1964 Ford Mustang
Published November/December 2014

Happy Birthday, Mustang!

America’s favorite muscle car turns 50

BYJim Prueter
There’s simply no better example of Americana than the Ford Mustang — from the 1960s convertibles with their long hoods and short rear decks to today’s high-performance 600-plus-horsepower models. This most iconic of American cars, the Mustang, celebrates 50 years this year, and classic Mustangs still are in demand.
 
“People connect with Mustang — its sense of freedom, optimism, having fun, and creating memories,” says Steven Ling, Ford’s car marketing manager in Detroit. 
 
It all started back in 1961 when young Lee Iacocca, vice president of the Ford division, had a vision for a car that would seat four, have bucket seats, be no more than 180 inches long, and sell for less than $2,500. It was from this vision that Ford Mustang, named for the P-51 Mustang fighter plane, was born. 
 
On March 9, 1964, the very first Mustang, a white convertible, rolled off the assembly line. It was dubbed a 1964-and-a-half because it was launched halfway through the model year.
 
On April 16, 1964, at 9:30 p.m., the day before its release, Ford ran simultaneous commercials on all three major television networks, and the Mustang was featured on the covers of both Newsweek and Time. On April 17, the public swarmed Ford showrooms, and from Wimbledon White to Tropical Turquoise, more than 22,000 Mustangs were sold that first day.  
 
Ford executives expected to move about 100,000 Mustangs that first year, but by its first anniversary, an astounding 418,000 had been sold. Sales reached $1 million in just two years. 
 
The first-ever Mustang owner was a 22-year-old Chicago schoolteacher, Gail Brown, who bought the car from Johnson Ford, a Chicago-area Ford dealership, on April 15, two days before it was set to go on sale nationwide. She paid $3,419 for a light convertible, trading in a 1958 Chevrolet for $400 for a portion of it.
 
Amazingly, she still owns the car today, and recently restored it after stashing it in her garage for 27 years.
 
Brown may have been the first to buy a Mustang, but the first one to roll off the assembly line was bought by Stanley Tucker in St. John’s, Newfoundland. When Ford Motor Company realized that very first Mustang was on the road in Canada, they begged to get it back, realizing the historical significance of the first Mustang. 
 
After two years of enjoying his Mustang, Tucker made an even exchange with Ford for a new model: the one-millionth Mustang made. Today you can see Tucker’s car, with its Newfoundland and Labrador license plate, in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan.
 
Over the past 49 years, more than 9.2 million Mustangs have been sold, proving that from the racetrack to the silver screen and the airwaves to the toy box, Mustang endures in America’s pop culture.
JIM PRUETER, an automotive writer based in Phoenix, has provided reviews and advice about cars for more than 20 years.
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