During an era filled with souped-up muscle cars, rumbling engines and squealing tires, the Ford Mustang was born.
Since its introduction on April 17, 1964, the Mustang has been driving off the showroom floor at Ford dealerships across the country and into the homes, and hearts, of millions.
For 50 years, the Mustang has been in continuous production and has carved out a spot as an American icon, instantly lovable and recognizable to many.
But what is it about the Pony car that so many love? What has kept it an icon for half a century?
A Legend is Born
October 1962 was a month of forward thinking. Lee Iacocca, who had been appointed Ford Division President in 1960, was a visionary with an idea that a new sporty car would appeal to the masses, but he needed the proof. That proof came when the 1962 Mustang I Roadster made its official appearance at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, N.Y. The car dazzled and turned many heads.
The first production Mustangs started rolling off the line on March 10.
The first VIN numbered pre-production Mustang is a Wimbledon White convertible that resides inside The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford, said the museum holds about 260 cars, but the 1962 Mustang I Roadster and Serial Number One are a draw for the masses.
“They’re both some of the most popular cars in the collection,” he said. “Those two stand out…We’ll get Mustang fans that come (just for that). It’s kind of sacred to fans.”
Anderson said what makes the concept car even more unique is that many don’t survive.
He added that the first Mustang has its own unique story.
“Serial Number One did get sold by mistake,” he said. “The first one went to…an airline pilot in Canada. The guy just fell in love with it.”
He said it took Ford about two years to get it back and that was after the pilot, Capt. Stanley Tucker, put about 10,000 miles on the car. Ford did an even trade in 1966, Serial Number One for the Millionth Mustang.
The first Shelby, built by Carroll Shelby, came out in 1965, said Don Dennis, 70, of Marietta. Dennis restores classic cars and is a certified appraiser.
“It’s valued at about $300,000,” he said.
He said 1965 was also the first year of the Fastback and that the late 1960s were when Ford was coming out with a serious muscle car.
“Ford, in 1969, had the Boss 302,” he said. “It was the first year of the Mach 1, and they also had the Boss 429. A ’69 convertible with a 429, you’re looking at $240,000. In 1968, Mustang also had a California trim car (which became known as the California Special). The California Special trim adds 200 percent to whatever the price on that year is.”
Melanie Banker, Mustang brand manager, said there are 300 Mustang clubs across the globe, some in markets the car has never been sold.
“It’s been in over 3,000 motion pictures and TV productions,” she added.
In fact, the new 2015 Mustang was even featured in “Need for Speed,” an action-packed movie full of illegal street racing and working against a ticking clock.
Any Mustang fan will say they definitely found what they were looking for in their car, whether it’s a 1964 1/2 or a 2014. For many, the Mustang is more than just a car; it’s freedom on four wheels.
Banker said the car has always been popular.
“People feel it’s a way to escape the everyday and really connect with the road,” she said.
Russ Alton, 85, of Parkersburg, started the Mid-Ohio Valley Mustang Club in the late 1970s.
He has been to the 25th and 35th anniversary celebrations, but was unable to make it to the 50th. Despite this, he remains a passionate Mustang fan.
“A long time ago, I got (a Mustang) and restored it,” he said. “I’ve restored 20 or better since. I’ve still got two of them.”
Alton owns a white 1966 convertible, which has a blue top and blue and white interior. His second Mustang, also a ’66, is Night Mist blue with blue and white interior.
Just a few weeks ago, Alton purchased two more Mustangs. One in white, while the other is a little rusted and needs some TLC. He’s looking to sell both of them.
“You can buy any piece for them and they’re easy to restore,” he said. “They’re an appealing car. They’ve sold millions of them; they couldn’t build them fast enough.”
Marietta resident Donna Tebay, 55, has loved the Mustang for more years than she can count. She said it started when her father brought one home.
“It was probably when my dad got a ’69 Mustang, brand new, and it was purple,” she said. “I have never seen another one that color, ever.”
As a former owner of a black 1969 Mach 1, the ’69 is her favorite year.
“I just think they look the beefiest,” she said. “I also like a Boss 429 or a 428 Cobra Jet.”
She said her love of the Mustang is mainly because it’s in her family.
“Chevrolets, they’re a dime a dozen,” she said. “Ford, to me, is a challenge and I just think the Mustang looks awesome.”
