Dave Ash and Donald Frey really deserve the credit for the original Mustang, but the concept belonged to Lido ‘Lee’ Iacocca and decades later it’s still his name which pops up most when people talk about the Mustang.
What Iacocca wanted for the company was something affordable but which nevertheless looked spectacular, distinctive and unconventional. He got it too, hitting the mark immediately – so well that Americans went crazy for the new car, with more than a 1.2 million of them sold in the first two years and no fewer than 16 different factories across the continent busy churning ‘em out.
Clearly it mattered to no-one that mechanically the new cars were little different from the older, staider and more grown-up Ford Fairline and Falcon. All that really mattered was that the look was completely new and fresh, and today much the same is true.
It’s also true that, much like America’s other great 1960’s icon, the Mustang’s been through a few sticky patches since then, and like Elvis some of the mid-period cars are simply too flabby, too rhinestoned and, yes, too Las Vegas to really take seriously. But a majority of the cars which have appeared under the Mustang banner over the last 45 years – from those sharply styled early coupes and convertibles to the likes of Tommy Saxondale’s tough-looking Mach One – still look the part. From a UK perspective most of them also represent pretty good value compared to anything similarly exotic from mainland Europe, at least if you discount the best of the Bullit lookalikes and Shelby hotrods and don’t mind driving a left-hooker.
Admittedly the sheer number of different models over the years can make deciding which one to buy a bit of a problem, since like many American cars (see the Model-T, above) the choice of options and even body styles was always much wider than we in Europe were used to. Mechanically, however, the fact that so much kit was borrowed from other cars in the Ford line-up means that parts supply is good even with the earliest cars and most are relatively unsophisticated and so cheap to fix. (In fact parts supply is so good that in many cases it’s still possible to upgrade your purchase as you go along – just as it was when the Mustang was new.)
For many, the earliest Falcon-based cars have a simplicity and purity which is hard to beat, producing a by-no-means insubstantial 210 horsepower from the all-iron 4.7 litre or 289 cubic-inch V8 and with a choice of notchback, fastback and soft-top bodies. The first-named of these is the one which does it for me, particularly with a dark colour body, but whichever you choose the combination of ample horsepower and power-steering – another rarity in 1960s Europe – means that despite being a large and comfortable full four-seater, the car really hustles along and exhibits a ride quality quite at variance with its fairly primitive underpinnings.
The first Shelby cars look pretty similar to these but with a new head, additional Holley carburation, Cruise-O-Matic transmission and hydraulic lifters, the GT350H raised the power output by around 45 per cent – or close on 70 per cent if you opted for 7.0 litre GT500 conversion. Despite the increment the 350 is the more valuable car, being considered more sporty despite the GT500’s bigger engine, its weight-saving GRP hood (it still carried a 570lb penalty), a neat ducktail rear spoiler and a pair of Ford GT40-style side scoops.
This sort of thing, their rarity as barely seven thousand were ever built, and of course the Shelby name, means that today a top quality GT350H will cost you at least three times the price of a standard car. Mind you, as even the basic car is still good for almost 120 mph and can hit 60 mph in a thoroughly respectable 7.5 seconds, who’s going to worry?
As time went by of course even the standard cars gained a lot more power, so that the 5.0 litre 1970 ‘Boss 302’ was producing 290 bhp and doing so at a comparatively lazy 5,800 rpm thanks to those much-vaunted cubic inches. This left the top speed more or less untouched, but shaved another second off the 0-60 mph time; the car was also available in some sensational period-perfect colours such as Grabber Green and Calypso Coral.
In Mustang circles the Boss 302 is a bit of a legend, although to the layman its near contemporary – the 5.7 litre Mach One – seems to have garnered more column inches following starring roles in 007’s Diamonds are Forever and the cult classic Gone in 60 Seconds. For many then it’s also still the one to have, despite being a full two seconds slower to 60 mph than the Boss, largely as a consequence of some weight-gain along the way. It is, nevertheless, a handsome beast with its deep chin spoiler and matt black bonnet – but, like all Mustangs, big at 6’4″ wide and nearly 16′ long.