The company wanted to revitalize its model lineup by introducing an affordable compact sports car that would appeal to men and women of all ages. It would do that by being sporty enough for the younger generations, spacious enough for a family of four, and offer an unprecedented variety of optional features that would surely satisfy everyone.
Ford vice-president and general manager Lee Iacocca had already kickstarted the development of the production version a year before the concept car’s official debut. He named Donald N. Frey head engineer for the project, and tasked Eugene Bordinat to oversee the design.
Advanced Design presented five, Lincoln-Mercury proposed two, and the Ford studio only submitted one called Cougar, which was ultimately chosen as the go-to design. The people responsible for its creation were project design chief Joe Oros along with L. David Ash, Gale Halderman, and John Foster.
Since affordability and thus low development costs were key goals, the Mustang used chassis, suspension, and drivetrain components derived from two existing Ford models, the Falcon and Fairlane. However, the body was completely new and had a shorter wheelbase, wider track, lower height, and employed an innovative structural system called a “torque box” that significantly improved rigidity.
The First Production Run
Available in hardtop coupe or convertible body styles, it looked different than any other car on the market. With a stylish design highlighted by a multitude of chrome accents, it looked as elegant as a European touring car, yet it could be purchased for a starting price of around $2,350.
Inside, it came with a sporty steering wheel, wall-to-wall carpeting, a full headliner, front bucket seats (or an optional front bench), and a rear bench seat that could comfortably seat two.
Those who wanted more power could also replace the standard six-cylinder with one of two optional V8 engines. The first was a 164-hp 260-cu in (4.3-liter) F-code unit, while the second was a larger 289-cu in (4.7-liter) K-code HiPo version. Equipped with a four-barrel carburetor as opposed to the two-barrel version of the 260, it produced 210 hp.
Although it was marketed as a 1965 model, the first production run is now widely referred to as the 1964 ½ series. It was manufactured from March to early August 1964 in 121,538 units.
The Second Production Run
For the cabin, Ford offered a new optional deluxe decor package. It featured a five-gauge instrument panel and a woodgrain steering wheel and several other trims made from the same material. The seat covers came with embossed running horses, and the door panels got integrated armrests and pistol grip door handles.
In April 1965, the GT Equipment Package was introduced for Mustangs equipped with one of the two four-barrel engines. For $165, the pack brought grill-mounted fog lights, GT badges, a GT gas cap, rocker-panel stripes, disc brakes, and a dual exhaust system.
It also offered all the goodies included in the optional handling package, which consisted of increased rate springs, heavy-duty shocks, a quicker steering ratio, and a larger diameter front stabilizer bar.
The Third Production Run
Unlike the previous two runs, the engine options remained unchanged, with customers able to choose between the standard six-cylinder or one of the three optional V8s.
The third production run began in August 1965 and ended eleven months later, with 607,578 units built during that period.
The Shelby GT350
The standard manual transmission was replaced by a performance-rated Borg-Warner four-speed unit, while stopping power was provided by a Kelsey-Hayes braking system. Moreover, the suspension system featured unequal arms, coil springs, and an anti-sway bar up front, with a live axle, multi-leaf springs, and tube shocks in the back.
These upgrades didn’t just improve performance but dramatically changed the handling dynamics, and the GT350 became the go-to track weapon for many enthusiasts.
Unlike its affordable, mass-produced counterparts, the Shelby GT350 retailed for $4,584 in 1965, over $1,000 above a standard 289 fastback. That year, only 562 cars were built, but in 1966, Ford ramped up production to 2,378 units.
To this day, the 1965-1966 GT350s are considered some of the best sports cars ever built on American soil, and surviving models are highly collectible, fetching well over $100,000 at auctions.
Still, the Shelby GT350 wouldn't have existed if it weren’t for the revolutionary first-generation Mustang, which gave birth to the pony car segment and the other famous cars that arrived to rival the Mustang, including the Plymouth Barracuda and the Chevrolet Camaro.