The spring of 1964 proved to be a time of relief and celebration for the Ford Motor Company.
On the heels of the disastrous crash and burn of the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s, Lee Iaccoca and his team could finally release the Blue Oval’s latest concept car: The Ford Mustang.
Iaccoca, Henry Ford II, and other prominent individuals within the company proudly introduced the Mustang at the 1964 World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows Park in Queens, New York.
A series of advertisements on America’s three biggest television networks coupled with the grand unveiling at the World’s Fair led to an initial surge in sales of the Mustang. The early fireworks dazzled automotive enthusiasts from all walks of life, which led to a remarkable 22,000 units sold on the pony car’s first day in existence.
The Ford Mustang proved to be the ultimate combination of affordability and performance, and American motorists could not get enough of it. Ford unloaded 559,000 units in 1965 and eclipsed 600,000 in 1966, which still marks the highest number of Mustangs sold in a single year. The total dipped to 472,000 in 1967, which is still good enough for the vehicle’s third best-selling year ever.
But as has been the case throughout automotive history, nothing good can last forever, and organizations must adapt to remain relevant in the ultra-competitive industry.
By the late 1960s, Ford’s chief rivals, Chevrolet, Chrysler and Dodge, all laid down the gauntlet in what became a war to build the best American-made, performance-oriented vehicle. Chevy countered the initial success of the Mustang with its version of a pony car, the Camaro, which grew in popularity following its 1967 introduction.
Between the Camaro’s 396 CID big-block engine and what the Dodge muscle cars began sporting under the hood, the team at Ford knew that they had to do something to counter the sudden rise in competition. The Mustang was still critically acclaimed, but it was no longer the latest and greatest thing in the industry.
In order to bring the buzz back to the Blue Oval, Ford released a series of special edition Mustangs in the late-1960s, highlighted by the Mach 1.
The Mach 1 Mustang first hit the dealerships in the fall of 1968 in an effort to attract younger auto enthusiasts and to make Ford cool again. The hoopla surrounding the Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird quickly shifted back to Ford, as the company went all-in on developing performance packages, including the Mach 1.
It did not boast the same gaudy numbers as the Shelby GT350 and GT500, which also debuted in 1968, but the 1969 Mach 1 is an all-time favorite among classic auto enthusiasts, and its maiden year helped set the tone for greater promise in the future.
What Is the Mach 1?
True to its name, the Mach 1 package stood for speed and performance, ranking among the top tier of the brand’s legendary performance offerings. Available only in the SportsRoof body style, the 1969 Mach 1 featured a host of cosmetic changes that separated the performance package from other fastback Mustangs.
The black hood stripe, chrome exhaust tips, and a Shaker hood scoop were some of the many distinctive aesthetic modifications that wowed the masses from day one. The sporty exterior combined with the 351 CID engine under the hood allowed the Mach 1 to stand out from the crowd, both visually and performance-wise.
The 5.8L V8 Windsor motor was standard equipment, with a quintet of additional engine options later becoming available, including two different 428 CID in (7.0L) V8 engines. The 4-barrel Q and R-Code motors could push out up to 335 hp and 440 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 RPM.
Speaking of choices, unlike other special edition Mustangs, the Mach 1 was completely customizable. If there’s one thing that muscle car fans love more than speed, it's flexibility, and the Ford Mustang Mach 1 allowed Ford fans to get creative. Along with the six engine options, Mach 1 owners could select one of sixteen distinct exterior colors, three interior colors, five transmissions, and ten different axle types, creating hundreds of different potential combinations.
Like the 1964.5 Mustang, the Mach 1 became something of an overnight success story. In 1969, Ford sold a remarkable 72,458 units. The success of the Mach 1 was particularly impressive considering that it was one of six special edition Mustangs released for the 1969 model year, including the Boss 302 and Boss 429. Due to the meteoric rise of the Mach 1 and the declining sales of the GT, the latter would be discontinued until 1982.
Viewed throughout the corporate offices in Detroit as a roaring success, Ford welcomed the performance package back with open arms the following year. The 1970 Mach 1 remained mostly unchanged from the previous model, minus the relocation of the headlamps. For the second rendition of the Mustang Mach 1, Ford integrated the headlights with the mouth of the grille.
