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Mustang Fifty Years

Book Review

by Ryan King

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In 1964, more than fifty years ago, the Mustang made a splash at the World's Fair in New York City, starting a great love affair with America's original Pony Car.

The first of its kind, the sporty compact car started a trend that was aimed at the then-burgeoning youth market. The Mustang was intended to fill the needs of everyone from economy-minded commuter, to fun-seeking cruiser, to the enthusiast looking for a performance car capable of winning on road courses and drag strips across America.

The Mustang hit the mark, launching its own niche, building a dedicated, enthusiastic fan base, and creating a vehicle style that would exemplify the American automobile.

Mustang Fifty Years covers the fascinating details of the birth, struggles, and successes of America's beloved pony over its first fifty years.

Follow along below for a chapter by chapter overview of what you'll find in this excellent coffee table book.

The Book

Chapter 1: Mustang Enters the Market

The Mustang was the brainchild of the legendary Lee Iacocca, then president of Ford, and the first generation Mustang captured hearts and minds like no other car before or since. It sold over 1.2 million vehicles in two years (okay, 2 1/2) — and it became an instant cultural icon.

Chapter 1 is all about the development, launch, and success of the first generation Mustang. It covers the historical time period, culture, ideas, designs, the people behind it, and the market that ultimately made it a success.

Chapter 2: Big-Blocks, Machs and Bosses

The Mustang got bigger and bigger for seven years. What began as a versatile, svelte, performance canvas, got its ass handed to it by the new Chevrolet Camaro and Plymouth Barracuda in 1967, then slowly turned into an enormous steaming pile by 1973. However, between those two years, the Mustang had some of the hardest performing models during the Golden Age of the Muscle Car. Names like Shelby, Mach 1, and Boss were serious performance machines — even with the extra heft. In fact, in March of 1968, Hot Rod called the Mustang Cobra Jet "the fastest running Pure Stock in the history of man." That Super Stock race car spawned the beginning of the Mustang's most powerful years in the '60s with the introduction of the 428 Cobra Jet engine in the GT model in April, 1968.

Chapter 2 covers a lot of years, if not as much of the car's development, as Chapter 1. It looks at the big names like Shelby, Mach 1, and Boss, before ending with the ignominious, portly, underpowered end of its first generation in 1973.

Chapter 3: The Little Jewel

In 1974 Ford replaced its big steaming pile with its little turd. Coined the "Little Jewel" by its original instigator and champion, Lee Iacocca, it was barely a shadow of the original fire breathing monster that was spawned during the '60s. In all fairness, it did return to its small car roots — where it belonged. However, it also changed its direction from competing with Muscle Cars to competing with economical imports like Toyotas and Datsuns. The problem was, the Mustang's legend had already been made, and the new car simply failed to live up to it — for five years.

Chapter 3 explores the Mustang's saddest years as Ford and every other car company in the world dealt with OPEC's (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) oil embargo on the United States that drove up fuel prices and made it difficult to come by. Not only did the second generation Mustang have to deal with a serious damper on America's love of recreational motoring, but ever-stringent emissions regulations and fuel economy requirements also took a big bite out of the development of its performance capabilities.

Chapter 4: Code Name Fox: The New Breed

After the previous five dismal years, 1979 marked the beginning of the return of the Mustang to its legendary glory — but not right away. Although it started heading in the right direction with the optional 5.0 V8, it was horribly under-powered and the performance was abysmal. To add insult to injury, in an effort to meet EPA demands, it was replaced with an even more anemic 4.2 V8 for two years. The clouds began to clear in 1982 with the return of a more powerful 5.0, which steadily improved until its zenith in the '87-'93 Mustangs, which were responsible for creating the 5.0 legend.

Along with the development of the 5.0 Mustang, chapter 4 covers all the other models as well, including the SVO, the SVT Cobra, and the very rare Cobra R.

