Was there a better time for lovers of American cars than the late 1960s? Historically, it was a perfect storm for the Detroit automakers. The kids born to WWII vets had grown up and were ready for their first cars, and they didn't want what their parents were driving. Imports hadn't glutted the market. Governmental regulations hadn't yet begun to enforce safety standards. Gas was cheap. Driving was fun. And pony cars were just right for this moment in time.
Late 60s into the 70s Mustangs
By the late 60s, the Mustang had hit its stride when it came to performance. For the 1969 model, there were ten different engines offered, and eight of them were V8 engines. There were other options as well, like the GT, the Mach 1, and a couple of different Cobra packages. Their top dog was a 429 cubic inch big block V8, with 370 horsepower, which came on the Boss package with a unique rear suspension and seven inch Magnum 500 rims. The 1969 model was almost four inches longer than the previous year's model, with quad headlights and a tough-looking aggressive stance.
By 1971, the Mustang was a real muscle car. It was wider, lower, and heavier than prior models. The 370 horsepower 429 engines were still available, but there were a few luxuries introduced, like high-back bucket seats and power windows. There was even new model added, the Grande, that featured a softer ride, simulated wood trim, and more than 50 pounds of sound-deadening material.
By the mid-70s, the Mustang had suffered some major setbacks. Demand for luxury pushed the pony car away from power and toward comfort. Thanks to gas shortages and increased emissions regulations, people wanted more economical engines. The popularity of smaller imports like the Toyota Celica and Volkswagen Sirocco led to the Mustang returning to its smaller size. Unfortunately, as the cars became smaller, they also became heavier thanks to the extra equipment required to meet rising emissions standards. Smaller and heavier meant less powerful, so the once speedy Mustang became a shadow of its former self. Mustang sales, like its horsepower, began to drop.
Fortunately, time doesn't stand still. We made it through the 80s and 90s. Automakers learned to increase the output of the smaller engines, retaining the fuel efficiency while boosting the power. The second, third, and fourth generations of Mustangs eventually faded away as Ford realized that people didn't buy Mustangs for good gas mileage or a smooth, luxury ride. They wanted their pony cars back – and the bigwigs at Ford finally heard them.
The New Century
The Mustang's engines started to bounce back. In 2005, there were only two engine options, but they were more powerful than previous years. There was a 4.0 liter V6 with 208 horsepower, and a 4.6 liter V8 with 300hp – a huge improvement over the 2.3 liter, 4-cylinder, 90hp silliness offered back in 1987! By the time the sixth generation Mustangs came off the assembly line, their sad days were behind them. In 2015, there was a 2.3 liter, 4-cylinder option available, but this was no 90hp weakling. The engineers at Ford were able to get 305 horses out of that little 4-cylinder engine! The GT model that year had a 5 liter V8 with 420hp! The pony car was back!
Their improvements didn't end there. The 2017 Mustang has returned to the days when there were several engine options available. There's a 3.7L V6 with 300hp, a 2.3L turbo 4-cyliner with 310hp, a 5L V8 with 435hp, and the Shelby GT350 featuring a 5.2L V8 with a whopping 526hp! And in case you think that Ford has completely given up on fuel economy in their zeal to return the Mustang to its glory days, you might find this information interesting. The 1969 Mustangs averaged 12.5 miles per gallon. At that time, this wasn't a big deal – remember, gas was cheap back then. On the other hand, the 2017 Mustangs have averaged 19.3 miles per gallon! Today's Mustang not only fares better when it comes to horsepower, but it also gets better gas mileage!
Looks Matter Too
Of course, performance isn't the only thing that matters to Mustang enthusiasts. Muscle car fans have been in love with that classic 60s-era Mustang looks for decades. Who can forget that classic 69 fastback, or the beautiful 1971 Mach 1 convertible? Those pony cars from the late 60s and early 70s wouldn't be out of place in a museum. Nothing turns heads like a classic Mustang GT in mint condition. It's not just the exterior that the fans love. The twin-pod dashboard and the metallic inlays are beautiful examples of classic late-60s design, and pony car aficionados love them.
The Mustang's looks started to deteriorate around the same time its engines did. The original Mustangs had been built on the Ford Falcon platform. In the early 70s, Lee Iacocca designed to have the new Mustang II built on the Ford Pinto platform. The 1974-1976 models were especially tragic, and the 1980-1981 versions were just about as bad. It was a rough time for the muscle car, but just like with the engines, the car's looks eventually began to improve again.
The sixth generation Mustangs look as good as they drive. And for the 2018 model, the package will look even better. It's aggressive, like the 1971 version. The front edge of the hood is around 20mm lower. When you look at it from the side, it gives the appearance of leaning forward, like it's just dying to take off and race. The headlights are slimmer, and angled downward, adding to the image of speed. On the inside, they've brought back a digital replication of that classic twin-pod dashboard along with their updated SYNC Connect system with an internal 4G cellular modem.
In general, the Mustang has finally recaptured the glory of its early days. At this point, the choice between a brand new model and an old-school classic is a matter of preference. Depending on options and condition, there isn't much difference in price. The classic probably has the edge concerning the resale value and the "cool" factor. The new model probably has the edge in terms of high-end performance and agility. Fortunately, when it comes to these beautiful pony cars, there isn't a wrong choice.
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