Few cars in the fast-paced, high-stakes automotive world make it to middle age, but the icons always survive. In terms of American car culture, there is perhaps no car more ubiquitous than the Ford Mustang. It is the definition of pony car. It is a Hollywood icon, a status symbol and the ultimate expression of the American attitude.
Here we stand, celebrating the Mustang’s 50th birthday with a brand new model that promises to be as beautiful, innovative and game-changing as the original 1964½ that was introduced to the world at the New York World’s Fair. So to celebrate this anniversary, let’s take a look at some of the Ford Mustang’s awards and accomplishments through the years. You’ll find it’s no wonder the Ford Mustang is one of the most celebrated cars in history.
The “Pony Car” That Started It All
Perhaps its most important accomplishment isn’t an official award or recognition by any publication or organization, but rather the coining of a powerful phrase in the automotive industry. The Ford Mustang literally created an entire automotive segment, which came to be known as the “Pony Car,” an obvious nod to the Mustang itself.
The Mustang proved so successful that other automakers scrambled to create competition for it. Since Lee Lacocca aimed his 2+2 coupe at the small, agile coupes being sent to America from the European manufacturers, he had no existing competition at home in Detroit.
The advantage the Mustang held over its European competition was affordability. The “big fun, little package” combination, paired with the extensive customization options — which were also a first for the American car market — catapulted the Mustang to success beyond Ford’s wildest imagination. The sub-$2,400 base price helped move the millionth Mustang just 18 months after its debut.
The Longest-Lasting Original
Soon General Motors had its Camaro, AMC had the Javelin, and Chrysler introduced the Dodge Challenger — all by 1970. With a Pony Car for everyone being produced domestically on the cheap, American roads were seeing fewer Alfa Romeos and MGs. The pony car class is defined by smaller coupes with great handling and enough power for an enjoyable back-road jaunt.
The Mustang and Camaro have enjoyed a very spirited rivalry over the years. Modern pony cars, such as the Hyundai Genesis coupe, have also joined the fray to grab a piece of this lucrative market segment.
It should be noted that the Mustang is the only car from the original “pony car” class to have remained in uninterrupted production over the five decades since its introduction. And while the muscle car era came and went, the Pony Car lives on. The dimensions of the cars may have changed, but the spirit remains.
Tiffany Gold Medal Award for Excellence in American Design
Several sources of Mustang history tout winning the Tiffany Gold Medal Award among the original 1964½ Mustang’s accomplishments, citing the fact that the Mustang was the first automobile to win such a prestigious award. So while researching for this piece, we wanted to see who some of the other recipients were over the years, and we were flummoxed when we could come up with absolutely none.
Finally, we found an explanation, thanks to Robert A. Fria in his book Mustang Genesis: The Creation of the Pony Car. Henry Ford II, then chairman and CEO of the Ford Motor Company, worked with the famed jeweler to create this award out of thin air. He wanted to add to the publicity punch of the Mustang’s launch at the World’s Fair.
After “appropriate fees” were negotiated, Ford was presented with this award on April 13, four days before the official introduction of the Mustang itself. He believed that a car this beautiful deserved an award for the work its designers did, and — from our perspective — it’s hard to argue with him on that point.
- Car and Driver 10 Best Award 8 times (expect a 9th?)
One of the most prestigious and respected awards in American automotive journalism, Car and Driver’s 10 Best list has provided the car world with a definitive ruling on the best vehicles within reach of the average car-buyer in this country. In Car and Driver’s own words:
For a full week each fall, we lock the office, turn off our phones and engage in the most comprehensive and focused driving in the car-evaluation business. Editors flog a dozen cars a day on the street and the track to determine everything from turn-in fidelity to the quality of a seat latch. What emerges is the fullest picture extant of the best cars on the market for under $80,000.
While that price threshold has certainly changed over the years, the process has not. And eight times since they have been handing out these awards, the Ford Mustang has made the list, including three straight years at the beginning of the most recent generation, from 2011 to 2013.
Car and Driver lauded the Mustang’s combination of power, handling and every-day practicality, as well as its identity as the purest incarnation of the ideals that built Motown — big, fast machines that propel us down the open road and on toward the horizon of our own American dreams.
It is still early, but we might expect another 10 Best win for the 2015 Mustang, considering how effusive Car and Driver’s editors have been with their praise in their short time with the 2015 Mustang EcoBoost.
- Motor Trend Car of the Year in 1974 and 1994
In 1974, Ford introduced the first completely new redesign of the Mustang, dubbed the Mustang II. In response to the oil shortages that threatened America’s car culture, Ford vowed to trim the Mustang that had gotten bigger and heavier throughout the natural evolution in the first generation’s product cycle. The result was a Mustang that was based on the Ford Pinto, but still managed to remain uniquely a Mustang.
The Mustang II made impressive gains in fuel economy, which was about as important to car owners in 1974 as it is today. It was the right car for its time, and the automotive press met its release with enthusiasm. Though some have argued that the honor hasn’t stood the test of time, no one can take away the fact that Motor Trend named the Mustang II its Car of the Year for 1974.