Chapter 5: Fox 4: Save the Mustang

As many Mustang enthusiasts are aware, the Ford Probe was almost the Ford Mustang — another effort by Ford to repurpose the Mustang to compete against the popular and successful competitors from the far east. Thankfully, that didn't sit well with Mustang enthusiasts anywhere — including within the walls of Ford. With some last minute heroics, by a number of Ford executives, engineers, and designers, the Mustang would be saved in the form enthusiasts know and love. The SN-95 Mustang project was headed by John Colletti who was responsible for spearheading the '94 Mustang revamp — in the process returning it to its Mustang roots.

Chapter 5 covers everything from the development of the '94 5.0 Mustang to the SN-95's final iteration as the brutally-fast, supercharged, Terminator Cobra.

Chapter 6: The Rebirth

The success of the return to Mustang styling in the SN-95 proved to be the recipe of success for the Mustang — duh, every Mustang fan knew that, even when they were producing the '71-'73 and '74-'78, oh and the '79-'93 cars. When it came time for another update — this time with an all-new car — Ford focused intently on a retro look — or as everyone else sees it, a Mustang. Originally developed from the chassis for the Lincoln LS, the shell was changed so much, it became its own design, and the foundation was set for the greatest performing factory Mustangs of all time.

From the surprisingly refined '05-'09 GT, to the breathtaking performance of the 662 horsepower '13-'14 Ford Shelby GT-500, and everything in between, Chapter 6 covers some of the greatest cars to ever wear the Mustang badge — including the short run return of the Boss 302.

Chapter 7: Racing to Improve the Breed

Whether you are a fan or a detractor, the Mustang has had a performance image since its inception. Make no mistake, it was planned that way. From the earliest GT to the Shelby, Boss, and Cobra variants, the Mustang was intentionally promoted as a race machine for the speed-oriented enthusiast.

That doesn't mean it was always designed and engineered for it.

Neither the first nor second generation car had real performance roots. It wasn't until the third generation — when the Mustang received its very own chassis design — that Ford started with a package engineered for ripping up race tracks. Although it was the first generation that earned the performance image that would forever define the Mustang, it was the Fox Body car that would really bring the punch. From that point on, the Mustang has been a consistently prominent performance powerhouse — on the street and the track.

Chapter 7 looks at what happened on the racing circuits of America to build the Mustang's performance image — from road racing, to drag racing, to NASCAR, and drifting.

Chapter 8: Concepts and Prototypes

The Mustang is the only American car to be continuously built for more than 50 years. The key to that success has been keen product management and marketing.

In Chapter 8 concepts and prototypes are discussed at length, delving into the development of some of the wildest ponies produced by Ford — all for the purpose of grabbing the attention and imagination of the buying public.

Chapter 9: Popular Culture

No other car in the history of cinema has had as many appearances and starring roles in movies than the Mustang. The car is simply beloved far and wide as the most inherently American automobile ever made.

Since its launch back in 1964, the car has taken popular culture by storm, being featured in music, movies, and television shows. Chapter 9 takes a look at the role it has played shaping and being shaped by pop culture.

Chapter 10: Mustang Community

The Mustang's immediate and lasting popularity gave rise to a rich and vibrant community of active enthusiasts, creating not just demand for the car itself, but cottage industries built up around it, and the advent of clubs, events, and dedicated interest.

Chapter 10 finishes up the book with a quick look at the enduring community that has sprung up in support of the Mustang from its very beginning.


The Mustang's story has spanned a half-century now — the longest continually produced automobile in American history. Although it's had its ups and downs, America's love affair with the venerable Mustang is far from over. It continues to be built today on the same principles that made its launch the most successful in the history of the automotive world.

The Mustang has stood the test of time, and Mustang Fifty Years does a fantastic job exploring the history of America's only true Pony Car. Whether you are a Mustang fan, car aficionado, or history buff, this book is for you — I highly recommend it.

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For more information contact Motorbooks on the web at www.motorbooks.com, by phone 1.800.826.6600, or by email at customerservice@motorbooks.com.

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