The Emergence of the Pony Car

Recognizing an underserved youth market in the 1960s, a Ford engineer named Iacocca led the campaign for something small and sporty

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In 1960, Robert McNamara stepped down as President of the Ford Motor Company to accept a Cabinet position in the Kennedy administration. His successor, Lee A. Iacocca, was a bright engineer who made his way up through the company by way of the sales department. With a keen talent for marketing, Iacocca surveyed 1960 design offerings and found little on the horizon to meet the newly identified "youth-oriented" market. While the market had been identified, Iacocca felt that Ford should lead the way by defining it and exploring design options to fulfill it.

With this in mind, a team of Ford executives was assembled to bring together market information and pursue design concepts. Known unofficially as the "Fairlane Committee," the group quickly recognized the public's desire for a low-cost sporty car. Focusing on the success of the early Thunderbird and customer surveys, the T-5 Project was born.

The T-5 Project brought engineers and designers together to put shape to the findings of the Fairlane Committee. At first, there was a lot of discussion on whether the new car would be a two-seater like the early Thunderbirds or a four-seat version. While survey information reflected the public's desire for a four seat car, what emerged was an innovative rear-engine, two-seat design.

Looking more like a European exotic than a production vehicle, the Mustang I was of a tubular frame design with four-wheel independent suspension. The car was powered with a 91.4 cid, V-4 engine designed and built by Ford of Germany for the "Cardinal." The aluminum body housed two radiators mounted forward of the rear wheels on each side. Their positioning was a space saving technique, yet it added a real sporty style to the car's appearance.

Debuting at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, New York, in October, 1962, the Mustang I clocked speeds over 100 MPH with 0-60 MPH acceleration in 10 seconds. While there was a lot interest in the Mustang I prototype, it was clear that the design lacked mass appeal. The designers were asked to go back to the design table.

To bring in more new ideas, a competition within the corporation was encouraged. The design team headed by Joe Oor, Gayle Halderman and David Ash won the competition with their design they called the "Cougar." While the Oor team was busy moving the design into production, Ford felt a show prototype was needed to whet the public's appetite.

This plan nearly turned out to be a misstep for Ford. Ford's eagerness to show the car gave their competition a head start on planning their own stable. There is little doubt that the Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, American Motors Javelin, and Plymouths drastically restyled Barracuda were all responses to Iacocca's new "Pony Car."

The job of creating the prototype car was handed to the Eugene Bordiant's Advanced Styling Studio. The Mustang II had a 108-in. wheelbase and was powered with a 271 hp, 260 High Performance V-8. Gone were the rear-engine design, the independent rear suspension and the functional air scoops.

The new prototype bore a closer resemblance to the production Mustang. Styling cues such as rear quarter trim, taillights, jutting grille, and a number of other detail hints would later find their way into production. The prototype was touted as the 'Two-Plus-Two'--a car built for two with the addition of the small rear seat, making room for four. The Mustang II made its debut at the Watkins Glen track in the spring of 1963 and wowed the crowds at the auto shows.

While the name was being considered, other design concepts were still being explored. A four-door model as shown here was under consideration, along with Fastback and Convertible designs.

Final designs were complete in late 1963, and tooling began in the Dearborn Assembly Plant.

In a time when all the design work was being done on the drafting table, most new cars took 3-4 years to reach this point. It had only been 18 months from the time funding had begun on the project. This was a remarkable feat in the early 60's and reflected well on Ford's Leadership.

By February, the news was out on the Mustang. The following $10 million advertising and marketing campaign would set new standards in the industry for release of new vehicles. Targeting the younger generation, Ford heavily courted the female buyer for the first time. With tag lines such as "Life was just one diaper after another until Sarah got her new Mustang" and "Mustang has become the sweetheart of the Supermarket Set," Ford's strategy to target younger woman was met with tremendous success.

February 7th, 1964 - Detroit Mich.

"Today, the Ford Motor Company confirmed that it would introduce a new sports-type car, the Mustang. Already dubbed the "Poor-man's Thunderbird," the new four-passenger car will sell for under $2,500. The Mustang will have a Uni-body design, having a 108-inch wheelbase, 5 inches shorter than the Thunderbird, and will be about 185 long. A six-cylinder will be standard, and there will be three optional V-8 engines."