In 1970, the Ford Motor Company unloaded an impressive 40,970 Mach 1s, which accounted for more than 21 percent of total Mustangs sold that year. Ford elected not to reinvent the wheel for the second year of the Mach 1, but that would change in the stretch run of the pony car’s first generation.
1971-1973 Mach 1
In 1971, just two short years after its initial release, the Mach 1 received its first major redesign. Keeping with the power of choice theme, the 1971 Mach 1 boasted the widest selection of engine options yet, ranging from a 302 CID Windsor V8 to a massive 429 CID Super Cobra Jet motor. The 7.0L 4-barrel engine could put down a whopping 375 hp and 450 lb-ft of torque at 3,400 RPM.
Along with the changes under the hood, the 1971 Mach 1’s body was significantly larger than the 1969-1970 units. Ford added significant weight to the second generation Mach 1s, while also making the vehicles several inches longer and growing the wheelbase by one inch. The immensely flat backline was the most noticeable exterior change from first to second generation Mach 1s. The lack of rear visibility was a major issue in 1971-1973 units as there were plenty of blind spots.
As a result of the distinct exterior changes, the 1971 Mach 1 began drawing comparisons to larger vehicles such as the Fairlane or Torino rather than the Mustang.
The Mach 1 remained mostly unchanged from 1971-1972, and you would have to look extremely closely to determine the differences between the two model years. In fact, the only real way to tell apart 1971 and 1972 models on the outside is by taking a close look at the deck lid. 1971 Mach 1s feature “MUSTANG” written in block letters, but the following year, Ford scrapped the design in favor of “Mustang” being written in script.
By the 1972 model year, it became clear that the trend of fast cars with big engines was on the decline. Engine options sharply decreased from 1971-1972. Those who purchased 1972 Mach 1 Mustangs could still choose between the 302C-2V, a 351C-2V, a 351C-4V Cobra Jet, and a low-compression Boss 351 motor, but the 429 Cobra Jet big-block was no longer an option.
The 1973 model year marked the end of the Ford Mustang’s First Generation and a continuation of an oil crisis both at home and abroad. The 1973 Mustang looked great on the outside, and there were a plethora of exterior colors to choose from, but the writing was clearly on the wall that things would look mighty different in the coming years.
1974-1978 Mach 1
With the automotive industry reeling as a result of the Middle Eastern oil embargo and new emissions laws in the United States, Ford elected to completely change course for the Mach 1 and for the Mustang as a whole in 1974.
Fastback Mustangs were a thing of the past beginning in 1974, and the latest Mach 1 was reimagined as a hatchback for the first time in the pony car’s history. Reduced emissions and lesser power were hallmarks of the Mustang II era and the robust performance which Ford Mach 1 owners knew and loved became a thing of the past as a result.
The thrills of the brawny 429 were a distant memory in 1974. The V8 took a one-year hiatus in 1974, with the downsized Mach 1s sporting a 2.6L V6 motor, which pushed out a measly 105 hp. The performance stats were hardly anything to write home about, but the newly-designed Mach 1 Mustang earned praise for its handling among other attributes.
In spite of the changing landscape and reduced horsepower numbers, the marketing team at Ford turned what could have been a negative into a positive to springboard the new generation of Mustang forward. The Ford Motor Company eclipsed 380,000 units sold in 1974, including 44,046 Mach 1s. The impressive total for Mach 1s unloaded was roughly 8,600 greater than the year before and over 16,000 more than in 1972.
The 302 Windsor V8 made its return in 1975, which resulted in an increase of 35 horsepower. Sure, 140 hp looks mediocre on paper, but the modest bump was enough to give the starving Mustang something to hold onto in an uncertain time. Once again, the Mach 1 earned praise for its quick and nimble handling capabilities.
After a surge in 1974, sales for the Mach 1 dipped to just north of 21,000 for the 1975 model year. Twenty-one thousand-plus units sold marked a seven-year low for the special edition package, but the bottom was not even close to falling out just yet.
In response to declining sales across the board for the Mustang, Ford relaunched the Cobra nameplate for the 1976 model year. The newly-branded King Cobra breathed some much-needed life into the Mustang II and took some shine away from the Mach 1 as a result. With the King Cobra taking the reins as the premier, special edition Mustang of the time, the Mach 1s sales number dipped to just 9,322 in 1976.
