The History of the Ford Mustang

The Ford Motor Company refers to the classic Mustang as “design in motion.” According to Ford, the Ford Mustang is an iconic muscle car, crafted with power and innovative styling.

What is the history of the American icon Ford Mustang?

Would you agree that Mustang continues to thrill a broad customer base with its legendary appeal? Most Americans feel a sense of nostalgia when you mention a classic Mustang. Depending on your generation, you may be familiar with pop culture tunes that reference the renowned car, like “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett.

Since its inception on April 17, 1964, the Ford Mustang has come a long way. Find out more about its rich history as we hit the open road and explore nearly half a century of Mustang innovation…

Ford Mustang Timeline


Plans to create a revolutionary, one-of-a-kind car started as early as 1963 in the Ford Motor Company. Ford engineers began to discuss a new design called a Mustang, built upon the body concept of the Ford Falcon.

The goal was simple:

How did they make a car that was like no other on the road?

This meant that the Ford Mustang had to be designed outside of the borders of traditional vehicle makes and models. The earliest Mustang sketch had a sculpted flank, a sweeping hood, and a short rear deck that made it stand out from other cars in the Ford lineup.


The long-awaited Mustang was finally introduced on April 17, costing only $2368. The Mustang Fastback debuted on October 1 with standard equipment, like full wheel covers, a floor shift transmission, a padded dashboard, bucket seats, and carpeting.


Ford debuted the Mustang Shelby GT 350 racing legend at Riverside Raceway. Built
with 427 in.³ big-block engines, Ford Mustangs took the lead at NHRA A/FX races.


Ford decided to titillate buyers’ interests by updating the Mustang design year after year. In 1966, Mustang upgrades focused on thinner bars to replace the honeycomb grille structure, allowing the iconic galloping horse symbol to float within its rectangular chrome frame.


This was a major year for Ford Mustang updates. The Mustang 2+2 was overhauled, maintaining only the original inner structure, running gear, and chassis design. The roofline was transformed from a semi-notch back into a sweeping full fastback; a longer nose, a larger grille, and separate triple tail lamps were incorporated to add more of a “muscle car feel” to the vehicle.


The Mach 1 Mustang piggybacked on the 1967 Mustang 2+2 Fastback design, with additional features like racing-style flip fuel doors, larger rear-body scoops, four exhaust ports, and mag wheels. The front end of the Mach 1 mimicked traditional Mustang design. The Mustang GT was also overhauled with new C-shaped body stripes and slotted disc steel wheels.


Specialty models were introduced in a muscle car lineup, boasting a “steed for every need.” Exclusive Mustang models offered an extra set of headlights in the grille and eliminated recessed taillights.

“When the Mustang was unveiled, the reaction was so positive that there was no doubt it was going to be a success.”

Joe Oros,

Chief designer of the original Ford Mustang

fun facts

15 customers competed to bid on the first Mustang sold in 1964; the winning bidder had to sleep overnight in his car to guarantee the sale.

The original Ford Mustang was called the 1964 ½ since it was oddly launched halfway through the year.

The white 1964 ½ Mustang was
popularized on the big screen in the
James Bond movie Goldfinger.

Hertz “Rent A Car” started carrying Mustangs in 1966.

Steve McQueen drove a 1968 Mustang GT390 in an epic nine minute car chase in 1968’s hit Bullitt.

What is the difference in old vs new?

Here’s how the classic muscle car of the 60s stacks up to modern Mustangs today

  • 1969

  • 2011

$5,027 ($29,900 w/inflation) Base Price $54,495
3,850 lbs Curb Weight 3,840 lbs
7.0L/335 hp/440 lb-ft OHV V8 Engine 5.4L/550 hp/510 lb-ft DOHC V8
6.0 sec 0-60 Mph 4.2 sec
14.0 sec @ 102.0 mph Quarter mile 12.5 sec @ 115 mph
164 ft Braking 60-0 103 ft
4-speed manual Transmission 6-speed manual
115 mph Top Speed 155 mph*

*Electronically limited


With the dawn of a new decade came more alterations to the classic 1960s Mustang. Ford decided to make many of the upgrades cosmetic while keeping the same high-performance engine. In the 1970s, Ford opted to remove the Mustang GT from its lineup, which wasn’t introduced again until 1982. Convertibles, with the exception of the T-top, were also shelved until 1983.