The men were not left out of Ford's plans for marketing their new car. The Mustang was billed as a sporty car for a new breed. Simply purchasing the new car would transform you from Joe Six-Pack to a successful 'man about town,' complete with the ladies. Ads read, "Two weeks ago, this man was a bashful schoolteacher in a small Midwestern city. Add Mustang. Now he has three steady girls, is on first-name terms with the best headwaiters in town, is society's darling"?. Ford's ad campaign for the Mustang made owning the car just like joining a club. The term "Mustangers" would go on to idealize Mustang owners as part of a fraternity and was just another element in the Mustang's great appeal.

As the ad campaign geared up, so did production of the new car. Production of the Mustang began March 9th of 1964 at the Dearborn Assembly Plant. Within 30 days, some 9,678 cars had been produced. With enough production cars for display, Ford was ready to unveil the Mustang to the public for the first time on a grand scale.

The new car first made its debut at the New York World's Fair on April 13th, 1964. First showings were at the Ford Pavilion to invited members of the press, time enough for news reviews to start showing up in leading magazines in efforts to bolster the public unveiling on April 17th, 1964. By this time, the Mustang was in dealer showrooms, covered from public view. As media hype was at its peek, the unveiling of Ford's new "Pony Car" drove over 4 million people to showrooms across America the first week. During this same period, over 30,000 cars were ordered.

As production requests reached very enthusiastic proportions, assembly plants were opened in San Jose, California and Metuchen, New Jersey. By summer of 1964, over 160,000 cars had been produced. Owing its quick production time to the use of many "off-the-self" parts designed for the Falcon and other Ford products, production of the Mustang soared.

August of '64 saw the end of the 1964 production line. While all of the production had been branded 1965, these early production Mustangs are described as 1964½ models by enthusiasts. Models produced before September of 1965 are considered to be 'true' 1965 models. The 1965 Mustang line consisted of Hardtop Coupe and Convertible models.

By September of 1964, Ford had added the 2+2 Fastback to the stable. The Hardtop proved to be the top-selling model, out stripping the Convertible 3 to 1. The Fastback models seemed to move in their own direction. Offered as one of the first 1965 models, the Fastback appealed to the performance enthusiast. This fact had not gone unnoticed by Shelby-American, who modified 500 of the Fastback models into the Mustang's highest option, the Shelby GT-350.

The alliance between Ford and Carol Shelby would elevate the bar for other manufacturers entering the "Muscle Car" era of the late 60's and early 1970's.

Shipped to Shelby-America without hoods, the Fastback models were fitted with fiberglass hoods and met with heavy modifications of both body and chassis.

Fitted with high-performance engines and track-tuned suspensions, the GT-350 provided Ford customers with a ready-made race platform, and many were snapped up for that purpose. Seeing use in competition with the Sports Car Club of America's B Production Class, the GT-350's dominated the field early.

As the production ran well into 1965, a public thirsty for the higher output V-8's strained V-8 engine production to its limits. During this period, the options list began to grow. Everything from Stereo Tape Systems to Style Steel Wheels were being offered in the way of options. At the height of production, the options list topped over 70 factory-installed options.

By early 1966, Ford reached 1 million units of the Mustang. To celebrate the event, a "Limited Edition" Mustang was built for the occasion. The Limited Edition Mustang was fitted with a six-cylinder engine, special wire wheel covers, and distinctive accent striping and rocker models. The engine was adorned with a chrome air cleaner displaying a commemorative engine decal denoting its place in history.

It was the shortage of V-8 engines at this time which accounted for what enthusiasts feel was a less-than-fitting tribute to such a great milestone. Nevertheless, it was the overwhelming success of the car that contributed to the V-8 shortages, and it's a fitting reminder of the car's popularity during that period.

The year 1966 would see the end of the small "Pony Cars" in favor of the burgeoning "Muscle Car" sweeping the marketplace. That year marked the peak of Mustang production, with over 680,000 units were built. And while the Mustang was to continue to be very popular on the American car scene for years to come, the car would not enjoy this level of production for many years to come.

Ford Motor Co unveiled the Mustang on a grand stage, the New York World's Fair on April 13th, 1964. First showings were at the Ford Pavilion to invited members of the press, time enough for reviews to start showing up in leading magazines in efforts to bolster the public launch four days later. With media hype at its peek, the unveiling of Ford's new "Pony Car" drove over 4 million people to showrooms across America during the first week. During this same period, over 30,000 cars were ordered. Take a look at the evolution of the "Pony Car."

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