Lee Iacocca was known as something of a visionary in the automotive industry. During his time as vice president at Ford, he was a key player in the development of several iconic vehicles, from the Pinto to the Continental Mark III. However, without Iacocca’s input into a small, sporty, affordable car, we would have never been blessed with the Ford Mustang. While the 1960s and 1970s saw the birth of many high-performance vehicles, few of them had the enduring qualities of the Mustang. While Lee Iacocca was confident in his “working man’s Thunderbird,” many of his contemporary automotive authorities would surely be shocked to learn that the 2022 Ford Mustang is still a well-respected and desired vehicle.
The Ford Mustang has gone through many changes and reconfigurations over the past 58 years but has continued to stay true to the original formula. Assembled in Detroit, Michigan, to this day, the Mustang has rolled with the years, earning it a reputation as one of the most respected and sought-after sports cars in the United States. While its engines are getting mightier and performance options are becoming more and more intense each year, the Mustang continues to fulfill its destiny as the perfect sports car for a wide range of drivers.
The Ford Mustang Meets the Entire World
As the story goes, Henry Ford II revealed the new Ford Mustang to the public on April 17, 1964, at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, Queens, New York. In our modern imagination, that means a shiny car was displayed in front of hundreds of people, but this completely undersells the actuality of the stunning debut.
The 1964 World’s Fair saw an attendance of over 50 million visitors from around the globe. Some 646 acres of Flushing Meadows were transformed to accommodate 140 display pavilions and 110 restaurants, representing the 80 nations, 24 states, and 45 corporations that partook in the festivities. Presidents, movie stars, and notable persons of all backgrounds joined together in Queens to celebrate the theme of “Peace Through Understanding” and “Man’s Achievement on a Shrinking Globe in an Expanding Universe.”
The technology on display was intense for its day––the Futurama display showed what a future American city might look like, and scientists demonstrated the importance of nuclear power, the potential for underwater living, and how we might be able to populate space. The fair ran from April through October in both 1964 and 1965.
Naturally, the Ford Mustang only had one major debut, but Ford made sure to make the most of this opportunity. Within its World Fair’s exhibit was the Magic Skyway attraction, which shuttled passengers in brand new Ford vehicles––including the Mustang––through scenes from prehistory to the future. Not only did attendees get an early peek at the Mustang––they could actually sit in, touch, and get a feel for the vehicle in person.
Ford also launched a massive media campaign for the Mustang, with the new car gracing the cover of both Newsweek and Time magazines and featuring in a simulcast television spot on all major networks the night before it became available to the public. James Bond himself drove a Mustang in the wildly famous film Goldfinger, which was released five months after the car’s debut. Mustang Mania had begun.
How to Produce a Vehicle for 60 Years
Technically, that’s a little premature. The 2022 Ford Mustang marks the 58th year of production, and while a 2023 version is on the way, there are no guarantees in this lifetime. However, barring an alien invasion or meteor hitting Detroit, it seems that a 60th Anniversary Mustang is a sure thing.
The details of how the Ford Mustang became so popular would make an excellent topic for someone’s MBA dissertation, thanks to its immense and continued success. Needless to say, Ford understood the assignment. Rather than whip out a copycat of another manufacturer’s vehicle, Ford conducted market research to determine who was buying cars, why they were buying them, and how they used them.
Ford used this information well. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the number of female drivers and two-car homes increased dramatically. In many cases, these were young, well-educated, middle-class women who enjoyed a vehicle that was smaller and easier to handle yet still had enough room for the kids, the groceries, and all the fun trappings that came with starting a family. At the same time, they wanted a sporty vehicle, and Ford researched what that entailed, down to how the seats felt and the sounds the engine made while in action.
This hard work paid off, and by the end of the 1965 model year, Ford had sold over 680,000 Mustang coupe, fastback, and convertible models. Today, the Ford Mustang continues to be the best-selling sports coupe in America.
Following in Famous Tire Tracks
A lot of things have changed in the 58 years since the Mustang’s debut. Features like air conditioning, seat belts, and radios are now standard. In 1964, the high-performance version of the Ford Mustang had 271 hp to offer. Today, the 2022 Shelby GT500 Mustang is equipped with a 5.2L supercharged cross-plane crank V8 that supplies 760 hp.
But that comparison only goes to demonstrate the main component of the Ford Mustang’s staying power on the market: there’s a version of the Mustang for every driver. In 1964, drivers were able to select not only the type of roof they wanted but the performance level, as well. Back then, the base Mustang offered 101 hp. Today, the base engine––an EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder––starts things off with a far more traffic-friendly 310 hp.
The Ford Mustang is, after all, a performance vehicle. However, not every driver needs the same level of performance. Sure, we all want to blast off down every open street, but that’s not practical for a number of legal and physics-related reasons. Plus, the wear and tear on the tires would be tremendous. Instead, Ford has provided every driver with their own version of a thrilling ride by carefully considering who is driving, why, and how. The formula that brought intense success to the first Mustang is tried and true: give drivers the vehicle they’re looking for at a price they can afford. Then, provide options that make sense for different drivers and allow them to personalize their cars how they see fit.
The 2022 Mustang is available in a dizzying array of configurations: convertible or fastback, regular or premium interior, and turbo-four or V8 engine, to name just a few. For added customization, you can add options like the Performance Package, Ice White Appearance Package, or California Special Package. Ford has delicately and deliberately cultivated an array of Mustangs that can pique the interest of even the most discerning driver.
The Mustang’s Renaissance
While it’s true that not every generation of the Mustang built between 1964 and today has been an instant hit, it cannot be denied that the model has persevered. Few sports cars survived the oil embargo of the 1970s, and with so many capable and charming European performance models available in the US today, it may seem like the American pony car is a dying breed.
However, just as the Mustang’s namesake prevails on the plains of the American West, so shall the pony car continue to thrive in today’s automotive market. There’s truly something to be said about a little car that gives drivers the speed and performance they crave while still being a practical choice in the carpool lane. While not every driver needs to experience G-forces on their way to the office, many would very much like to feel that sensation on the track or local back roads. As a result, Ford has created a version of the Mustang to keep all parties happy.
One could argue that the key to success is marketing, but in the case of the Ford Mustang, a large part of success is knowing what consumers like and figuring out how to please the masses. And perhaps a smidge of Lee Iacocca’s foresight.