The Classic Ford Mustang (1964.5-1973)



When the Ford Mustang debuted at the 1964 New York World's Fair, it was clear by the reaction of the public that the new pony car from Ford Motor Company was going to be an instant success.  While the Mustang has seen many changes over its long and prosperous history, there are few cars on the roads today that draw the attention of enthusiasts or the general public as a whole, like a classic Mustang.  While the definition of "classic" is defined by many state departments as any car or truck over 15 or 20 years old, Mustang and vintage car enthusiasts commonly consider the 1964.5 through 1973 model years to be the classic Mustangs.


The first model year of the Mustang was 1964, but with the mid-year release, it was only a half of a model year, and because of that, the VIN numbers of the 1964 and 1955 model years have the same year identification of 1965.  The first year offered no different trim lines, but there were three engine options.  The base model engine was just a 101 horsepower inline six cylinder, but there was the option of one of two 289 cubic inch V8s, making 164 or 219 horsepower.  There was also the option of a coupe or convertible, yet the coupe was far more popular in the first year, as the soft top would set you back an extra 237 dollars.  While the original Mustang was no screamer, the sporty lines definitely got the attention of the public, and it helped to pave the way for its first full production year, and events like the Indy 500 which featured a Mustang coupe as the pace car in 1964 made sure that everyone got a good look at the new marvel.


1965 was a big year for the Mustang, as a new body style was added in the form of a fastback, and this model year also brought about the introduction of the soon-to-be-famous Mustang GT.  The first Mustang GT was available in any of the three body styles (coupe, fastback, or convertible) and came packed with either a 225 or 271 horsepower 289 cubic inch V8.  The GT package cost an additional $165.03, and along with the engine upgrade, it included a special gauge cluster, a stripe package, grille mounted fog lamps, dual exhaust tips, and the chrome GT badges on the fenders.  The base model Mustang offered an inline 6 cylinder, or a 200 horsepower V8, also available on all body styles.  While all of the styles of the 1965 Mustang were very popular, the coupe was once again the most popular (over 400,000 sold) with the fastback being second (over 77,000 sold), and the ragtop third (over 73,000 sold).  Along with the Mustang GT's entry into the performance car market, 1965 also market the introduction of the first high performance Mustang, the Shelby G.T. 350.  They were all fastbacks with no back seat, packed with a 289 beefed up to produce 306 horsepower.  All of the Shelby G.T 350s were Wimbledon White fastbacks with black interior and Guardsman Blue stripes along the hood, roof and trunk lid.  This was also the first year to have a movie featuring a Mustang, as a white 1964.5 convertible appear in Goldfinger, yet it did not fair so well against James Bond's Aston Martin.


1966 had no major changes to the Mustang aside from the minor interior changes, like the new gauge cluster, and exterior changes such as the new gas cap, grille, and side trim.  Ford Motor Company attempted to make the base model Mustang more popular by offering the Sprint Mustang 200, which was just an inline six cylinder packed Mustang with a chrome air cleaner cover and a decal with read "Mustang powered Sprint 200".  The Mustang GT engine options remained the same, and the high performance Shelby G.T 350 was back, this time with a back seat, and an optional (and very rare) supercharged 289 cubic inch engine option, making 390 horsepower.  There were also several Shelby G.T 350 convertibles, but they are very rare, with a production of only 6 units.  One interesting first for the Mustang in 1966 was actually involving an outside company, when Hertz Rent-A-Car began offering the Shelby G.T. 350H as a rental to the general public, and this program was titled Rent-a-Racer.  One problem that was discovered with this program was that Mustang owners who could not afford a Shelby model, would rent one of the G.T. 350H models, and switch their engine with the rental engine, then return the rental.  This would give a dishonest Mustang owner the opportunity to get a Shelby high performance engine for the cost of $17 dollars a day, and 17 cents per mile.  There was another special edition Mustang offered in 1966 named the High Country Special, and this was an appearance package only offered in Colorado, Wyoming, and Nebraska; and this rare package, limited to only 333 units, came in Timberline Green, Columbine Blue, or Aspen Gold.



