its wild youth, it was the cautionary tale of what happens when a celebrity hits the skids.

This month we're celebrating the arrival of a new Mustang with a look back at the past--before our first test drives of the 2011 pony car.

As we spin back through 46 years and 47 model years of Mustangs, it's easy to pinpoint the highlights--and the low-water marks--that have shaped the Mustang's history as much as a stylist's pen, or an engineer's slide rule. Or their MacBook Pros, for that matter.

That sounds like a timeline to us.

For those of you still writing on paper, reading books and still thinking of the Ford Mustang as a timeworn cliche, it's time for a crash course. (Not that kind.) And for those of you unabashed about your Mustang love, online and elsewhere, we're going to be tweaking the 'Stangs that history hasn't treated too kindly. Bear with us.

Thankfully, there's never been a better Mustang than the 2011 Mustang we're getting ready to drive--and to show you top to bottom, inside and out across the High Gear Media universe. We're marking the arrival of the 2011 Mustang with a month of new stories, and there's one place to find everything we have in store for you today, in two weeks' time, and after.

Right now, you can find a big index of stories over at one of our newest sites, NASCAR AutoGuide--it's built in partnership with NASCAR.com and AutoTrader, specifically to deliver our huge RSS feed of daily auto reviews, news and features to a whole new audience. That page shows you just about everything we've written on the 2011 Mustang from our "Big Three" destinations--TheCarConnection, MotorAuthority and GreenCarReports--as well as posts from other growing sites in our community, from MustangBlog to SportsCarMonitor to AllSmallCars.

Set your Google Alerts now: in two weeks, we'll bring you the first drive of the 2011 Ford Mustang both here at TheCarConnection and at MotorAuthority as well. We'll post our review of the reborn 5.0 Mustang, live from Los Angeles at 12:01 a.m., Monday, March 29th. Then in April, we'll bring it all home with a wrap-up on the day the Mustang was born, April 17.

While you wait, you know the drill--you'll find a comprehensive set of Ford Mustang research and shopping tools right here at TheCarConnection:

So...are you ready to turn back time? Turn to the next page:

The 1960s Mustang: A Rocket Ride

1962: The Mustang I concept car is the test bed for a new "personal car" project steered by Lee Iacocca. The concept morphs from a radical two-seat, mid-engined roadster into the four-seat Mustang--named either for the P51 Mustang fighter plane from the World War II era, or from the actual horse. Other names in the running? Henry Ford was said to favor "T-Bird II."

1964: The Mustang begins production in March, and greets visitors to the New York World's fair on April 17. It's an instant hit--despite the confusion of being a "1/2" model, which vexes car bloggers to this day. Ford sells more than 100,000 Mustangs in four months, and gives birth to the Iacocca legend.

1965: Carroll Shelby gets his hands on the Mustang, and the 289-cubic-inch, 306-horsepower Shelby GT350 makes its debut.

1966: By the end of the year, the Mustang has sold 1 million copies. Already a new design is in the works: it's teased by a Mach 1 concept that sharpens the Mustang's more classic profile.

1967: Shelby begets the 428-cubic-inch, 355-hp GT500; the fastback Mustang gets a swoopy new Mach 1-inspired roofline; and the new Camaro is tardy to the party. Ford outsells the Chevy pony car 2:1.

1968: Ford swaps the 289-cid V-8 with the 302-cid eight. A Cobra Jet 428-cubic-inch V-8 engine adds to the fun with its Holley four-barrel carburetor assisting in the birth of 335 horsepower.

1969: The Mach 1, Boss and Grande versions appear with revised bodywork, pushing the Mustang even more into the plus-size category.

The 1970s Mustang: One Lurid Spinout

1970: Is it "Total Performance Day," or the end of an era? Ford commemorates the Mustang with a massive show of horsepower on November 7 in Kansas City, Mo. It's the last time anyone puts "total performance" and "Mustang" so close together in a press release for quite some time.

1971: Does this body make it look fat? The entire Mustang lineup gets longer and wider--up almost two feet and 500 pounds on the original. Designers layer on scoops and big wheels to hide its girth, but nothing can hide the performance hit. The 375-hp Cobra Jet is the last true "musclecar" Mustang for more than a decade.

1972: Emissions rules grip the Mustang--strangle it, to some. The Mach 1 gets detuned to 275 hp. Wait - it gets worse.

1973: The end of many Mustang eras come this year. In 1973, Ford builds the last convertible 'Stang for almost a decade. Meanwhile, it plots the end of the Falcon-based car and finishes plans for a radically smaller "Mustang" with some pieces common to the Pinto.

1974: The Mustang II arrives--and it's a huge success, at first. Ford sells almost 400,000 copies in the first year, in coupe and hatchback body styles. Performance? Pretty awful, though some sweet "Rallye" sticker packages are offered. There's no ragtop. There is no V-8 option. For us, there is no Mustang.

1975: Bowing to the obvious, Ford brings back a radically detuned 302-cid V-8.

1976: The Cobra II package debuts on the Mustang with a hood scoop, front air dam, and rear spoiler--but, alas, no added power. The Cobra edition gets its due as Farrah Fawcett's ride in her sole season on Charlie's Angels. Not exactly Bullitt, is it?

1977: Malaise wins again: the Mustang II avoids being put on the endangered list, but Ford adds a fastback version with T-tops.

1978: In its mercifully short final year, the Mustang II gets its "5.0" badge.

1979: A new Mustang is born. The fifth-generation car is said to be based on the new "Fox" chassis--just like the Ford Fairmont--and buff books point out its similarities to the old Falcon running gear. But the Mustang's back in recognizable form, with better days to come.