Ford replaced the Mustang’s double headlights with single headlights set in the grille, surrounded by side scoops on each outer side.


The newest Mustang lineup was introduced with wider, longer bodies – the roomiest Mustang to hit the market yet. The Mustang line was designed with a new bumper and honeycomb grille to create a more commanding front view; additional upgrades included a bigger engine, Magnum 500 wheels, and an NACA-style ram-air hood scoop.


Ford downsized larger Mustang engines introduced in 1971 due to a countrywide gasoline crisis.


This was the last year 1st generation Mustangs were produced. Mustangs were now noticeably bigger and heavier compared to streamlined 1960s models.



The Mustang II was introduced to cater to customers interested in sporty coupe vehicles produced by foreign brands. The Mustang II also provided an added benefit in its fuel economy, making it popular among increasing gas prices. The Mustang II was named the 1974 Car of the Year, although it was only available for 4 short years.


At the end of the decade, the focus of the Ford Mustang was crisp and clean. The 1979 Mustang boasted upgrades in performance, as well as interior and exterior design. The new Fox platform Mustang was taller and longer than the Mustang II, while remained lightweight in comparison.

fun facts

Customers didn’t like the Mustang II because of its small size, lack of power, and poor control.

The modified 1971 Mustang Fastback, a.k.a. Eleanor, was depicted in the original Gone in 60 Seconds in 1974.

Mustangs dropped in popularity in 1971; only 149,678 were produced.

The 1976 Ford Mustang Cobra II with racing stripes was designed as a nod to the famous Shelby Mustangs of the 1960s

The 1979 Fox Mustang was designed to be customer-friendly with a European influence to boost sales.

America’s favorite car on the big screen

Why it is awesome :Perhaps the greatest love letter you can write to car is a 40-minute chase sequence through Los Angeles, heading toward Long Beach docks. Eleanor, one of the first car stars in motion pictures, further fueled America’s Mustang obsession.


At the turn of the decade, Mustang design was based on a larger Fox platform, initially developed in 1978. This design offered a roomier interior that could seat four, as well as additional trunk and engine space for easier service. As mentioned above, several Mustang models from the 1970s were put on hold until the 1980s: the Mustang GT and Mustang convertible.


Ford made minimal changes to the exterior of the Mustang;
customers complained about performance across-the-board.


The Mustang GT was reintroduced in the Ford lineup.


Ford released the first Mustang convertible in a decade with a power-control top, roll-down rear side windows, and tempered back window glass. Mustangs were further transformed to appear faster with a rounded hood to cut down on air drag.


The Mustang SVO hit the sales floor with fog lamps integrated in the front design, cutting out the grille altogether. Ford showcased this innovative vehicle design with an off-kilter functional scoop, coupled with a standard transmission and a polycarbonate dual-wing rear spoiler. Ford also released a signature Mustang to commemorate its 20th anniversary.


Ford ramped up GT design to provide more options than ever before; the L Mustang model was nixed from the lineup.


Ford kept the Mustang line basic to focus more on improved performance than diversity; as a result, production and sales increased within the year.


The classic Mustang was revamped to further attract customers with a cutting-edge, aero-look body and updated instrument panel. Driver control was improved with buttons built into the steering wheel; Mustang GTs featured a new grille design, aero headlamps, and a longer hood.


Ford made very few revisions to the Mustang lineup to continue to ride out the success of the previous year.


Ford celebrated the Mustang’s 25th anniversary, although anniversary models weren’t released until halfway through the year.

fun facts

Customers criticized the proposed front-wheel-drive platform for a new 1980s Mustang; Ford listened and stuck with the iconic Mustang design.

The Mustang soared in popularity as one of America’s favorite cars through 1989.

