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The History of the
Ford Mustang 1964-73

Shortly after the Ford Mustang made its appearance at the New York World's Fair in April of 1964, the Ford Motor Company knew they had bet on a winning horse. With the sale of 100,000 Mustangs in the first 100 days of its release, a number that Ford’s own market research had suggested was a good goal for the first entire year, it was clear that the Mustang not only captured the imagination of American car buyers, but would also capture a sizable chunk of the American car market. Ford’s introduction of the original pony car set a new standard that would leave their competitors scrambling to enter the race and compete for the attention of a new generation of American car buyers. 

Ford Mustang Production
Figures By Year:
1964-1/2 Mustang 121,538
1965 Mustang 559,451
1966 Mustang 607,568
1967 Mustang 472,121
1968 Mustang 317,404
1969 Mustang 299,824
1970 Mustang 190,727
1971 Mustang 149,678
1972 Mustang 125,093
1973 Mustang 134,867

Lee Iacocca, the general manager of the Ford division, had convinced Henry Ford II that the buying market was eager for an affordable sporty vehicle. Iacocca utilized considerable market research to support his claim. Research revealed that there was a significant number of young people, the “Baby Boom” generation born in the years following WWII, that would not only be driving soon, but also, taking into account a projected healthy economic future and their potential buying power, would be in the market for their own new vehicle.

Iacocca correctly presumed that this new generation of car buyers would be looking for a vehicle to set them apart from their parents, something that would reflect their own independent identity and status, something exciting. Iacocca set out to produce a car that would appeal to a youthful car buyer in both style and price.

The start-up costs for the new model would be kept low by borrowing much of the parts from the Ford Falcon’s existing parts bin. The Mustang’s engine, transmission, suspension, steering, and brakes came from the Falcon line. Wherever possible, parts were also borrowed from the Fairlane, as well as from the full size Ford line in an effort to keep production costs, and in turn Mustang’s sticker price, down.   

Similar in size to the Falcon, the Mustang shared none of its sheet metal and was proportioned to look like a sports car with a long hood and short rear deck. This design gave up some of the interior and trunk space of the Falcon, but gave the Mustang a stylish sporty look that would ultimately appeal to the youth market Ford was targeting. Unlike the utilitarian Falcon, the Mustang came standard with a well-equipped interior that included bucket seats, sport steering wheel, floor shift, carpeting, and headliner.

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The Mustang was offered with an extensive selection of interior color choices and exterior paint options. Part of Ford’s marketing campaign focused on the many options available for the Mustang in an attempt to promote the possibility for the buyer to build their own personal Mustang. Depending on the options one ordered, the Mustang could be anything from an elegant, stylish commuter to and all out high performance hot rod. Ford marketed their new model heavily, using a variety of media and promotional events. The hype created around the release of the Mustang, combined with the car’s winning design, translated into buyers herding into showrooms.

Available as hardtops or convertibles, the first Mustangs, produced from April through August of 1964, are commonly referred to as 1964½ Mustangs to distinguish them from later models produced in the year, which are known as 1965 Mustangs. However, all models produced this year have a VIN number that designates them as 1965 models. A few significant differences that set the 64½ Mustang apart from cars built later in the year are a generator, which was replaced by an alternator on the 65’s, and the base V8 engine option, which was a 260 cubic inch engine in the early Mustangs and switched out for the 289 cubic inch, 2bbl, 200 horsepower engine later in the year.

A 289 cubic inch, 4bbl, A-code engine rated at 225 horsepower and a High Power K-code 289 engine rated at 271 horsepower were available options. The 170 cubic inch straight six-cylinder was the base engine for the Mustang. Transmission options included a 3-speed manual, 4-speed manual or automatic transmission, and the Mustang was available with a wide selection of rear end gear ratio options.

Fun Facts:

  • In a theatre near you

    In one of the most memorable car chase scenes ever put on film, Steve McQueen drives a 1968 Mustang GT390 in the film Bullitt.

  • On the air

    Wilson Pickett had a hit with “Mustang Sally” in 1966.

  • At the track

    The 1966 GT350H, a Shelby Mustang, was available through the Hertz company for customers who were older than 25 and willing to spend 17 dollars a day plus 17 cents a mile for the privilege of “renting a racer.” Many renters indeed went right from the lot to the track. Shelby made only 1,001 GT350H Mustangs specifically for Hertz in 1966, making surviving cars rare and some of the most desirable, and expensive Shelby Mustangs among collectors.

The 20 Millionth Ford Model ASteve McQueen in the 1968 Mustang GT390 from 'Bullitt'.

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The available options for Mustang continued to expand throughout 1965. A 2+2 fastback model joined the hardtop and convertible, and the 170 cubic inch straight six-cylinder was replaced with a 200 cubic inch straight six as the Mustang’s base engine. Pony interior, which featured many upgrades, including seat covers with the image of horses running on seat back, was introduced this year as well as the GT equipment option. Mustang GT’s were available with a 4-barrel carburetor, dual exhaust, front wheel disc brakes, and larger sway bars. The Mustang GT option also included grille mounted fog lights and GT stripes that ran along the lower body between the wheels.

The Mustang GT wasn’t the only performance option for 1965. In late 1964, Ford approached legendary racer Carroll Shelby with an offer to produce a high performance version of the fastback Mustang. The Shelby Mustang GT350 “Cobra” would prove to be a solid performer and over the next 5 years Shelby would produce a limited number of some of the most memorable and collectable Mustangs ever built.

