Why The Mustang Will Always Be America's Classic Sweetheart

The love affair with Mustang has been going on for nearly 60 years, and we believe the original pony car will always be America’s classic sweetheart.

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The love affair with Mustang has been going on for nearly 60 years, and we believe the original pony car will always be America’s classic sweetheart.

The Ford Mustang remains one of the most iconic classic muscle cars since its introduction in 1965. No other car has matched the “Mustang” dynamic for power, performance, and image. Ford Motor Company designed the Mustang to be robust but reliable, easy to maintain and upgrade, and fun to drive.

Any classic Mustang lover can tell you when they fell in love with their favorite pony car as quickly as they could recall the day they snuck their first kiss under the bleachers. The vintage Mustang just makes an indelible impression on our hearts and minds, tattooing itself to our conscience in ways that few things can. From watching Steve McQueen race it around the streets of San Francisco, or listening to our uncle pull up in his new GT every holiday, or sitting in Bobby’s convertible at the drive-in movie, these iconic cars are as much a part of us as American apple pie, Friday night lights, and teenage love affairs. Over the years, our infatuation with the Mustang has grown so much that it is one of the most recognizable vehicles in automotive history. While the reasons we love the Mustang might vary, we thought it might be fun to look at the reasons surrounding the success of this iconic car. Let’s explore why the Mustang will always be America’s classic sweetheart.

Table of Contents


Why Are Mustangs Popular?

There are several reasons why Mustangs have created such a lasting legacy in the automotive world. We have listed a few of them below.

“You Dance With The One”

My father had some wise advice the night I took my first girl to the high school prom. He told me you “always dance with the one who brought you.” He was right because many of my high school buddies didn’t and broke hearts. The Mustang brought us to the muscle car dance, and in the minds of many, it was only fitting that they should be together, too.

The Mustang was introduced in 1964 as an American-made sports car that could attract the attention of younger buyers breaking free of their parent’s constraints and outdated norms. The sixties was a radical time as young people began to reject societal norms, preferring to live more accessible and carefree lifestyles. Ford knew the time was right to offer a car that could reflect a more open, faster-paced dynamic.

The initial press release touted the Mustang as a car with “a low initial cost, coupled with high style, easy and precise handling, excellent ride, with a host of options.” Ford’s initial plan was to offer three distinct sports car versions: an economical no-frills model, a high-performance coupe, and a luxury car that combined style and performance in one package. Early projections estimated the sale of about 100k units, but the Mustang launch was the most popular initial offering in four decades (Ford Model A). Ford produced four times what it had initially been projected.

“Familiar Affordable Muscle”

Much of what Americans experienced in the early Ford Mustang was familiar because it was based on vehicles already in the Ford lineup. Most of the drivetrain, suspension, and interior were borrowed from the Fairlane and Falcon models. Common parts lowered production costs, allowing Ford to pass along those savings to awaiting consumers. But, it also meant that dealers didn’t have to invest in costly new parts inventories. Dealers could get behind the new car, promote it with vigor, and encourage customers to take test drives. The car was within reach of many at an MSRP of only $2362.

“What Ford Stands For”

It wasn’t long before Ford entered the racing circuit with its new model. It first appeared as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500 in 1964 (although the race was marred by tragedy in a fiery crash that caused the death of two drivers). The Mustangs placed first and second in their class in the ‘64 Tour De France rally, establishing its claim on race car history.

While the Mustang established itself internationally, drag racing was an excellent avenue for high-powered Mustangs with modified 427 V8s in the mid-sixties. In late 1965, five Mustangs qualified for the stock eliminator class at the NHRA winter nationals (which Bill Lawton’s car won with a 10.92 time at 128 mph. By the late 1960s, Mustangs were popping up all over. Names like “Blue Max, Boss Days, LA Hooker, and the famous Danny Ongais-driven Mickey Thompson dragster started kicking butts nationwide.

Part of the success of the racing component of the early Ford Mustang had to do with the man pushing its development. Even though Carroll Shelby initially doubted that a “secretary’s car” could be made into a bonafide race car, it wasn’t long before the Mustang Shelby GT350 prowled around American racetracks. Shelby was a stickler for precise car components that would bear his name, and Ford would take full advantage of the connection through its advertising. In the late sixties, the new Shelby Mustang GT became synonymous with speed and high-powered performance in a way few other sports cars could replicate.

The GT350R won five of the Sports Car Club of America’s six divisions in 1965 and won the B-title for the next two years running. As late the late sixties progressed, Mustang owners began chanting their pride by claiming that Ford stood for “First On Race Day.” (Which made GM owners come up with their acronym “Fix Or Repair Daily” and “Found On the Road Dead.”

“Made To Run Wild”

One of the great reasons the Ford Mustang endeared itself to so many people was that its engines were so easy to stroke. Many early pony car owners were swamping their base V6s for 289s, 302s, and 351 Windsors. The small block Windors and the Cleveland V8 shared the same engine mounts, so they were easy upgrades. The 351 was a massive engine, capable of producing plenty of torque and durable enough to take the abuse many young drivers inflicted on their cars. The local drag strip saw plenty of weekend action as young motorheads raced their ‘Stangs against the Camaros, GTOs, Chargers, and ‘Cudas.

Ford engineers designed the long hood of the Mustang for just such a purpose, suspecting that many owners would want to either swap or stroke their engines. While later Mustangs would become more complicated, the basic Mustang is still a car that has tremendous upside.

“A Star is Born”

When the Mustang debuted, it started poking its nose in several movie and television shows. The first appearance was in the French comedy The Troops of St. Tropez, followed by an appearance in the first Bond film Goldfinger (and later in Thunderball). CBS had a widely popular series, The FBI, starring Efrem Zimbalist, Jr., that was sponsored by Ford, so naturally, they insisted that the series lead should drive the new Mustang Convertible for the first few years of the series. In 1966, the song, Mustang Sally, was released about a guy who buys a new Mustang for his girlfriend, and she prefers the car over the guy.

But in 1968, a green Fastback Mustang GT 390 stole most baby boomers' hearts. The Bullitt Mustang spent ten uninterrupted minutes chasing a new 1968 Dodge Charger RT through the streets of San Francisco. Movie viewers were enthralled as Steve McQueen swerved the muscle car around corners, in and out of traffic, speeding up and down the city's hills pursuing the bad guys. While the Charger RT ended the chase in a fiery crash, the iconic car chase defined a genre. From that moment on, car chases on film would strive to live up to that standard. In addition, the movie sent a clear signal to the public that at the end of the day, the Mustang would be the last car standing.

Since that day, Mustangs have featured in films like Gone In Sixty Seconds (both versions), the Need For Speed (2014), and the first three John Wick films (2014, 2017, and 2019). A 2008 Shelby Mustang GT500KR served as the Knightrider car in the remake of the original series. To say that the Mustang deserves a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame doesn’t do it justice. This car deserves a freaking lifetime achievement Oscar for its roles.