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posted on March 2nd, 2017

Is there a more iconic car than the Ford Mustang? It’s certainly a contender for the title. Simply mentioning the phrase “muscle car” (even though it’s technically considered a pony car, not a muscle car) is likely to conjure an image of the first-generation Mustang. It was the icon of a generation, a symbol of the American lifestyle, the muse of many songs, and stealer of the limelight in movies like Goldfinger, Bullitt, both Gone in 60 Seconds, and John Wick.

A legend is born

Originally conceived as a streamlined 2-seater mid-engine sports car, the initial design was allegedly abandoned due to increased sales of the Thunderbird after it grew from a 2 seater to a “2+2”. The Mustang as we know it was first built on August 17, 1964. The positive reception to the car was staggering; the annual sales goal of 100,000 units was blown through in a matter of months. After the first year, 318,000 units had been built, and six months after that the number exceeded a million. It proved to be so popular that it kick-started a new class of smaller, sportier cars, inspiring other manufacturers to create cars like the Camaro, Firebird, Cougar and Challenger.

1965 Mustang GT

The freshman fifteen

Despite being originally conceived as a compact car, within 5 years of its original debut the Mustang had grown considerably in size and weight, without a corresponding increase in performance. Opening the hood of a 1969-73 model year reveals the size increase was merely for the sake of itself, with at least a foot of empty space between the radiator and bumper. Consumers began abandoning their beloved Mustang in favor of more practical compacts like the Pinto and Maverick.

Fuel crisis malaise

Lee Iaccoca, one of the driving forces behind the original Mustang, became president of the Ford Motor Company in 1970 and ordered a smaller, more fuel-efficient Mustang to meet consumer demands. Released two months before the 1973 oil crisis, it was the Mustang no one really wanted, but needed, at the time.

A foxy new look

Nicknamed the Fox Body, the third-generation Mustang was based on the Fox platform initially designed for the Ford Fairmont and Mercury Zephyr. Released in 1979, the fox body lasted all the way to 1993. A new, fourth-generation Mustang was in development in the early 80s, as a variant of the Mazda MX-6. When enthusiasts got wind of this, they wrote to Ford in droves, objecting to a front wheel drive, Japanese-based Mustang with no V8 option. At the last minute the name of the new car was changed to the Probe, and released for the 1989 model year, and the Fox Body continued production.

A long-awaited update

After abandoning the MX-6 variant Ford returned to the drawing board to develop the 1994 model, based on an updated version of the Fox platform known as the Fox-4. The fourth generation was the first model since 1974 to offer a true liftback hatch. In 1999, the car was updated with Ford’s “New Edge” styling language, featuring sharper creases and body lines for an overall more aggressive look.

Setting a trend, again

Just as the original Mustang started the pony car trend, the fifth generation started the wave of retro-styled muscle cars in the late 2000s. Featuring an aggressive, retro-futuristic design inside and out, the new Mustang had a bold hood and grill strongly reminiscent of the original model, and the interior featured heavy use of aluminum trim and a retro gauge cluster. Other manufacturers soon followed suit, with the new Chevy Camaro and Dodge Challenger being released a few years later.

A global contender

American cars are often the butt of the joke in other parts of the world. Our cars are designed for wide open spaces, meant to stampede up to highway speeds and cruise, mostly in a straight line. The cramped streets of European or Asian cities simply aren’t their element. The latest generation of Mustang sought to resolve that problem once and for all. Featuring fully independent rear suspension, the new car navigates a corner just as well as it storms down the highway. It also offers a fuel-sipping turbocharged four-cylinder engine to accommodate high-tariff global markets, and a world class interior, another common point of scorn for international customers of American cars.

Joey is a freelance writer who loves everything about interesting cars and the people who drive them. He can most often be found lying under an old car or playing with his golden retriever, Molly.