The 1985 Mustang GT had rave reviews thanks to its outstanding power and performance with a low price tag.

Ford ramped up their horsepower in the Mustang line of 1983.

The third brake light design was first introduced in Mustangs in 1986.

Vintage 1980s Mustang advertising


Since the 1980s ended with a bang, Ford opted not to introduce any major mechanical or style alterations to the Mustang at the start of a new decade. 1993 was a big year when three limited-edition Mustangs were released by Ford: a white-on-white convertible, a yellow LX 5.0L convertible with a white interior, and a new model of Cobra Mustang sold mid-year. The 1990s hit its peak when the Mustang debuted with a brand-new body in 1994, while still utilizing the beloved Fox platform.


Regarding 90s sales, there was a drop due to the early 90s recession, affecting the Mustang’s popularity. Mustang production decreased as a result, although diehard fans continued to support classic and modern Mustang sales.


Ford made minor changes to please awaiting customers in new aluminum wheels on the 1991 Mustang. In spite of a slump in sales, Mustangs were still a preferred choice for drivers because of their affordable price.


Ford introduced the Mach III concept car with sculpted carbon fiber body panels to elongate the hood, coupled with a short rear deck, dual cockpit, and three-spoke steering wheel. The Mach III was inspired by the original 1965 Mustang.


The Ford Special Vehicle Team released the hatchback Cobra Mustang with limited performance upgrades and a newly designed grille opening with an exclusive running horse logo. Due to high demand, the limited edition 1993 Cobra R sold out before production began.



Ford completely made over the Mustang in 1994, based on SN-95 project designs, taking into account popular performance features and body components. All in all, 1330 out of 1850 vehicle parts were replaced; Ford did away with the hatchback style altogether to focus on convertible and two door coupe Mustangs.

1994 was a notable year in Ford Mustang history as it rung in the Mustang’s 30th anniversary and introduced the 4th major
Mustang overhaul

“It was a do-or-die situation for Mustang at the time.”

William Boddie, Ford program manager


Ford finished out the decade strong with a new Mustang design, featuring side scoops, a short rear deck, and a sweeping hood coupled with new design elements in sleek, beveled surfaces. Mustang celebrated its 35th anniversary on April 17, 1999, at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina. The event hosted 70,000 members of the Mustang Club of America to unveil a limited edition 35th anniversary 1999 Mustang.

fun facts

1994 Ford Mustang concept sketches were based on Bruce Jenner, Rambo, and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Many customers were resistant to the new 4th generation Mustang introduced in 1994.

Ford engineers ultimately selected the Arnold Schwarzenegger concept because it was a balance between the refined Bruce Jenner Mustang and the more outrageous Rambo design.

The 1997 Mustang got bad press from critics since it was almost identical to the 1996 model.

The Cobra Mustang experienced
issues in 1999 and was put on
hold until 2000.


At the turn-of-the-century, Mustangs continued to soar in popularity. Sales for the 5th generation Mustang were on the rise, and Ford later upped the ante by introducing the 6th generation Mustang in 2005. The year 2000 was also the first time since 1989 that Ford sold over 200,000 Mustangs; 215,393 Ford Mustangs were sold within the year.


The Ford Mustang design remained the same from 1999; Ford also released a limited line of 300 Cobra R Mustang models with an impressive 385 hp and a whopping $55,845 price tag.


Thanks to popular demand for historically inspired, limited edition Mustangs, Ford released the Mustang Bullitt GT with one-of-a-kind side scoops, lower suspension, and 17-inch Bullitt-style aluminum wheels.



Ford introduced the new Mach I with throwback features, like an updated comfortweave interior, a shaker scoop, heritage wheels, and an elongated black air dam and spoiler.

Ford introduced the new Mach I with throwback features, like an updated comfortweave interior, a shaker scoop, heritage wheels, and an elongated black air dam and spoiler.


The Ford Mustang celebrated its 40 year anniversary with new-and-improved engines, interiors, and exteriors; 2004 Mustangs were sold with commemorative fender badges to mark the occasion.


