The iconic and revolutionary Ford Mustang stands out as the original pony car. Even though it was developed on a shoestring budget, the Mustang set massive sales records, birthed an entire new genre of car – “muscle cars” – and kicked street racing into high gear.
Introduced at the World’s Fair in 1964, it received widespread acclaim. Named for a fighter plane (not a horse), Ford sold over 400,000 units of the Mustang in its first year and one million within two years.
The Ford Mustang kicks off the muscle car craze.
With convertible, notchback, and fastback body styles, buyers were able to personalize and configure the First-Generation Mustang to be anything from a family vehicle to a respectable hobby vehicle. Projected to sell 100,00 units, the 1965 Ford Mustang model was a smash hit and ultimately sold 681,000 units.
Stories abound of customers trying to outbid each other to secure a Mustang. In Texas, one winning bidder slept in his new car while his check cleared to ensure no one else tried to undercut his bid.
This impressive new sports car immediately captured imaginations across the globe. Featured in Goldfinger, the 1964 white Ford Mustang convertible was driven by a beautiful assassin (only to be destroyed in a high-speed chase, of course).
Still considered the First Generation, the 1967 Mustang was wider, longer, and boasted a bigger engine. Now competing with the Camaro, Barracuda, and Firebird, the Mustang still reigned supreme as the ultimate bad boy drag racing car.
The Mustang grew even bigger in 1969, even though it was on the same size chassis as the original 1964 Mustang. With sales (somewhat inevitably) waning, Ford decided to update the 1970 Mustang to look less aggressive.
The 1971 Mustang was even bigger (3,600 pounds as compared to the 1,200 pound 1965 Mustang) and featured a new rear window profile. However, these changes did not salvage sales. The 1973 Oil Crisis and increasing emissions rules had made muscle cars less attractive to American consumers.
In an attempt to become more attractive to consumers again, the Second Generation Mustang switched to a smaller chassis, and sales rocketed.
However, the shift in focus toward fuel economy sacrificed performance. The 1974 second generation Mustang was later panned as ugly, poorly built, and awful to drive. In 1975, Ford returned to a V8 engine.
The Third Generation Mustang introduced the Fox platform. More comfortable with new emissions restrictions, Ford was able to increase performance and even offered the new Mustang in both notchback and hatchback styles.
When the Mustang turned 20 in 1984, Ford created a commemorative, signature vehicle. It was a limited-edition Oxford White V8 GT with a Canyon Red interior.
A potent redesign in 1987 featured aero-themed styling with flush headlights and a new interior.
In the early ’90s, an increased-performance Mustang made out of Ford Motorsports performance parts was created to attract driving enthusiasts to the Ford brand.
The 1994 Mustang’s featured styling nods to the First Generation. The suspension was tuned for a softer ride, and the engine was often criticized for a lack of low-end torque.
At Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina on Saturday, April 17, 1999, Ford saluted the 35th birthday of the Mustang with a special 35th Anniversary edition of the 1999 Mustang and a prototype version of the 2000 Ford SVT Mustang Cobra R (the fastest factory Mustang ever produced).
Only 300 units were made, making it one of the rarest Mustangs available.
The fifth generation returned to the original proportions and design of the first Mustangs but on a much more modern platform. The new engine design meant drivers did not have to sacrifice performance for fuel economy. Handling and performance were also transformed.
In 2015, Ford finally updated the Mustang to include independent rear suspension and a sleeker, more European looking design. Ford also celebrated the sale of its ten millionth Mustang.
Where did pony cars originate?
The term “pony car” was first used by Car Life magazine editor Dennis Shattuck. “Pony car” is an American car classification for affordable, compact, highly styled coupes (or convertibles) with a performance-oriented image.
The first pony car was the Plymouth Barracuda. Contemporary pony cars are the Ford Mustang, the Chevrolet Camaro, and the Dodge Challenger.
Why are they called pony cars?
The term “pony car” is an homage to the horse imagery the Mustang name has come to inspire, even if that is not originally what the Mustang was named for.
Pony cars have specific characteristics that set them apart from other cars:
- A sporty compact car that could carry four people
- Affordable base price
- A wide range of options so that the car can be individualized to the owner’s specifications
- Manufactured using mass-produced parts that are shared with other models
- Youth-oriented advertising
- Often focused on high-performance models that could be used for drag racing
Are pony cars muscle cars?
The simple answer is that all pony cars are muscle cars but not all muscle cars are pony cars.
“Muscle cars” are harder to define than pony cars. Generally, muscle cars feature a V8 in a two-door coupe and are optimized for straight-line speed. Muscle cars are known for having power and relative lack of sophistication. This simplicity (cheap parts, enormous engines) lends itself to drag racing.
Pony cars are more compact size with unibody construction. Muscle cars, on the other hand, are full-size cars on full frames.
Common Custom Mustangs
- Shelby Cobras are the racing end of the Mustang. The first Shelby GT350 debuted in 1965 and created a solid racing pedigree for the Mustang. There are as many variations of the Shelby Mustang (also called Shelby Cobra) as there are all other Mustangs. The exterior details and internal modifications set Shelby Mustangs apart as especially show-stopping.
- Mustang SVOs were introduced in 1984. With a powerful 200 hp engine, the SVO also came with upgraded suspension, transmission, brakes, and steering. Ultimately, the SVO was stylish, powerful, beautiful to handle, and safe to drive.
- Mustang Bullitts got their nicknames due to the Steve McQueen movie Bullitt. Marked by a dark green exterior and 390 engine, this 1968 Mustang Fastback is iconic. Ford released an official commemorative version in 2001.
California Specials were manufactured in 1968 exclusively for the state of California. This special edition was a cross between a Shelby Mustang and a traditional Mustang.
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