(originally published in Avenue magazine, July 2005)
By Ron Odom
Ford Motor Company has finally done what many car lovers have wanted for years – return to their classic sports car from the 1960s, the one that made the Ford name famous. The 2005 Ford Mustang GT is a brand new car with ‘60s retro looks, styling, and power that would have made Steve McQueen offer a rare smile.
First hints of this return came nearly four years ago when Ford began using the image of the aforementioned film legend in their commercials, and producing 2001 Mustangs with “Bullitt” emblazoned on the rear end. McQueen drove a ‘68 Mustang Fastback in the film Bullitt and it carried a 390 cubic inch V8 engine that produced 325 horse power at 4800 rpm. This engine could take the car from 0 to 60 in just under seven seconds. The 2005 Mustang GT packs a 281 cubic inch V8 engine that cranks out 300 horse power at 5750 rpm, and will go from 0 to 60 in five seconds.
The first Mustang hit the streets in 1964, and according to historian Douglas Brinkley in his book Wheels for the World: Henry Ford, His Company, and a Century of Progress, the car’s creation was largely due to the perceptiveness and persuasive talents of Lee Iacocca. In the early 1960s Iacocca was Ford’s sales wonder boy and market research at that time was telling him the U.S. population was growing younger and an increasing number of these young people were purchasing cars.
Moreover, American’s tastes in cars were changing. Brinkley explained that as Americans grew simultaneously richer and more knowledgeable, attitudes shifted from a work ethic toward the pursuit of fun. By 1964 Americans of all ages were ready to have excitement and look good doing it, and the Mustang was created to satisfy that desire.
The Mustang that rolled out in 1964, appeared almost exactly like the prototype that Ford’s design team created and it was an immediate success with the public. The name Mustang was adopted with Iacocca’s approval which conjured up images of the much idealized American West, where wild horses ran free.
Another stroke of genius by Iacocca was the decision to give customers a choice of more than eighty options for their Mustang to choose from, including four different engines and seven transmissions. The car offered power, fun, freedom and choice, and American car buyers loved it. Best of all it was affordable – with a base price of $2,368.
The legendary high performance Mustang GT’s of the mid and late 1960s were to a large degree the work of the legendary Texan race car driver and designer, Carroll Shelby. Ford hired Shelby to help build race cars that could compete with the cars of Ferrari, Jaguar, and Aston Martin. Shelby’s cars were, to say the least; very successful in the world racing circuits, and this emphasis on high performance would carry over the Mustang street cars as designed by Shelby American.
The chief engineer of the 2005 GT is Hau Thai-Tang who first saw a 1960s Mustang Fastback in the early 1970s in his native Saigon. Thai-Tang’s family fled Saigon in 1975 as it fell to North Vietnam, and although he has a genuine love for American muscle cars he is also inspired by the Porsche 911. In an interview in the June 2005 issue of Motor Trend he says, “Those Porsches have a timeless quality about them. You see a 911 today, and it looks like a 1970s 911.” That same emphasis on timelessness went into the design of the 2005 Mustangs, and customers have responded favorably.
Avenue recently spoke to Michael Huey of Jones Ford in Shallotte about the car and how it is selling.
I’m guessing that it hasn’t been too difficult to sell the new Mustangs.
Huey: Oh yes, we can hardly keep them in stock. We get them in and they’ll sell in about twelve hour’s time.
Is there a typical Mustang buyer, a “profile” so to speak?
Huey: Mostly people in their mid twenties on up, a lot of older people who remember the old Mustangs and like the styling of the new ones.
I’ve heard a rumor that Ford didn’t exactly make enough to meet the great demand for them and that they don’t plan to make any more for about a year. Any truth to that?
Huey: Not exactly, they did make a limited amount initially to see how they would sell, but the 06 models will be out soon and they will be exactly like the ’05’s.
Is there any common reason that people express for wanting the 2005 Mustang? Why do they want it instead of other cars on the market?
Huey: Power. Zero to sixty in five seconds. It’s the fastest, most powerful sports car you can get now for under thirty thousand (GT).
Are there any still left around to test drive?
Huey: Oh yes, we still have a few on the lot left to drive.
Also speaking with Hank Lee of Capital Ford of Wilmington, he concurred with what Mr. Huey said, that “the cars were difficult to keep in stock.” Mr. Lee added that any customers wanting the GT’s will have to wait and order the 2006 models that will not arrive until late September or early October. Mr. Lee also agreed that “many of the customers who buy the car have been Mustang enthusiasts for years and like the classic looks.”
Clearly, Ford has hit a home run with the 2005 Mustang. But why? Perhaps it is a longing for the past and what the car styles represent. Or the reasons are wrapped up in a sociological explanation that the car designs of the past just have more personality. There are few new cars today that carry a visual style and presence that older cars do. Cars are smaller now and are less potent, saying little with their looks.
However, it is probably safe to say that most people do not look to the past only out of pure nostalgia but because they realize, or feel, that something of value has been lost over time. In addition to its outside looks, the interior also reflects an artful blend of old and new with its classic looking dials, gauges and air vents that promise a simple, direct, powerful and fun drive.
It is a neoclassical muscle car, and in an age of sterile homogenization of almost everything and movies with computer created car chases, people seem to like it. Now we only need wait for Chevrolet to begin making the Stingray again.