Sacred Cows #2 – The Ford Mustang

I adore the early first generation Mustang. It’s still a beautiful car to look at and there is absolutely no denying its impact on the automotive industry as well as popular culture as a whole. I also love the new Ford Mustang. It’s the car that will ensure that in another 50 years people will be looking back at Mustangs fondly while spending crazy amounts of cash on minty fresh examples at televised auctions.

The problem is the meat in the Mustang history sandwich isn’t very good, and it’s the meat that defines a sandwich.

Late first generation. If you don't know who Eleanor is then we can't be friends. Late first generation. If you don’t know who Eleanor is then we can’t be friends.

The problem started during the first generation when it was developed under the management of Semon “Bunkie” Knudsen. The Mustang strayed from being a compact speed and power car as consumer demand went up for luxury and size. The reality is that if a car company asks for consumer feedback it’s inevitably going to be comfier seats, more cup holders and a smoother ride. A little more room and electric windows would also be nice.

2nd Generation 2nd Generation

Ford so very nearly caught itself and repaired the damage. The second generation was looking promising as it was put together with Lee Iacocca at the helm of Ford. Being a smart man, he wanted the Mustang to go back to it’s roots as a small, lightweight car. What he got was indeed smaller but due to new emissions and safety regulations it still got heavier and sluggish. To be fair of course, all manufacturers suffered in the 70’s to the point the muscle car was close to being killed off. It took a long time for technology to catch up with legislation and start producing real horsepower again.

Despite the attempt, the second generation was ultimately slow and unwieldy.

The next generation was just in time for the 80’s and Ford introduced the Fox Platform Mustang. Frankly, the Fox Mustang wasn’t terrible for it’s time but if it wasn’t named as a Mustang it would be populating internet lists of forgotten muscle cars. It was fairly quick, enough torque for its time and sold very well indeed. But take off those rose tinted spectacles and you can see it was a product of the very end of the seventies and beginning of the eighties – built to cost with the very cheapest of plastics and a lack of style style.

The good news is it was return a return to the ethos of the muscle car – it was all about the engine and anything else just had to do. More good news is it’s still an excellent platform to build a great car from, because in stock form they are nothing but disappointing now – unless you simply want a time capsule and “Word to your mother!” means something to you.

However, we can’t judge a car too much on how good you can make it now by completely changing and upgrading the car. We are judging the Mustang on how it rolled out of the factory, and the Fox platform Mustang wasn’t the worst. It was however very close to being the worst as during the sales slump and high fuel prices Ford actually had plans to make a front wheel drive version.

Not just that, but a Japanese designed front wheel drive Mustang four banger without a V8 option was on the table. Sends a shiver down the spine doesn’t it?

Fourth generation with the Ford

Fourth generation with the Ford “New Edge” design language implemented.

So thankfully the fourth generation didn’t have four cylinder engine when introduced in 1994. Instead it got a common V8 version cranking 260hp. A whole lot more than a four cylinder only option would have had. The Fox platform was tweaked underneath a little for this generation from a platform not much improved upon since 1979 and would run for a total of 25 years. On the outside Fords “New Edge” style language was also introduced and applied to the Mustang taking it as far away in style and individuality from the original as it got.

The reality is the Mustang had dialled out despite Fords best efforts in the second generation. It became a bland version of itself as Ford did just enough, then let things be so they could trade on the name for the next twenty five years.

Fifth generation.

Fifth generation.

This brings us to towards the rebirth of the Mustang in 2005 with a design recapturing the raw essence of the Mustang. This had to be a big impact as the Mustang name by this point had been so heavily diluted. To that degree they did an excellent job for the most part, and enough to capture peoples imaginations once again with a muscle car.

Unfortunately, the rear end was still hampered by a live axle rear suspension design. A weird sacrifice of handling over cost in a time when fully independent suspension had become normal in a road car, let alone a performance car. Ford claimed it would have added five thousand dollars to to the cost of the car but then went ahead and made power windows, dual power mirrors and power door locks with remote keyless entry all standard. The result being that on the one hand the muscle car ethos of power being most important looked like it was being upheld, but then luxury items were added as standard.

What a ball being smacked out of the park looks like. What a ball being smacked out of the park looks like.

The good news was a huge step towards bringing us an actual full blooded Mustang at last, and in 2015 it arrived. It was a truly modern design but with styling that called back to the original car and gives it a real feeling of a heritage not actually earned. The rear suspension was switched to being fully independent and even the V6 is a decently quick engine. It looks good, it’s fun to drive and holds its own as a fully rounded sports car. The Mustang has now reached the point where it’s not just a great car in the U.S, it’s now a contender on the world stage.

The bottom lines are these:

In the long history of the Mustang only the first and the current generation have been great cars. We can argue the toss over the fifth generation but even if we agree it was a decent stepping point to this generation, the reality is that for the bulk of it’s life the Mustang simply didn’t improve upon the fifty year old original.

The Ford Mustang is two slices of excellent bread with processed and watered down meat in the middle.

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