Skipping over the Fox Body Mustang, Motor Trend once again named the restyled 1994 SN95 Mustang its Car of the Year. The 1994 model brought the exterior styling back to the basics after the Fox body model had embraced some of the popular ’80s designs that permeated the industry — but it wasn’t very “Mustang”. Between the styling and the technological advances, Motor Trend decided it was worth acknowledging the Mustang’s place in the American car market:
Model for model, the '94 Ford Mustang is once again a car to be coveted. It gallops across the landscape with the vigor of a quarter horse. This sprinter is, in its own way, as important as the first pony-car was. Thus, the new Mustang has earned the '94 Motor Trend Car of the Year title…Viewed from both an industry and buyer's perspective, we weighed technological advancement, value, and performance to determine the one standout car for '94. The Ford Mustang is that car.
Can the Mustang continue its 20-year trend with Motor Trend’s most coveted award? Check out the original article from 1994 and be sure to look at the photo gallery showing the Jenner and Rambo designs that didn’t pan out (thank goodness).
- 2005 Best New Sports/Performance Car and overall Car of the Year by Automobile Journalist Association of Canada
The 5th generation Mustang was introduced for the 2005 Model year, sharpening some of the lines of the exterior styling to recall the late-’60s fastback designs. New motors brought the base model up above 200hp and the GT above 300 hp. Improved handling and aerodynamics made for a serious performance machine. So serious, in fact, that the Automobile Journalist Association of Canada honored the 2005 Mustang as the Best New Sports/Performance Car and Car of the Year
In 2011, Ford’s brand new V-6 engine enabled the Mustang to make history as the first production vehicle with 300+ hp to achieve an EPA rating of 30+ mpg — in this case, 31 mpg highway. So impressive was this engine that it actually made more horsepower than the 4.6L V-8 Ford had ushered out the door that year.
Given the ever-increasing emphasis on fuel economy and the American thirst for power that will never be extinguished, this achievement did not go unnoticed. With the introduction of the 2.3L EcoBoost Mustang, Ford now has two separate engine options for the Mustang that boast competitive power and above average fuel economy numbers for its class.
The 2013-2014 Shelby GT500 also set a performance record. Thanks to the use of supercharging technology, the GT500 boasts a power output of 662 hp. As a result, this 5.8L V-8 was officially recognized as the most powerful production V-8 engine ever. Capable of 631 lb-ft of torque and more than 200 mph, while boasting impressive handling — something that couldn’t always be said about the Mustang — the Shelby GT500 was a force to be reckoned with in the sports car world. Ford hasn’t officially announced plans for a Shelby version of the 2015 Mustang, but rumors swirl that Ford will be looking to reclaim the V-8 output crown back from Dodge, whose recent Challenger Hellcat trumped the GT500’s 662 hp.
From day one, the Mustang was a born racer. Lee Iacocca made sure his new car would be able to back up its sporty looks with respectable performance. The Mustang was selected as the pace car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500. This original Mustang grabbed first and second place in the Tour de France international rally in 1964. The Mustang also found success in the NHRAs drag racing competitions in 1965, winning the class with a car driven by Bill Lawton.
Carroll Shelby is a legendary name in Mustang lore. Carroll's story started with the work he did on the 1965 Mustang to produce the car that would officially be known as the GT350. This car was designed to enter the SCCA B Production class, and it is fair to say that the GT350 dominated the circuit, taking home national championships in 1965, 1966 and 1967. Perhaps the most exciting part for the average car-buyer was that for a cool $4,311 you could own your very own GT350, just like the ones on the track.
SCCA created a new series called the Trans-American Sedan Championship in 1966. Shelby had to create a new variation on the fastback design to qualify for this series, but Ford took the inaugural manufacturer’s title in 1966 and again in the following year. In 1970, during the height of the Pony Car Wars, the Boss 302 Mustangs, driven by Parnelli Jones and George Follmer, secured Ford’s third championship by a single point over Chevrolet, gaining bragging rights during the golden age of the muscle car.
In 1969, three Mustang variations were taken to Bonneville, where they combined to set an incredible 295 verified records.
Ford has also taken a few victories in the Daytona 24 Hours and the IMSA, running in the GTO class in each case. A Mustang took the 1984 and 1985 GTO class titles for IMSA. At Daytona, John Jones won the 1985 driver’s championship in a Mustang, while Ford won its first manufacturer’s championship — thanks in part to three wins by Lyn St. James, the first woman to win in the series.
The Ford Mustang’s Legacy
Lee Iacocca envisioned a car that could be everything to everyone, and the first 50 years of the Mustang have ensured that his vision came true. With the top down, the Mustang has proven to be an enormously popular country cruiser, appealing to those who prefer style over substance. The GT, with its mammoth V-8 engine, has always provided the kind of performance craved by the leaden-of-foot.
In 1965, Ford ushered in the era of the personalized car. We take it for granted now, but building a car that was “designed to be designed by you” was a first. In 1965, the notion of choosing from a list of options for your car was light years away from Henry Ford’s infamous, “Any customer can have a car painted any color he wants so long as it is black.”
The Mustang’s greatness has been recognized by the public and the industry alike, earning awards and honors over the years, in addition to the numerous victories earned in the racing world over the years. Its image in American culture is unmatched by any other automobile. Frank Bullitt wouldn’t have looked nearly as cool if he had been evading the bad guys in a Corvette. Few cars have experienced this kind of success over a half a century, and if the latest generation is any indication, the next 50 years will be every bit as impressive.