The Ford Mustang turns 50 years old this year, marking a half century of symbolizing what is great about America.
What makes the Mustang such an important product?
Ford Motor Company's compact Falcon had sold well in the beginning, but its no frills boxy style soon bored customers. Instead of engineering a new car from the ground up Ford took the chassis of the Falcon, put a V 8 engine on it, and gave it a sleek convertible body. The famous line requoted by every news outlet this week has been how they "turned a librarian into a sexpot."
Ford figured out a lesson often forgotten. Making smaller cars fun creates excitement about the product. Toyota has produced generations of cars that seem to mostly update the old Ford Falcon idea of a smaller four door boxy car. Ford asked "why be stodgy?"
The company eventually did drift away from the idea that the car ought to be fun, but also practical and affordable. Back seat space shrank and the cost went up. Pontiac's G models probably evoked the spirit of the original Mustang as well as any car in the last ten years.
It built on a growing American desire to take their lives on the open road. Many still took trains and buses for long distance travel in the 1960s. Don't believe me? Watch North By Northwest and wonder why the main character did not just escape by car into the anonymous countryside. Although no self-respecting television show or movie then or now depicts long range driving on an interstate, the new superhighways pulled Americans onto the open road in greater numbers than ever.
Simplicity marked the Mustang. The previous decade featured tail fins, different light configurations, and any number of doo dads designed to increase a car's appeal. Mustang designers did not invent the more simple design, but they implemented it in a classic way. The sleek lines contrast with the previous decade's most timeless designs and stand up well to those from later decades.
Like Led Zeppelin, who started just a few years later, the original Mustang's style never has looked dated.
Ford's unveiling of the Mustang prefaced modern roll outs of Apple products and other technology. They crammed ads into the premium time slot on all three networks. 2,600 newspapers carried its image in their advertisements. Both women and men could experience the rejuvenating power of the right car, according to the marketing. Perfect timing for a generation emphasizing gender equality.
Form following function; style following substance. The Ford Mustang was one of the great American products. Happy 50th!