Mustang celebrates its 50th birthday this month

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Depending on its breed and the environment it lives in, a good horse may live 25 to 30 years, if it’s lucky. This horse, which has been on American Roads since 1964, has lived more than 50 years. And luck had very little to do with it.

It could very well live 50 years more.

This month, the Mustang joins a very unique club: vehicles that have been in continuous production for 50 years. The pony car has millions of fans worldwide, including more than five million who follow along on Facebook. During this famous nameplate’s tenure, more than 9.2 million Mustangs have been produced and sold.

It’s built a legend on racetracks. It’s starred on the silver screen in movies like “Bullitt.” And it’s a favorite of muscle car aficionados both in Pittsburgh and around the globe.

The legend was born 50 years ago this month, when more than 125 members of the media gathered at the Ford Pavilion at the New York World's Fair for a preview of the cars that would be on display. Lee Iacocca, who was vice president of the Ford Motor Company at the time, delivered a speech that discussed the emerging market of younger drivers born in the years after World War II.

All of this was prelude to the unveiling of the all-new 1965 Ford Mustang. The sporty car officially went on sale four days later and was an instant sensation, with more than 22,000 sold on opening weekend and nearly 420,000 units in the first year.

Ford Motor Company sold more than 1 million Mustangs in the first 20 months following the car’s April 1964 debut, something that would be unheard of for an all-new vehicle segment today, even with a much larger market.

The 1967 Mustang was considered the high water mark for pony car design in the 1960s. The 2+2 model goes from a semi-notchback to a sweeping full fastback roofline. The Shelby GT500 was soon introduced, powered by a hefty 428-cid V8 that produces 355 horsepower.

A year later, the 302-cid V8 replaced the “289” midyear, and a medium-riser version of Ford’s premiere race engine, the 427-cid V8 rated at 390 horsepower, was offered as a $622 option. On April 1, 1968, the 428 Cobra Jet engine debuts as part of an option package aimed at enthusiasts.

The 1970s saw the production of the largest Mustangs ever, which were nearly a foot longer and 600 pounds heavier than the original pony cars. The Boss 351 made its debut along with the Mach 1. The latter came with a variety of powertrains, including the 429 Super Cobra Jet.

The 1970s also saw the exit of the Falcon-platformed Mustang, and the last convertible version for almost a decade. The V8 powerplant also disappeared in 1974, returning in 1975 in the form of a 302 cubic-inch small block. The all-new Mustang II made its debut in 1974.

In the fuel economy conscious 1980s, the 302 engine was dropped, a fuel sipping 255 cubic-inch, 119-horsepower derivative of the Windsor small block taking its place. The very next year new emission controls reduced the 255’s power output to just 115 horses. However, in 1982, the Mustang GT returned after a 12-year absence. Also back is the 5.0-liter V8 rated at 157 horsepower. In 1983, the Mustang Convertible returned.

Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations created the Mustang SVO in 1984, which featured a turbocharged and intercooled 2.3-liter four-cylinder, bigger tires and brakes and a dual-wing rear spoiler. Then in 1985, Mustang received a revised 5.0-liter HO (high output) V8 that makes 210 horsepower when mated to a manual transmission.

For Mustang’s 25th anniversary, all cars produced between April 17, 1989, and April 17, 1990, sport the familiar running horse on the dashboard with “25 Years” inscribed underneath. Five years later, the Mustang is dramatically restyled to mark its 30th anniversary. Fully 1,330 of the vehicle’s 1,850 parts were changed.

In 1995, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 spent its final model year in the Mustang. SVT produces 250 Cobra R models powered by a 300-horsepower, 351 cid V8.

At the turn of the century, the third SVT Mustang Cobra R is produced. This version has a 385-horsepower, 5.4-liter DOHC V8 and features the first six-speed manual transmission ever offered in a Mustang.

Ford produced its 300 millionth car – a 2004 Mustang GT convertible 40th anniversary edition. The 2004 Mustangs are the last cars built at Ford’s fabled Dearborn Assembly Plant, which had produced every model Mustang year since the car’s inception. Production of the all-new 2005 Ford Mustang began in the fall, 2004, at the AAI assembly plant in Flat Rock, MI.

At the beginning of this decade, the Mustang gets new, more muscular styling with features such as a power-dome hood and sequential turn signals. In 2011, the 5.0 badge returned to Mustang with the introduction of the all-new 5.0-liter ‘Coyote’ V8. A year later, the best handling Mustang ever, the 2012 Boss 302, returned to the lineup for the first time in more than 40 years.

Throughout the years, the Mustang nameplate has been synonymous with sporty styling and dynamic performance. This month, the Ford Motor Company, the Flat Rock Assembly Center and pony car fans nationwide are celebrating this iconic nameplate’s 50th anniversary, a well-deserved party for a vehicle that has played such a prominent role in our nation’s automotive history.

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