1967 was another big year for the Mustang, as this marked the year was brought about the first redesign of the model.  The body lines were slightly changed, with a new grille layout, and new non-functional body colored side scoops in front of the rear wheels.  Also, the rear roofline of the fastback was extended all the way to the back of the car, giving it a full fastback look. While this redesign helps to set the 1967 apart from the previous models, it was fairly subtle, and was actually not the big news for 1967.  The Big News was the introduction of a new high performance model in the G.T. 500, and with it, the introduction of big block engines options; the 390 cubic inch and 428 cubic inch V8s.  There were several special edition Mustangs in 1967, such as the Mustang GTA and the Mustang Stallion.  While the GTA was simply a Mustang GT with an automatic transmission, the Stallion was a very unique and very rare model with only 8 built.  The Stallion came with either a 289 Hi-Po, 390, or 428; the transmission options were either a 4-speed manual or C6 Select Shift Cruise-O-Matic, , limited slip rear differential, power steering, power disc brakes, Stallion logos, Cougar taillights, and custom wheels.  The Shelby G.T 350 still came equipped with the 289 Hi-Po, and the G.T 500 came packed with a 335 horsepower 428 cubic inch V8.  The Shelby models in 1967 received more aesthetic changes, with the grille being changed from the other 67 Mustangs to allow for better cooling, and along with a special rear spoiler, Cougar taillights were fitted to the back end to give it a much different look than the standard Mustangs.  The Shelby's sold to the general public were al fastbacks, with a select few made as coupes strictly for Trans Am racing.  The G.T. 500 also came with a roll bar and the option of racing style harnesses.  The High Country Specials were still offered with production numbers of only 400, and the rarest 1967 Mustang was the Shelby Super Snake.  It was equipped with a 520-horsepower lightweight 427 cubic inch engine with aluminum heads, tuned headers, 780 CFM Holley 4 barrel carb, aluminum intake, oil cooler, remote filter, 4 speed trans and a 4.11 ratio Detroit locker rear differential.  This model was a record breaker, but unfortunately, due to the price of $7,500, which was almost three times the cost of a normal Mustang, it was never mass produced.  Sales numbers for 1967 dipped a bit due to the influx of direct competitors, yet it was still the best selling car in its class.


This model year brought about the end of the 289 performance engines, although a 289 was still offered, it was a lower performance engine, as the 302 cubic inch engine which would become one of the most common Mustang engines for the next 30 or so years was introduced.  The Mustang GT was now offered with beefed up suspension, brakes, tires, and exhaust system, and it received some minor changes to set it apart from the non-GT models.  The standard engine in the GT was no a 302, with the option of a 302 Hi-Po, or the 390 or 428 cubic inch big block V8.  The 428 Cobra Jet Mustang debuted in April of 1968, and this high performance model featured a ram air induction with a large hood mounted scoop.  The top of the line Shelby was the G.T 500 KR, with KR standing for King of the Road.  This trim line came equipped only with a 428 Cobra Jet engine, and like all 1968 Shelby models, it was available in either a convertible or a fastback.  The High Country Special was offered once again, and another regional trim line, the California Special, was also offered.  The California Special was similar to the Shelby models, with the exterior being much the same as the Shelbys. 



1969 brought about the second restyling of the Mustang, and with that restyle came 4 headlights, as well as the addition of 4 inches in length and       about a half an inch in width.  There were three new trim packages offered with the Boss, Mach1, and Grande, and with the GT, these were all performance models, with the exception of the Grande which was intended as a sort of luxury Mustang.  There was also a special edition economy model with a 250 cubic inch six cylinder called the Mustang E, but they were very limited edition with only 50 units made.  There were a wide variety of engines offered in the different trim lines, such as the 302, 351, 390, 428, and 429; and the horsepower of the various engines ranged from 220 horsepower to 376 horsepower in the Boss 429.  The Shelby Mustangs were back once again, with exterior changes to set them apart from the GTs, and they featured similar high performance engines as the prior year.  The Mach1 was basically a higher performance Mustang GT, with the addition of nicer interior and reflective stripes; and the option of a rear wing, side window louvers, and a shaker hood scoop.  The Mach1 could be ordered with either the 302 Hi-Po, 351, or 428 Cobra Jet engine.  In some cases, the performance of the Mach1 was not enough, and that was where the Boss Mustangs came into play.  The Boss Mustangs were offered in two forms, the first of which was the Boss 302, which was like the Mach1 in that it was basically a high performance 302 equipped GT with exterior trim.  The second of the Boss options is a model that has gone down in Mustang history as one of the most powerful factory Mustangs ever built, and that is the Boss 429.  The 429 cubic inch engine was straight out of the NASCAR race teams, and these Boss 429s were actually built by a third party customizing company, for Ford Motor Company.  Only 867 Boss 429s were built, so getting your hands on one of these today will cost you quite a bit, much like it did back then.