The 1977 model year marked an all-time low for the Mach 1, with just 6,719 units produced. The total climbed by over 1,200 cars sold the following year, but with a new era set to begin with the Mustang in 1979, the Mach 1’s future immediately came into question.
Due to poor sales numbers and declining interest, the Ford Motor Company ended the decade-long experiment with the genesis of the Fox Body Generation.
Rebirth of the Mach 1
The funny thing about the automotive community is that even with the many innovations and technological advancements that come out with every passing year, many enthusiasts still yearn for the vehicles of yesteryear.
In the early years of the twenty-first century, nostalgia became a major theme throughout the Ford Motor Company. The fever began shortly after the dawn of the new millennium with the release of the 2001 Bullitt, a modified version of the SN95 GT in the style of the Fastback driven by Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt.
The euphoria surrounding the pseudo rebirth of everyone’s favorite movie muscle car helped launch the Ford Mustang Legacy Series. Looking to recapture the magic of the late 1960s, the Blue Oval did what many Ford fans had been clamoring for, but never imagined would happen, by relaunching the Mach 1 nameplate.
The fourth-generation Mach 1 revived many of the attributes found on the special edition packages of the 1960s and 1970s and integrated them onto the latest SN95 body style. Fans of the original Mach 1s back in the Mustang’s first-generation were thrilled to see some of their favorite exterior attributes return, including a matte black spoiler and hood stripe.
Rather than conforming to what other special edition 2003 Mustangs looked like, the fourth generation Mach 1s took heavy influence from the past for the interior as well as the exterior body. The inner cabin of a 2003 Mach 1 Mustang featured dark grey leather seats, a machined aluminum shift ball, and an instrument cluster resembling that of a 1970s-dashboard.
Under the hood, the 2003 Mach 1 sported a 4.6L modular V8 engine that could be paired with either a four-speed automatic or a five-speed manual transmission. The 281 CID engine could push out 305 hp and 320 lb-ft of torque. The 2003 Mach 1 proved to be the perfect happy medium between the SN95 Cobras and the GT editions. The 305 horsepower rating was lower than the Cobra’s impressive total but was 40 hp greater than a base GT.
The Mach 1 stayed true to its roots even further with the 21st-century rebirth by offering its fans a host of color selections to choose from. Those that wished to purchase a Mach 1 Mustang in 2003 could select Black, Dark Shadow Grey Metallic, Torch Red, Zinc Yellow, or Oxford White, as well as the special Azure Blue paint code. In 2004, Ford replaced Zinc Yellow with Screaming Yellow and added Competition Orange to the array of color options.
Speaking of changes from one model year to another, Ford maintained the status quo for the most part for the 2004 Mach 1. Aside from the color changes, the switch from black to aluminum valve covers and the inclusion of 40th Anniversary Mustang decals on the outside there were no real differences between 2003 and 2004 Mach 1s.
The Mach 1 disappeared into the sunset once more following the 2004 model year. Beginning in 2005, the Ford Mustang switched to the new S197 platform, which continued until 2015. Its revival lasted just two years, but the 2003-2004 era of the Mach 1 allowed pony car fans of the 1960s and 1970s to get a taste of the glory days, while also introducing younger audiences to one of the most popular special edition Mustangs ever made.
Mach 1 Mustangs in Cinema
Steve McQueen’s iconic 1968 390 fastback is the most famous Mustang in movie history-there is no denying that.
However, arguably the second-most famous movie Mustang comes from the Mach 1 family.
Anyone familiar with Ford Mustang lineage has likely heard the name “Eleanor” before. The Mustang Eleanor billing is most famous these days for its appearance in the 2000 Remake of Gone in Sixty Seconds, but the nameplate made its cinematic debut in the 1974 original.
H.B. Halicki directed and starred in the movie, but the modified 1971 fastback known as Eleanor is what people remember most about the film.
Speaking of the 1970s, the Mach 1 also made an appearance in the James Bond movie Diamonds Are Forever. Cars are always a big theme of Bond movies, and Sean Connery proudly displays his 1971 Mach 1 with a 429 Cobra Jet engine in this action-packed classic.
The Mach 1 Mustang has also made an appearance in popular films such as Black Belt Jones, Marked For Death, and Machete, as well as in television shows, Top Gear and Saxondale among others.