A new lineup was released with V8-powered Mustangs and also Mustangs with V-6 engines, convertible and coupe body options, and modern upgrades like a 1000 W audio system. The unique 2005 Mustang line was programmed to play Mustang-themed soundtracks as a bonus feature.



Ford made modest Mustang upgrades, like new interior colors, driver safety features, and modified body redesigns. Mustang sales hit an impressive 9 million in 2008.


Mustang celebrated its 45th anniversary by releasing models with a new panoramic glass roof option. The factory-installed glass roof upgrade was available for $1995 on Mustang GT and V-6 vehicles.

fun facts

The Ford Motor Company celebrated its 100th anniversary in June 2003.

In 2006, the Mustang Pony Package was introduced in V-6 models to offer upgraded suspension.

The 2007 Saleen S281 Extreme Mustang was seen in Transformers as a police vehicle.

The 2006 Mustang GT was named Car and Driver’s Best Muscle Car over 71 other sports cars on the market.

Shelby GT500 Mustang was depicted in I Am Legend, driven amidst the end of the world zombie apocalypse.


True to its name, Mustang development has galloped through the decades to beat out the competition. If you were ever an owner or have driven one of these beautiful vehicles, it may have been an experience you will never forget.

Why has the Mustang stood the test of time in performance and popularity?

The Mustang’s success can be attributed to the flexibility of the Ford Motor Company regarding both design and engineering. Even more importantly, Ford has always chosen to listen to customer feedback – like when it came to preserving the original Fox platform in the 1980s, after much public upheaval.

Not to worry – Mustang innovation is hardly at a standstill in this present day.


Ford released the 2010 Mustang convertible with angled rear corners and sequential turn signal tail lamps, intended to be a throwback of the early 1960s Mustang design. The 2010 Ford Mustang was overhauled further in an upgraded V-8 engine with 315 hp.


Ford continued to improve upon its notable Mustang design achievements. The 2011 Ford Mustang boasted new powertrains with a 300 hp, 31 mpg V-6 engine, as well as a 402 hp, 5.0 V-8 engine. The popular Mustang body design remained the same.



It takes the greatness of the 5.0-liter and V6 and pushes refinement to the next level.

From 2012 to 2013, Ford prepared to push Mustang design one step further with new vehicle technologies, enhanced driver tools, and a brand-spanking-new exterior design.

Mustang’s chief engineer

For the Mustang, 2013 is the year of “street swag.”

On top of the ever-popular Mustang body style and features, drivers can now embrace smart driving technologies that improve both efficiency and safety on the road. Inside and out, Mustang design upgrades give you more than you bargained for.

Stand-out features in the 2013 Mustang lineup:

  • High-gloss black panel connected to tail lamps
  • Body-color rocker panels that run the length of
    the vehicle
  • High-intensity discharge headlamps
  • High-tech signature lighting
  • Individual LED accents on front headlamps
    and rear lights
  • Functional under-hood heat extractors (GT Mustang)

2013 wouldn’t be complete without the introduction of the 2013 GT California Special Mustang. The California Special
Package was designed as a tribute to limited edition Mustangs sold by California car dealers way back in 1968.

If you’re looking for a blast from the past, you may appreciate the moderately priced California Special Mustang at $40,475, with an estimated 15 mpg city/26 mpg highway. The California Special Package at a value of $1995 offers impressive modifications, like side scoops, black hood and side decals, and a new front grille, pedestal rear wing, and rear diffuser.

According to Ford, the 2013 GT California Special is intended to marry the modern evolution of the
Mustang with custom exterior and interior enhancements. Get free Ford Mustang insurance quotes here.

“This latest Mustang design is very respectful of its heritage while continuing to look forward with a more powerful and modern look.”

Darrell Behmer,

Mustang chief designer

Yes, folks, the Mustang won’t be outdone. With each passing year, Ford continues to introduce cutting-edge Mustang designs and features to the market – proving yet again that this “muscle car” is not to be underestimated.


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