1970 brought about some shocking news, in that the Mustang GT was no longer offered. The Mach1, Grande, and Boss Mustangs were still offered and very little changed with these trim lines or with the Mustang as a whole in 1970.  Similar engines were offered to those that were available in 1969, with the exception of a new cylinder head design on the Boss 429s, with a hemispherical head added in an effort to keep pace with Chrysler's 426 Hemi, but with over 50 less horsepower than the Chrysler Hemi, it was a constant uphill battle for Ford.  There were, however, 2 specially built Boss 429 Lawmen with around 1200 horsepower, built for tours of US armed servicemen, but they were never offered up for public sale, and only one still exists.  This is owned by ex-NFL and ex-WWF member, and major car collector Bill Goldberg.  There no actual 1970 Shelby models, but instead the remaining 1969 Shelbys were re-titled at 1970 models.



The restyling effort for the 1971 Mustang brought about a Mustang that was bigger than the 1970 in every aspect.  The width, length, height, and wheelbase were all enlarged, as well as the weight.  There was still no GT (and there would not be a GT for some ten more years), but there was the fastback Mach1 offered with both a 302 or 429, as the Boss 302 and Boss 429 were dropped to make room for the Boss 351.  There was no American Market Shelby model offered, so the Mach1 packed with the 429 was the most powerful model sold in 1971 with 375 horsepower. 


In 1972 there were big changes, but none of them were very good ones from a performance minded point of view.  There were only 2 V8 engine options, the 302 and the 351, and the horsepower range dipped to 140 to 275.  There was actually no real change in power output, but it was a government mandated change in performance testing which accounted for the drop in listed output, and that caused major sales loss for the Mustang, as well as the rest of the performance car market.  The drop of the big block also caused the drop of the Boss Mustang, and the Mach1 was once again the premium performance model.  The luxury minded Mustang Grande was still offered, and in addition to those trim lines, the Mustang Sprint was added to commemorate the 1972 Olympics.  These Sprint models were all white, with blue rocker panels, blue hood stripes, blue seat inserts, and a USA logo on the quarter glass.  Even with this special edition, sales dipped to just 125,813, the lowest of any year during the classic Mustang era.


1973 would be the last year of the classic Mustang, as the following year would bring about a redesign like the country had never seen (or wanted) due to the looming fuel crisis and influx of economy cars from Japan.  The Mustang was offered as a convertible; the last of the sort until the mid 1980s, and there were some minor alterations to the 1973 model such as realigned turn signal lights.  The Mach1 was packed with the biggest engine for 1973, the 352 Cobra Jet engine building just 266 horsepower, and it was available only as a fastback.  Considering the "market direction" which brought about the end of the pony car era Mustangs, the high performance Mach1 was the second best selling Mustang in 1973, second only to the base model coupe.  Considering the fabulous introduction and the years of ultra high performance engines, it was a disappointing end to this era, and the federal regulations can be blamed for that.  There were no special edition Mustangs offered in 1973, although the Mach1 was featured in a 40 minute chase scene in a 1974 release of Gone in 60 seconds.  Even with the public notice of this low budget release sales were not very good, mostly due to the constant drop in advertised horsepower.  In its last year as a pony car, the Mustang sold almost as few units as were sold in the partial 1964 model year, but 1973 was a full model year.



While the classic Mustangs are still heavily sought after by collectors, the gradual decline in performance models and horsepower output caused the earlier years to be more desirable.  However, in comparison to what was to become of the Mustang in 1974, the last mini-generation of the classic 'stangs, ranging from 1971-1973, may have been more popular had Ford have released more information about the upcoming restyling prior to the release.  There are few cars which receive more attention at a car show or just driving down the street than a classic Mustang, whether it's a base model inline six cylinder model, or a mighty Boss 429, the Mustang is still revered as one of the most popular cars of the pony car era.




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