Here we are at the cusp of 2014, a year that promises to rank among the most exciting in the Mustang's 50-year history, at least for those of us who consider ourselves enthusiasts. For much of this year, Mustang will be in the automotive spotlight, highlighted by the Mustang 50th Birthday Celebrations in Charlotte and Las Vegas on April 17-20, along with the 50th Pony Drive and Mustangs Across America cruises that will be criss-crossing the country. And surely, most Mustang events this year will in some way feature the 50th anniversary. As the anniversary date approaches, we'll see general interest media coverage on TV and in newspapers and magazines. No other car has captured the public's imagination like the Mustang. With over nine million sold since 1964, it seems everyone has a Mustang story.
I can't help but think back 50 years to January 1964. Like many of you, I was just entering my second decade on this earth. Watching my parents' black-and-white TV from my 11 year-old perspective, I was enthralled by the season's new shows (The Man from U.N.C.L.E. and Gomer Pyle USMC in particular) yet was troubled by the evening news that was still discussing President Kennedy's assassination just a couple of months earlier. Although a taped performance of the Beatles aired on the Jack Paar Show in January 1964, we were still a month away from their grand entrance into American consciousness and popular culture with their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. For me, that was the true beginning of the '60s.
Thanks to Bob Fria's excellent book, Mustang Genesis, we also know that Ford Motor Company was a beehive of activity in January 1964 as the company prepared to launch its new Mustang. The PR machine cranked up that month with secretive ride-and-drives by the press and editors of college newspapers. The engineering was mostly done, but parts were piling up at the assembly plants to build the first pre-production pilot cars.
I find it interesting that Dearborn Assembly Plant workers came to work on Monday, February 10, the day after the Beatles appeared on Ed Sullivan, to begin building the first pre-production Mustangs. I can hear the conversation now as they hung doors and dropped in engines:
"Did you see those long-haired boys from England on TV last night?"
"I sure did. What are young people coming to these days?"
Although Ford Division president Lee Iacocca was well into his late 30s when he championed the Mustang in the early 1960s, he laid his job and career on the line for a car that would appeal to a new generation of young people, the same baby-boomer group that embraced rock-and-roll music and, by the end of the 1960s, longer hair styles for men. I can remember watching the first Mustang TV commercials and scanning for Mustangs on the local highways from the back seat of my parents' '60 Mercury Comet four-door. Even though the Mustang was built on the same chassis as that stodgy Comet (derived from the Falcon), the sporty long hood, short rear deck styling made it a car for my generation, although I wouldn't realize the full impact until my 50-something grandparents bought a new '66 GT hardtop.
Fifty years is a grand milestone, and especially noteworthy in this case because Mustang production has never been interrupted over those five decades, making it the longest running automotive nameplate in America.
Let's get this party started!