The Car Of The Year (and A Half)

PrintPrintEmailEmail GT, Boss, Cobra, and other models followed in the succeeding years.

When GM responded to the high-power Mustang with the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, and Chrysler with the Barracuda and Marlin, a new name for the type of car was born: “pony car.” Mustangs, with more powerful engines, opened the way to another new category of vehicle: the “muscle car.”

The high-power models widened the appeal and changed the image of the car. At first the Mustang was associated with independent young single women who were slightly intimidating to men, an image cemented by the hit soul song of 1966, “Mustang Sally” by Wilson Pickett.

But Steve McQueen also gave the car tough-guy associations in Bullitt (1967). It could play as a character on its own, as proven by its supporting role in the 2000 film Gone in Sixty Seconds . “Eleanor” is an elusive, temperamental 1967 Shelby GT500 that plays opposite Nicholas Cage.

There were many successive styles. Even the ugliest Mustang could have iconic power, as shown by Vanilla Ice, whose homely 5.0 Mustang starred with him in the 1990 hit video of “Ice, Ice Baby.”

Like the Porsche 911, also introduced in 1964, the Mustang allowed for evolution. The design remained remarkably consistent through the years; lots of different cars could look like a Mustang. Despite Ford’s seeming efforts to wreck the franchise, it has hung on. It came to the edge of cancellation in 1989; a new model in 1994 saved it.

J Mays, the head of Ford design known for this “retrofuturist” approach to channeling great models of the past, found perfect material in the Mustang when it came time to redo it for 2004. His take, based on the 1967 version of the car, with elements of the 1966 and other models, has been a success in sales and reviews. The Mustang, Mays passionately declared, “is a legend, an icon. It has long since ceased to be an automobile—it is a sense of national pride.”