The 2024 Mustang – Does It Keep The Theme Alive?
The Mustang and its Evolution
Cars have changed big time since the day “The Unexpected” Mustang was introduced in April of 1964. The original car was “unexpected”, not because it was a huge departure in engineering, manufacturing, and technology, but because the concept of a smaller, room for four, inexpensive mini-Thunderbird hit the market spot on. See the 19641/2 Mustang Brochure.
Was it really that radical that Ford could call it “the unexpected”? In reality, the Mustang was based on the then popular Ford Falcon – using a good deal of the tooling, power trains, and even interior parts and pieces; with the most noticeable, the Falcon’s dashboard.
But it was unexpected, because it delivered a car to a whole new segment of buyers, much like the Pontiac GTO did for mid-sized cars. And like the GTO, it was designed and built using the parts bin.
History shows that the styling and market niche the Mustang attacked was spot on. And no one has ever argued that, with a million cars produced from April 1964 to mid-1966. That’s astounding for any new car introduction – or any production car at all.
Since the first iteration of the Mustang, Ford Motor Company has successfully introduced a host of chassis, power train, styling – and starting in the 1980s, technological changes that continued to resonate with the buying public. Even the introduction of the 4-cylinder, Pinto-based Mustang II in 1974 resulted in 3rd place in yearly sales that still has our head shaking.
Constant in each iteration of the Mustang are sporty looks and fun to drive. The price point that the original Mustang was aimed at, until the 21st Century, was young, middle-class drivers. The car was affordable to a market that was always looking for vehicle like this. This pricing niche has been eroded, as a V-8 Mustang is not going to be affordable to a younger driver unless they just came up with the next big Internet thing. And the gap between the lower-level Mustang and the top-end car has widened as well.
Computer technology, manufacturing advances, space-age materials; handling and comfort, all contribute to a vehicle that in no way resembles the 1965 Mustang and cost much more. But that’s true for just about every vehicle sold today. Other than the fact that the 2024 Mustang just introduced is a four-seat sporty car, there is nothing about it that you can find in the 1965 version except . . . FUN. That one factor has remained – and it’s the one that Ford has successfully carried forward for 60 years.
When the 1965 car was introduced, low cost for entry was a big deal. The base Mustang 6-cylinder car introduced in 1964 was priced at $2,368. Using the inflation calculator, that same entry level car would cost $22,625 today. Surprisingly, that’s not a far cry from the current base Mustang’s $27,470 – especially when you consider all the safety, interior sophistication, fuel economy, standard features, and performance you’re getting for that $5,000 difference. (Not a single car offered today could possibly be price competitive with cars built in the 60s because, let’s face it, the cars of that era were crude transportation devices).
In fact, the current base Mustang far exceeds what you get for the dollar in every aspect of what an automobile delivers when compared to what you received when you bought a base Mustang in 1965 especially – when compared to the top-level 225 Hp V-8 car.
Let’s just agree that the mission of every manufacturer that offers a 2022-24 version of the sporty cars they sold between 1965 and 1993 have one mission – to appeal to that heritage within the scope of today’s vehicle standards. The good old days are over, and in relation to performance, safety, and comfort, thank goodness. I’ll let you take that base 1965 6-cylinder Mustang on a 1,000-mile road trip while I take the same trip alongside you in a new base Mustang, and we’ll see who comes away enjoying that.
How History Shaped the first Mustang
The story that deserves telling is how Ford even came up with the idea. We seem to talk about it as if Lee Iacocca woke up one morning and boom, the Mustang appeared. What genius – no, it was “let’s do this.” The real story is, how did we get the original Mustang – and how that changed the way we look at sporty cars. Let’s take a look back . . .
Much of the time, when we talk about the 1965 Mustang, we talk about how it took the Nation by surprise, but that’s not completely true. Sporty cars had been reaching our shores in the early 50s and US makers did respond. But in the 50s there was a marketing thought process that said it was only financially mature people who could afford such a vehicle. As early as 1951, Nash, yes econocar Nash Company, offered the first US branded sports car, the Nash-Healey. Yes, it was a hybrid, half British and half US, but it was unique to Nash dealers and sold well for the time. Most important, it was a real performance car by the standards of the time. In the 1952 Le Mans race, the Nash Healey driven by Leslie Johnson and Tommy Wisdon took third overall behind two factory-entered Mercedes-Benz 300SLs and it was first in class!
It is true that the Nash-Healey inspired Ford, as high up as Henry himself, to develop the Ford Thunderbird. And it wasn’t long before Americans went for the 1955-57 Ford Thunderbird and the 1956-62 Corvettes of those years. Even more significantly, the “Square Bird” four-seater of 1958-1960 exploded the concept of four-person sporty driving. But from a young middle-class driver’s point of view, the pricing of these cars were beyond affordability. If one looks carefully at the print advertising and brochures of the time, the people driving these cars are depicted as closer to middle age and affluent.
And the low-price European sports cars were out of financial reach to young people . . . and all lacked room for four passengers. Ford’s initial response was to build a proposed “sports car” for the masses. The result was the original Mustang concept of 1962-63. It was a small sporty car designed to bring affordable sports-like driving to younger people, but every time Ford did a “focus group” the audience said, “where do my kids go?”
The Conclusions at Ford
The light bulb went on at Ford. But they were faced with trying to keep the price low, give a fun to drive quotient, and get room for four? Ford looked at their existing line and as the story goes, the Mustang was born. Not so fast. First, Ford needed to keep the car in a price range that belied a new chassis and all the technical aspects of production that would take the car up to near the Thunderbird. What to do?
A close look at the line settled them on the Falcon chassis. As they were developing the car from that base, they tested the theory with the Falcon Sprint. In 1963, the Sprint, a sporty, good handling, 260 CID V-8 powered hardtop sold 10,479 units alongside its 6-cylinder sister, at 10,972 and in the convertible, 4,602 Sprints and 12,250 Sport sixes.
Of course, the Mustang was far along by then, but those 38,303 in sales solidified the decision. This was a test of the market, and we shouldn’t discount the Sprint’s production in the decision to go forward with the Mustang.
As we say, the rest is history. But it was a big chance back then for Ford to jump directly into the pool with no idea how well the Mustang would sell. But the fact remains, the car had to be good looking, have room for 4, had to offer performance options and be available as both a hardtop coupe and convertible. Ford proved that you could take some of the performance out of the car as long as it offered the other factors.
This was later proven by the 1974 mini-Mustang sales. That was the one year that a performance Mustang was not offered, and 385,993 Mustangs were sold – the 4th best sales year ever! The Fox body Mustang intro year in 1979, certainly no performance car, also resulted in 369,361 units!
Each new iteration of the Mustang – from he change in 1968 right up to today – has kept to the sporty, stylish of the time, 4-seat theme. And each new iteration, in its own way, has been successful.
Where Are We Today?
When we talk about today, the Mustang is about to go through another change – a new Mustang for 2024 – though it will be introduced mid-year 2023. In some ways it’s directly related to the S550 chassis introduced in 2015, but in others it a departure. The interior is all new – especially from the driver’s seat, and while engine options will be new iterations of the Turbo I-4 and the Coyote V-8, there will be changes. Details can be found HERE.
It will still be a four-seater, with sharp styling and fun to drive at all available levels. These are the keys that Ford knows they need to focus on. And because of this – the new Mustang will still be a Mustang – just as it was in 1965. Credit Ford for understanding that for the car to be successful, they must market that 1965 concept to the same target audience, with the same approach. Kudos to Ford to keep the flame burning . . . at least until 2026?