Photos by Joe Greeves and the National Automotive History Collection.
The success of the original Mustang established the brand as the coming of age vehicle for America. Timing was everything and Ford hit a home run when they revealed the Mustang to the public on April 17, 1964. As hopeful as Ford brass was for success of the new youth market vehicle, it was unlikely that even they were ready for what was yet to come.
Considering the impressive styling, it was difficult to comprehend that Mustang's roots came from the simple Falcon platform. Much of the styling credit belonged to product managers Donald Frey and Harold Sperlich. They, along with Ford's divisional chief Lee Iacocca, were also responsible for the marketing buzz behind the new car. Using an unprecedented amount of print advertisement, press releases and prime time television commercials, the Mustang became an overnight success, so much so that over 22,000 orders were taken on the first day.
Prior to its launch, Ford had no way of knowing exactly how popular the Mustang would become. Internal information indicated that perhaps 150,000 units would be sold in the first year. Production began on March 9, 1964 at Ford's Rouge assembly plant in Dearborn, Michigan. As sales continued to increase, two additional assembly plants, San Jose, California and the Metuchen, New Jersey, began producing Mustangs. Mustang's sales volume was unprecedented and Ford was basking in the success of the Mustang.
However to understand some of Mustang's success, it's important to understand that there was little competition. The Barracuda was made available to the public on April 1, but it was simply a jazzed up Valiant with a fastback roof. GM's only version of a youth market vehicle was Chevrolet's Corvair, a relatively poor example of a sporty performance car. The Mustang gave the public an entirely new looking vehicle, sporty and luxurious yet low in price. Initially it was available as a coupe and convertible with the 2+2 fastback coming onboard later in the year.
Contrary to popular belief there was no 19641/2 Mustang, only 1965 models. Vehicles produced prior to September 1964 were commonly identified as 1964 1/2s and differed from latter year vehicles by having a smaller displacement six- or eight-cylinder engine and an electrical system operated by a generator. The generator was later replaced with an alternator and a larger six-cylinder engine and increased horsepower V8s. By mid-year engine choices included a 120 horsepower 200 cubic-inch six-cylinder and a choice of a 200, 225 or 271 horsepower 289 cubic-inch V8. Power could be mated to a three-speed manual, four-speed manual or three-speed automatic transmission.
To make its mark as a performance car, a GT Equipment Group was made available in April 1965. A Mustang GT could be ordered in any body style and with either the 225 or 271 horsepower V8. A special handling package improved high-speed handling. Finishing off the GT option was front disc brakes, quicker steering, special exhausts, fog lamps and special body striping.
Ford's three assembly plants spent the year working overtime to supply the public with this new phenomenon and by the end of the model year, 559,451 Mustangs were sold. It was clear Ford had changed the rules and it would take several years before Chrysler and General Motors would match Mustangs success.
Fuel For Thought
First year for Metuchen, New Jersey, built Mustangs
Front disc brake option reduced 60-0 mph stopping distance by 22 feet
K-code engines included chrome valve covers
K-code Mustangs were not available with three-speed manual transmissions
First year for six-bolt bell housing pattern
Published Dec 7th, 2015
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