April 17th is the anniversary date that many historians would associate with the Bay of Pigs fiasco, which saw a failed coup of Castro’s Communist Cuban government by the USA. To the average auto enthusiast it is perhaps the day to celebrate the birth-date of former Formula 1 driver and flame-jumper Romain Grosjean. However, for the American muscle car fanatic or V8 obsessed aficionado, the day is reserved for the celebration of the first and most iconic Pony car: the Ford Mustang. For those of you enjoying the history lesson, read on.
It is the early 1960’s and the world is experiencing an economic boom as a result of the consumerist ready baby-boomers (before they lost the plot and ruined it all). There is a palpable excitement with the space race between the two global superpowers, bolstering the world’s obsession with speed. Events like Formula 1, Le Mans and the Indy 500 are being broadcast via radio around the world and are often the buzz of motoring news. Headlines are being made with European automakers who are continually ousting their competitors for production car speed records.
These were the conditions that made for a perfect storm, one that the Ford Mustang was born out of. There was an untapped market that appealed to the lust of affordable speed that the working class baby boomer was beginning to express interest towards. It consisted of four seats, two doors and was draped in the sheet metal bodylines synonymous with European sports cars of the time. Beautifully proportioned with a long hood and short rear overhang – the age old recipe for an attractive, sporty looking car. Ford General Manager at the time, Lee Iacocca wanted to be the first to market with this concept, one that if it succeeded would in essence create its own segment of vehicle – Ford’s car of the future.
Thus on the 17th of April in 1964 at the World Fair hosted in New York, Henry Ford II himself unveiled the car for the first time. With a name which itself was embroiled in native history, shared by the free roaming wild horses of the Western United States and the American P-51 single seat fighter which liberated the Axis-occupied nations during World War 2. It was destined to be a true American Icon.
The unveiling was coincidentally planned with the showroom debut of the new Pony car, which in its first day alone sold 22 000 units and eventually succeeded in selling 400 000 in its inaugural year. It earned instant fame and instilled itself in the hearts and minds of Americans while the opposition of Chevrolet, Dodge, AMC and Plymouth were left in awe, scrambling in disarray to get a piece of that cake. The Mustang was available in four engine configurations, the most powerful option equipped a 289ci (4.7 litre) V8 producing a respectable 202kW. It was the first time a sleek coupe was made affordable to the common man, weighing less than 2500lbs for under $2500.
In the span of just under 60 years, the Mustang has become one of the most identifiable American products to the rest of the world, arguably more American than consumerism itself. It has generated a strong rapport with popular culture and featured in dozens of movies and TV shows since that date in 1964. It made its big screen debut the same year of its release courtesy of James Bond’s 1964 Goldfinger while the seductive Eleanor Fastback from the 2000 automotive cinematic masterpiece, Gone in 60 Seconds was probably the most iconic to us younger generations (no I did not forget about Steve McQueen’s Bullitt, boomer).
So, where does World Mustang Day originate from you may be asking? Shelby South Africa were gracious hosts in educating some of us less knowledgeable petrolheads on the history of the event which they have spearheaded locally. Upon the 50th anniversary of its unveiling, the golden jubilee in 2014 saw owners and fans celebrating the icon by arranging events which congregated owners and aficionados to honour the icon. It has subsequently garnered global attraction and morphed into a worldwide phenomenon which is now celebrated annually. It is a day where (mostly) V8 goodness reigns supreme with the affordable sports car rightfully being the focal point.
Among the impressive collection at the Shelby showroom were jaw dropping continuation models including the Shelby Daytona Coupe, Shelby Cobra and a GT40 – all equipped with monstrous V8’s. In polarizing fashion from its oil burning and inefficient precursors, the all new electric derivative in the Mustang stable hopes to be at the forefront of a new segment, it is Ford’s modern day interpretation of the car of the future just as the original was in 1964. Regardless, owners of the original Pony car remain stalwarts for the true American Icon. World Mustang Day is one of the celebratory events that makes me love being a car-guy, not only for experiencing the icons in the metal but for also embracing the best the community has to offer.