Born from the imagination of Lee Iacocca, vice president and general manager of the Ford Division, the first Ford Mustang debuted on April 17, 1964 at the World’s Fair in New York. This Mustang, which was available as a coupe or convertible, featured chrome wrap around bumpers, a lengthened hood, and a shortened rear deck. The grille was honeycomb patterned, with a centered running horse in corral logo and horizontal and vertical bars extending from the corral.
While the Mustang was heavily advertised in its early days, Ford still only expected an annual sale of around 100,000 units. They were quickly blown away, however, when 22,000 Mustang orders were taken on the first day alone! By the end of that year, a total of 418,812 Mustangs were sold.
There were several engine sizes available for the Mustang right off the bat, ranging from a 170 cid (2.8 liter) OHV straight-six to a 271 horsepower generating hi-po “K-code” 289 cid V8. In 1966, the 170 cubic inch was changed to a 200 cid, 6-cylinder, the 260 cid engine changed to a 289-2V 200-horsepower V8, and the 289-4V upgraded its horsepower to reach 225.
In April of 1965, the first Mustang GT (Grand Touring) option became available. With the GT, you could choose one of two optional V8 engines, with either 225 or 271 hp, along with a pick of a three- or four-speed manual, or Cruise-O-Matic transmission. With this upgrade, you also got a special dashboard instrument cluster (which later became standard in ‘66), stripes on the lower body sides, fog lamps on the grille, and unique GT badges. The Mustang GT option was only available for 1965-1969 Mustangs, taking a hiatus after that and only returning in 1982.
With a car of this look and caliber, it’s easy to see why the first anniversary of the Mustang brought sales to a staggering 418,812 units sold. The ’64 1/2 and ’65 Mustangs were more than just appealing to adults, as children clamored for their own “version.” During the 1964 Christmas season, around 93,000 pedal-powered children’s Mustangs were purchased for Christmas, 1964. The Mustang also debuted in its first movie only months after it rolled off the assembly line, appearing in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. The Mustang’s big-screen stardom has only amplified since.
With such a hit, Ford wanted to take the Mustang one step further in its first year of production, approaching racing legend Carroll Shelby to design a unique racing variant of the Mustang. On January 27th of 1965, the first Shelby Mustang was created: a Wimbledon White Shelby GT350. In that year, a total of 562 GT350’s were created, along with a race version: the Shelby GT350R.
The 1966 model of the Mustang came with some cosmetic changes, including a new grille featuring chrome edges and horizontal inserts, rather than the honeycomb pattern. The horizontal and vertical bars around the running horse logo were also removed, and the quarter panel Mustang emblems were changed to feature the tri-bar logo behind the horse. A five-gauge instrument cluster was added to the interior, in order to further separate it from its Falcon roots, along with an outstanding 34 varieties of interior colors and styles! The ’66 Mustang also featured three-fingered rear quarter panels and backup lights.
This year also introduced a new variant of the Mustang, the High Country Special, which was manufactured from 1966-1968. This Mustang was developed as a special promotion for the Colorado area, and started off with special exterior colors and a new triangle “HCS” emblem. Also, Hertz rental car company wanted in on the Mustang game, purchasing 1,001 of the Shelby GT350 Mustangs (known as the GT350H) to rent out in their locations across the country. This became known as the “Rent-a-Racer” initiative and appealed to weekend drag racers.
While the 1966 changes altered the look of the Mustang slightly, Ford undertook the first major restyling of the Mustang a year later, in 1967. With this restyle, the car’s length and height were increased, and the fastback model’s roofline was extended to the rear of the trunk. The Pony Interior that was available for 1965 and 1966 Mustangs was discontinued, with Ford instead offering a new, deluxe interior package. The Mustang also acquired a tilt steering wheel, concave taillights, side scoops, and squared rear view mirrors. The grille was altered some, as well, keeping the running pony and corral emblem, but enlarging the opening, showing off a new mesh pattern style, and bringing back the vertical and horizontal bars from 1965.
The 1967 Mustang was also a big year for under the hood, as this was the first year a big block engine became available: a 320-horsepower generating 390 cubic inch V8. Along with this, engine options included a 289 cid V8 and a 200 cid six-cylinder.
The ’67 Shelby GT350 came with a 289 cid Hi-Po, and the first Shelby GT500 was produced, featuring a 428 cubic inch and the first American car to come with a factory roll bar. The GT500 might be most famous for its role as “Eleanor," in the Gone in 60 Seconds movie remake starring Nicolas Cage. Along with a boost in engine performance, you’ll notice the ‘67 Shelbys also had a bit more body treatment than any Shelby before.
The 1968 model year brought little in terms of sweeping design or engine changes for the stock Mustang, opting instead for subtle deviations. For the grille, the corral around the running horse thinned out and the horizontal bars were removed, along with the “FORD” written across the hood. The “Mustang” letters on the fenders were also changed to be written in script, rather than block lettering.
Some additions for the ’68 Mustang included an AM/FM stereo radio, front and rear side marker lights, the first Mustang 3-point lap and shoulder belts, and a rear window defogger for the coupe and fastback.
This was a special year for West Coast Mustang enthusiasts, with the debut of a factory-built California Special Mustang GT. This coupe-only Mustang featured much of the same look as the Shelby, including the same grille, fog lamps, and side scoops. These California Specials were then remarketed in the Colorado-area, fitting into their High Country Special line. Also new this year was the Shelby GT500-KR (King of the Road), featuring a 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet V8 engine. Many today look back and still consider this GT500-KR model the ultimate Shelby Mustang ever produced.
In 1969, the Mustang underwent its second major restyling, adding 3.8 inches of length ahead of the front wheels, and 140-pounds to its curb weight. This body addition, dual headlamps, and a switch from the grille’s pony and corral to an off centered pony and tribar emblem helped separate the 1969 Mustang from its predecessors. More on the 1969 and early 70’s Mustangs will be described in our next Mustang History blog post, so make sure to keep an eye out to learn more.