Ford's Anniversary Magic: Mustang's Makeover
Affordable American icon to add retro touches for 2005 GT
January 4, 2003
BY JAMIE BUTTERS
DETROIT FREE PRESS BUSINESS WRITER
Heading into its 100th year, Ford Motor Co. hopes to make a little anniversary magic with the new Mustang, much as it did two years ago with another American icon, the Thunderbird.
Possibly the industry's best-known nameplate -- ahead of the Chevrolet Corvette -- the Mustang has outlasted the Camaro and other "pony car" rivals and now has the affordable U.S. sports car niche pretty much to itself.
Which is just fine with its legions of fans.
Since Lee Iacocca introduced the Mustang at the New York World's Fair in April 1964, Ford has sold more than 8 million units. More than 160 collector clubs provide a global community for lovers of Mustang Cobras, Mach 1s, Saleens and simpler 'Stangs of all eras and almost all prices.
While it no longer sells hundreds of thousands of units a year, the Mustang's place as an American icon -- featured in film, song and Dream Cruise lore -- makes it one of the most important vehicles in the Ford lineup.
"The Mustang is as important to the car side as the F-Series is to the truck business," said Phil Martens, Ford Motor Co.'s vice president for vehicle programs and processes.
Ford will unveil a concept of what the 2005 Mustang GT will look like as the North American International Auto Show starts up with media previews Sunday. The public show opens a week from today.
As the Dearborn automaker tries to steer attention away from its money problems and back to its popular cars and trucks, it will set records for most global debuts (15) and vehicles displayed (94) at a single auto show in its nearly 100 years.
Last year's auto show was clouded by questions over the turnaround plan that Ford was still cooking up. Chairman and new CEO William Clay Ford Jr. couldn't show a pickup, concept car or new tie without being grilled over how many jobs would be cut, how many plants would be closed and when.
The answers came the morning of the charity preview: 21,500 jobs in North America and five plants. Many of the cuts haven't been made yet, pending the UAW contract negotiations this fall. But at least this year's is looking like a show where people are again talking about the cars and trucks and displays.
At Ford's new oval-shaped stand, the stars will include the redesigned 2004 F150 pickup, a please-don't-call-it-a-station-wagon concept called the Freestyle FX, and a sporty concept that points the direction for the Mercury brand.
The Mustang, the car of Steve McQueen's "Bullitt" and Wilson Pickett's "Mustang Sally," has seen its original buyers grow from tough racers and young cruisers to young-at-heart grandparents.
With a starting price under $20,000, Mustang still gets a fair amount of business from young guys who can't afford a luxury sports car. But as the current Mustang chassis approaches age 25, sales are increasingly going to women who are hitting their big 4-0 or 5-0.
The convertible, in particular, appeals to baby boomer women. The joke is that it is the preferred first anniversary gift for a second wife, said Austin Craig, a Mustang collector and head of enthusiast marketing at Ford's advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.
Indeed, the majority of Mustangs are driven by women (53.2 percent) in early middle age (43.5 years) who went to college (63 percent) and live in affluent households (average income $76,270), according to Art Spinella, vice president of CNW Marketing Research in Bandon, Ore.
But Ford executives say the averages are deceiving, a statistical blurring of the Mustang's bifurcated customer base.
"There are basically two types of Mustang buyers: Those over 40 and those under 40," said J Mays, Ford's vice president for design.
The older buyers tend toward the muscled-up editions that Ford pumps out each year to milk the enthusiast market: Mach 1, Bullitt, SVT Cobra.
But younger and less wealthy buyers can feed their need for speed and a tough image from the base pony.
And there is no shame in that, said Craig. "People don't look at it and say 'Oh, too bad you couldn't get a real one,' " he said. "Mustang means fun to everybody."
Effectively, it offers more power than the likes of the Mazda Miata and Hyundai Tiburon, and a much lower starting price than the Nissan 350Z, the upcoming Chrysler Crossfire or the Pontiac GTO.
Ford is not yet saying specifically what engines will go into the next generation of Mustangs, except that they will continue to be offered in a variety of V6 and V8 configurations.
At the auto show, Ford will display a convertible GT concept and a concept coupe. "This is very, very close to the production vehicle," said Mays, the designer.
Experts say the new Mustang will be built at the flexible Flat Rock plant that belongs to Mazda, Ford's Japanese affiliate, but Ford won't confirm those plans.
What they will say is that the car will begin production next year for launch in the fall as a 2005 model.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....