Ford tampered little with the Mustang’s formula for 1966. Subtle changes in appearance distinguish a 1966 Mustang from a 1965 model. The honeycomb grille of the 1965 Mustang was switched to a series of thin chrome bars for 1966. Lower rocker moulding was standard for ’66, as were back up lights located in the valance below the rear bumper.

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The first major restyling for the Mustang occurred with the 1967 model. Slightly bigger than its predecessors, a trend that would continue throughout the first generation line of Mustangs, the wider body allowed for Mustang’s first big block V8 option. The 390 cubic inch V8 was rated at 320 horsepower, significantly raising the performance potential of the pony car. The 1967 Mustang continued to be available as a hardtop, convertible, and now, a full fastback that carried the roofline to the rear of the trunk. Interior options that were new for 1967 included an overhead console and tilt away wheel.

Similar to the subtle changes between the 1965 and 1966 models, there was little difference between the 1967 and 1968 Mustangs. Recently implemented federal safety regulations were responsible for a few changes between the model years. Side marker lights were located in the front fenders and rear quarter panels of the ‘68 and the interior was upgraded with an impact absorbing steering column. Also new for the Mustang interior in 1968 was an optional AM/FM stereo. The base V8 engine of previous years, the 289, was replaced by the 302 cubic inch V8.

1969 would see the next significant change in styling for the Mustang. Still available as a hardtop and convertible, the fastback Mustang of the past was renamed the Sportsroof model. Continuing the trend towards larger cars that pervaded throughout the era, one that affected other models in the Ford lineup as well, the Mustang was bigger than its predecessors. The base engine remained the 200 cubic inch straight six-cylinder, but a 250 cubic inch six-cylinder was also offered as an option for 1969.

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The era of Detroit muscle was in full swing in 1969, and the Mustang was running up front with a wide variety of V8 engine options. Some notable standouts included the Boss 302 and Boss 429, which were offered in limited production Mustang models. One distinctive styling change for 1969 included the addition of 2 headlights added to grille. Along with the Boss Mustangs, new models for the year included the Mustang Grande, featuring interior upgrades and extra sound deadener, and the Mach 1. The Mach 1 was available with a low gloss black hood, a hood scoop (an actual shaker scoop with the 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet engine), hood pins, dual mirrors, suspension upgrades and dual exhaust.

As in the past, Ford carried a major restyling of their Mustang into a second year with only minor changes. The 1970 Mustang did have a few notable differences in appearance from the previous model. The grille headlights that gave the ’69 Mustang its distinctive quad headlights were removed for ’70, returning the Mustang to dual headlights. The taillights, similar in appearance to the 1969 model, were now recessed.

The interior received high back bucket seats as standard equipment and 1970 also saw the introduction of a locking steering column. The ignition key was moved from its previous location on the dashboard to the column to facilitate the locking function. This set-up, in a slightly different form, is still being used today.

The 390 cubic inch V8 was dropped and the 351 Cleveland replaced the 351 Windsor that was offered previously. The Mach 1, Boss 302, and Boss 429 remained options for 1970.

1971 was the next and last restyling for the first generation Mustang, and the largest model yet. The 200 cubic inch straight six-cylinder, the long running base engine for Mustang, was dropped. Also dropped for ’71 were the 428, Boss 302, and Boss 429 V8 engines. New V8 engines for the Mustang in 1971 included the Boss 351, rated at 330 horsepower, the 429 and Ram Air 429 each rated at 370 horsepower. The Mach 1 continued to be offered, and now featured a color keyed front bumper and honeycomb grille.

The Boss 351 featured a 351 Cleveland engine topped with a 4-barrel carburetor. The horsepower hit the street by way of a 4-speed transmission with a Hurst shifter and a 3:91:1 traction lock rear end. A low gloss black hood treatment, twist hood locks and body side stripes gave the Boss 351 Mustang a distinctive appearance. Other features included power front disc brakes, an upgraded suspension with staggered rear shocks, and dual exhaust.

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There were few changes in the Mustang for 1972, however, one significant change in direction, possibly the result of new government fuel economy regulations, was the absence of the Boss 351 and both 429 V8’s as options. The Mach 1 remained, continuing to be a strong representative of Mustang muscle.

1973 was the last year of the first generation Mustang. Subtle changes like square chrome headlight bezels and a standard color keyed front bumper set the ’73 apart from the previous model year. This was the last year for the convertible model, which would not return to the Mustang lineup for many years. The Mach 1 and Grande models remained, but were much the same as previous models. As the end of the first chapter for the Mustang came to a close, it appeared Ford was looking ahead at the Mustang II and some big changes for the direction of their popular pony car.

Let MAC’s help you make the most of your restoration. Whether you need a few finishing touches for your completed classic or are just beginning to sort through your collection of vintage parts from your soon to be Concours, Custom, or Cruiser, we have what you need to complete your dream car. MAC’s has been serving the Ford restorer since 1978 and we carry an extensive collection of Mustang parts, accessories, supplies, manuals, and literature. Our fully illustrated 1964-1973 Mustang parts catalog lists 8,064 parts. You will easily find what you need including part numbers, prices, descriptions, number of parts required, and the years of application. Our catalog is free if you have a 1964-1973 Mustang. Outside the U.S. we do require a payment of $5.00 U.S. to cover the cost of postage.

Restore your Mustang, Convertible, Hardtop, Fastback, 2+2, Sportsroof, Mach 1, Grande, Boss, California Special, Flair, or Sprint with classic, vintage parts from MAC’s Antique Auto Parts. We carry restoration parts for 1964 1/2, 1965, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1972, and 1973 Mustangs.