Tebay raised her sons, Billy and Mike, to be Mustang fans.
“It was a family thing,” said Mike, 30, of Vienna. “(My dad had) a 1965 Mustang and actually raced it. It’s something we do every year…Mom used to have a ’69. I remember in grade school whenever it was nice she’d drive me to school. The kids would always say, ‘Man, your mom has the best car ever!'”
Mike said his first Mustang was 1997 GT but he’s also had a 1985 LX Coupe 5.0.
He said the appeal of the Mustang for him is about the looks and build.
“For me, it’s the styling,” he said. “They’re just well built. You’re getting a good car for the price.”
Billy, 32, of Marietta, has been racing Mustangs since he was 24.
“A lot of (the appeal), I think has to do with the racing heritage (of the Mustang), like back in the ’60s,” he said. “(Racing is) a rush. You have the time in building and getting it set up to do whatever it is whether it’s a road course or drag racing. It’s a drug; it’s addictive.”
Billy said it’s always been a Mustang for him.
“I was pretty much born into it, I guess,” he joked. “I’m a fan of all the genres of them. As long as it’s a Mustang, I’m alright with it.”
Pete Armor, 46, of Reno, owns a yellow 1967 Mustang convertible.
“Mine’s a ’67, so I obviously like the ’67s,” he said. “I like the fastbacks and the Boss and the Shelby.”
Armor said his grandfather bought the car new.
“My grandfather bought it new in ’67,” he said. “He kept it for all these years and then just gave it to me. I don’t drive it very much, I’ve never even showed it. It’s been garage kept for 47 years and has 70,000 miles on it.”
He said growing up, he always wanted to own the car.
“That car, when I was growing up, heck yeah I wanted to own that car,” he said. “Grandpa was wise enough not to give it to me then. I think I took it to a prom or to a few dances. When I’d wash and wax it, he’d let me take it around the block.”
Dennis said he remembers when the Mustang was first introduced.
“When they first came out, I think they were, No. 1, a great looking automobile,” he said. “Being a car nut, for me it was fantastic. The car looked sharp. It had some good lines on it. It looked like it could get out and run.”
He said his favorite year would be one in the beginning of the era.
“If I was going to have a Mustang, it would be a ’64, ’65 or ’66,” he said. “I like stuff back in that era. First of all, it’s chrome, second of all, it’s steel; it’s not a bunch of plastic. And it was raw horsepower.”
Marietta native Caitlin Love, 23, currently stationed at Joint Base Lewis-McChord in Washington state, used to have a 2008 Mustang GT. She said she fell in love with the Mustang when she was just 5 years old.
“My favorite year would be a ’65 Fastback,” Love said. “The reason…is because it was the first one I saw. I was hooked; it was beautiful but sounded powerful and I just fell in love. I knew I had to have one…It is real American muscle.”
For Dr. Allen McElroy, 43, of Whipple, stumbling upon a 1968 Mustang in Dayton was a dream come true.
“I tried to give them more than they’d take for it,” he said. “It’s a lot of fun; it’s bright red.”
McElroy said growing up in the 1970s ensured he’d always love muscle cars of all kinds, but the Mustang is special.
“They’ve had it right for 50 years, and they’re just beautiful cars,” he said. “I think when most people think of an American muscle car, that’s what they think of.”
The Pony Gallops On
Just this month, the new 2015 Mustang was officially introduced. A bright yellow 2015 convertible was disassembled, carried to the 86th floor of the Empire State building and then reassembled on the observation deck, just like it was 50 years ago, when Mustang Mania first took off galloping.
Celebrations marking 50 years of continuous production were held across the country. Hot Wheels even commemorated the anniversary with eight 50th anniversary cars.
Banker said the future of the Mustang is bright.
She added that the 2015, which will hit dealerships this fall, is a whole new pony from the 2014.
“It’s got traditional Mustang cues, but you can also tell the car is very forward and very progressive in its design,” Banker said. “It looks a little different. When you see it in person…it has more of an aggressive stance than today’s vehicle.”
From the 1962 Concept car to the 1964 1/2 and inaugural Mustang cruise, to the new 2015, the Mustang is an American muscle car that is here to stay.
“Mustang continuously looks upon improving,” Banker said. “We look to take the brand one step forward…while retaining its Mustang DNA.”