The 1980s Mustang: A New Wave


1980: The new Mustang's got a ways to go for power. There's a four-cylinder engine, with a V-8 option--but the V-8 makes just 119 horsepower, about what today's base Kia Soul can muster. On the upside, Ford's Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) opens its door to produce limited-edition performance cars.

1981: A turbo four-cylinder joins the family, while the V-8 backslides to 115 hp.

1982: The 5.0 returns! For the second time, that is. The 302-cubic-inch V08 puts out 157 hp in the Mustang GT, which also gets T-tops as an option. (Remember T-tops?)

1983: Unbeweaveable! The Mustang Convertible is back, giving the comb-over crowd second thoughts on their allegiance to Ford.

1984: The first truly interesting Mustang in years, the Mustang SVO hits the streets with a turbocharged 2.3-liter engine producing 175 horsepower. With sport seats, a distinct interior and a dual-wing spoiler influenced by the Merkur XR4Ti (!), the SVO is pitched as a GT alternative.

1985: The V-8 Mustang GT is up to 210 hp with manual gearbox. The struggling SVO Mustang...gets flush headlamps. Uh oh.

1986: Smooth operator: the Mustang gets electronic fuel injection.

1987: Ford futzes around with the Mustang. First it plans a front-drive replacement. Then it wakes up to the Mustang reality, and reskins the car with more "aero" lines. The almost-stillborn front-drive Mustang becomes...the 1989 Ford Probe. The SVO gets its walking papers.

1988: Half of all Mustangs sold are V-8s.

1989: The 25th anniversary of the Mustang is commemorated with badges. "Thanks, I guess," the Mustang might have said.

The 1990s Mustang: King of the Facelift

1990: The NHTSA has its way with the Mustang: it adds a driver-side airbag, with more to come.

1991: Underachievers unite behind the new Mustang four-cylinder and its 105 hp.

1992: The Mustang's getting old. Still a strong seller, the Mustang has an unexpected winner in the LX 5.0, a notchback V-8 with a trunk, and without the pricey GT trim.

1993: Ford's SVO transmogrifies into the Special Vehicle Team (SVT), a group of superheroes bent on fighting crime engineers who turn this final-model-year Mustang into the 235-hp Cobra. In the same year, Ford builds the Mustang Mach III concept--an early version of the next new Mustang, and a concept without much luck. On the way to an auto show, one of two copies built catches fire and turns into unidentifiable postmodern art.

1994: The Mustang gets a major revamp, with a stylebook borrowed from the 1960s, a new suspension and drivetrains--though it still carries a live-axle rear end.

1995: The Cobra gets another year, but the 5.0-liter V-8 gets retired this year. It's gone for more than a decade--a pattern in Mustang history.

1996: Ford installs a "modular" 4.6-liter V-8 in the Mustang GT and SVT Mustang Cobra. GTs have 215 hp; the Cobra, 305 hp.

1997: Happy birthday, Mustang! Here's an anti-theft system.

1998: Just in time for impeachment hearings in Washington, the Mustang bumps its output in GT versions to 225 hp.

1999: Same mechanicals, mostly--but the Mustang now wears a new set of panels with crisper lines. Ford, meanwhile, dives deep into the speculative waters of luxury cars, adding Land Rover and soon, Volvo, to its corporate ICU already filled with Jaguar and Aston Martin. And Mercury.

The 2000s Mustang: Born Again

2000: While SVT turns out a new 385-horsepower Cobra R, Nicholas Cage turns out a not-awful remake of "Gone in 60 Seconds" starring himself and the 1967 "Eleanor" Mustang GT500.

2001: The limited-edition, 265-horsepower Mustang Bullitt is introduced and paves the way for the 2003 Mach 1.

2002: It's all alone now--the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird wave au revoir from their Canadian assembly plant as GM pulls their plugs. The Camaro comes back; the Firebird is the canary in the coal mine for Pontiac, period.

2003: A new Mustang Mach 1 rolls, with the "shaker" scoop and 305 horsepower backed up by a "comfortweave" interior. Side note: does anyone do funky names for features that don't need names, like Detroit does? "Comfortweave?"

2004: Ford signals a new Mustang with a "heritage" concept, and builds its last pony car at the River Rouge complex near Detroit.

2005: At long, long last, there's a new Mustang. Depending on how you count it, it's the first "new" car since 1979. With V-6 and V-8 engines, coupe and convertible body styles, and cool features like a Shaker 1000-watt audio system, the 2005 edition plays like a greatest-hits package of Mustang themes.

2006: Reconfigurable lighting gives Mustang interiors new colors, and the V-6 version gets a "pony package." The lovely debutante of the 2006 Los Angeles auto show, the Mustang Giugiaro concept, gets treated badly, and goes nowhere except the company archives.

2007: Warriors in Pink and Bullitt editions show a hackneyed, confused automotive press just how gender-inclusive the Mustang brand actually is.

2008: Mustang sales total 9 million--which means there's a ponycar for every citizen of the state of New Jersey. How perfect is that?

2009: The 45th anniversary of the Mustang is celebrated with a) a new glass roof option and b) directions to the curb for the old model as Ford reveals the 2010 Ford Mustang.

2010-2011 Mustang: The Best Ever?

2010: Wait, it's only been five years--and there's a new Mustang? The 2010 overhaul carries over the V-6 engine, and bumps the V-8 version to 315 hp.

2011: Following Ford's latest new-car trend, the Mustang delivers improvements when they're ready--and not necessarily tied in with a major body change. The 2011 Mustang gets new powertrains: there's a 300-hp, 31-mpg V-6 coming, joined by a 412-hp "5.0" V-8.

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