Ford Mustang turns 50 with no hint of mid-life crisis

Fri Apr 11, 2014 8:01am EDT
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By Paul Ingrassia

(Reuters) - Next week's 50th anniversary of the first Ford Mustang evokes a long-ago day when new cars could generate as much excitement, at least in America, as new iPads. The car caused a sensation, even though it wasn't a technological marvel like Apple's tablet.

Instead it was simply a smartly styled body mounted atop the underpinnings of a pedestrian compact car, the Ford Falcon. One Ford executive boasted, in the idiom of the day, that it was like "turning a librarian into a sexpot." Yet with room for four, the Mustang was surprisingly practical.

The car's styling strikingly captured the exuberant youth culture of America in the early 1960s - and its $2,368 price tag made it affordable to the horde of baby boomers that were just reaching driving age or heading off to college. That price was for the basic six-cylinder engine, but buyers could add extra-cost (and handsomely profitable) options, including an automatic transmission, air conditioning, convertible top and a 289-cubic-inch V8 engine.

American popular culture was gaining global reach in the early 1960s, and the Mustang went along for the ride. Over the years Mustang clubs were established in more than 150 nations, many of which opposed American policies but admired its lifestyle.

With that kind of enduring global appeal, Ford has decided to sell the new 2015 Mustang globally for the first time, rather than make non-North American buyers specially import the car.

For the birthday next week, the Mustang Club of America is organizing five-day celebrations at the Charlotte Motor Speedway in North Carolina and the Las Vegas Motor Speedway in Nevada, where thousands of Mustangs from each decade will meet.

The following account of the Mustang's hyperbolic debut is excerpted from "Engines of Change", a 2012 book by the managing editor of Reuters, Paul Ingrassia.

On the night of April 16, 1964, Ford blitzed the airwaves by buying the 9:30 to 10 p.m. slot (Eastern time) on all three American television networks to tout the Mustang. The company also bought ads in 2,600 newspapers, including special ads for the "women's pages," as they were then known, to celebrate the Mustang's Tiffany Design Award, the first ever given to a commercial product. The official introduction came the next day, April 17, at the New York World's Fair.   Continued...

The logo of a vintage Ford Mustang is pictured at the Essen motor show November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay