The pony expresses
By Peter McKay
The Sydney Morning Herald
Ford's Mustang turns 40 this week, reminding us that motoring icons do far more for car brands than merely make money.
This week, fans around the globe will start celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ford's Mustang. It is one of the great badges, yet it started as a Falcon dressed up in a shapely hardtop or convertible body, sold in small quantities outside the United States and suffered lardy lethargy in its middle years.
Its appeal endures, however, thanks to the rosy glow carried over from its 1960s heyday. It was the original "pony car", spawning many imitators and still topping the wish-lists of many baby boomers. Hundreds of thousands of car buyers felt lust at first sight of the Mustang's alluring styling.
Detroit legend Lee Iacocca, then a Ford division general manager, launched the motoring success story of the '60s. As he told his boss, Henry Ford II, during his pitch, "Now this new little pony car, the Mustang, would give an orgasm to anyone under 30."
The Mustang galloped away due to the alignment of prosperous times, population trends (the baby boomers were reaching driving age) and some clever market research that foresaw the waning of the era of Eisenhower conservatism. There has been a galloping pony on the grille since 1964 but the Mustang took its name from the World War II fighter plane.
Iacocca staked his reputation on the Mustang. It borrowed the underpinnings, engines (including a lazy six-cylinder) and suspension of the compact Falcon but its youth appeal was something entirely new.
Its sales success encouraged General Motors and Chrysler to respond with similar-sized pony car models using the same long-snout, stumpy tail formula. The Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were successes too, until -- like later iterations of the Mustang -- they became too soft. GM killed them off in 2002. Outrageous Chryslers such as the Plymouth Barracuda and Dodge Charger/Challenger flourished and folded.
The dreamers of the mid-'60s helped the Mustang survive the gross mistakes of boardroom decisions (even a four-cylinder engine!), design aberrations and technology that too often marked time, even as its rivals disappeared. The Mustang is Ford's image car, creating a halo effect over other less exciting models in the range.
That said, Ford Australia has no plans to import the new-generation model due for launch in the US later this year. Going back 40 years, the local market for the model was never going to be great -- in part due to the aggravation and expense of relocating the steering column to the right side of the car.
And when a new-millennium Mustang (with, incidentally, a great engine) was imported here in 2001, it ran headlong into the latterday Monaro -- which was prettier, better value and a better driving experience, not that this mattered to the local enthusiasts who bought the 400 examples.
In Australia, the engineering teams at Ford Performance Vehicles and Prodrive worked on the Mustang's modular V8, providing the basis of the high-tech Boss range that powers the Falcon XR8 and all FPV models. FPV boss David Flint says his outfit now must build on the Mustang momentum with its own muscle car, the FPV GT.
One of the few rivals to the Mustang is Europe's enduring Porsche 911, which appeared in 1963 and has been at or near the top of the enthusiasts' hit parade since. The instantly recognisable 911 -- with its uncommon flat-six engine in the rear -- is Porsche.
Another '60s badge exemplifying excitement is the potent Mini Cooper S, a sales, racetrack and rally success. Nothing was safe, not even big-horsepower competition Mustangs on occasions. Discontinued in 1971, the Cooper S went off the radar for three decades, returning in 2002 under BMW ownership. The boomers rushed back to the showrooms, where they fell over an army of curious thirtysomething types who were also interested in an icon reborn.
The Chevrolet Corvette, launched in 1953, is probably the sole badge to beat the Mustang's longevity.
Australia's best known home-grown badges are arguably the Monaro and Falcon GT.
Ford Australia introduced the GT Falcon in 1967 to race in production form in the annual Bathurst 500-mile endurance race. Later, improved versions were distinguished by the HO (Handling Options) tag.
A GT-HO Phase IV, planned for 1972, was scrapped in mid-testing after Ford, Holden and Chrysler ran scared from dire front-page headlines warning of powerful road cars falling into unskilled hands.
The GT Falcons to 1976 were rather inoffensive. After a break, Ford brought out 25th and 30th anniversary editions of the GT in 1992 and 1997 respectively; last year it got serious again with the potent FPV GT, based on the resurgent BA series Falcon.
The original two-door Monaro of 1968, with six-cylinder and V8 engines, was an immediate sensation. But like many sporty and two-door cars, the honeymoon period was not a long one. From 1971, the Monaro badge was attached also to sedans, including the GTS which ran until 1979. The wonder is that Holden left the Monaro name dormant for 23 years.
Ford Australia, responding to strident demand here after the Detroit launch of the original Mustang, imported 48 examples of the 1965 Mustang coupe with 289 cubic inch V8 (plus a convertible for press use) and converted them to right-hand drive.
A year later, Ford converted 161 Mustang hardtops at its Homebush plant. In the next 35 years, a few were imported for promotional purposes.
In 2001, Ford brought in 400 examples of the 4.6-litre Mustang Cobra coupes and convertibles, which were converted by Tickford (now Ford Performance Vehicles) in Melbourne.