The Ford Mustang Turns 50
Fifty years ago, the first Baby Boomers hit 18 with a ravenous hunger for anything outside the mainstream. The U.S. economy was growing in leaps and bounds and the nation was yearning to shake off the November 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy.
Ford Motors could not have timed the release of its brand-new vehicle better. On April 17, 1964, the Ford Mustang went on sale and exploded into American culture as no other automobile since the Model T.
The Mustang was introduced at New York’s World’s Fair with a pricetag starting at $2,368 (or $17,934 in today’s money.)
Ford will mark the birthday at the New York Automotive Show by recreating the 1964 public relations stunt of disassembling a Mustang, taking it up in elevators and reassembling it on the Empire State Building’s observation deck.
Former Ford executive Lee Iacocca pushed to sell 417,000 Mustangs in the very first 12 months, to mark the 4/17 launch. The vehicle hit 418,812, according to Ford archives, which marked a huge success.
The Mustang became so popular that almost everyone at Ford in those days had a story about the automobile. The favorite of the late Don Frey, the engineer who developed the Mustang, received a letter from a Texas janitor shortly after the launch: “I have actually been courting this 5,000-acre widow for several years. I finally got her in my red pony. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Iacocca, recognized for his marketing savvy, pitched the Mustang as “The car designed to be designed by you.” That was Iacocca’s way of inviting buyers to add high-profit options that weren’t originally featured with the base Mustang car, such as including power windows or power steering.
It was a hard sell for Lee Iacocca.
Frey collaborated with Ford item engineer Harold “Hal” Sperlich under Iacocca’s sponsorship to finally get the green light to manufacture the Mustang, it was their fifth shot.
Iacocca took the significant burden of getting the Mustang concept and design sold to the top brass and it was not an easy task, due to the fact that Ford still was recovering from the magnificent failure of its 1958-1960 Edsel line.
Frey, who died in 2010, had actually stated that he came up with the Mustang concept after his children gave him a hard time about Ford’s boring lineup of cars. As a big shot with Ford product development, he was determined to do something about it.
Hal Sperlich quickly saw the potential in Frey’s Mustang design. “Hal Sperlich took the Ford Falcon economy car and made use of as many parts as he could,” remembered fast-car guru and Mustang hop-up artist Carroll Shelby in a 2004 interview, as the Mustang celebrated its 40th birthday.