An Influential Car Gallops Out of the Starting Gate

April 17, 1964

The Ford Mustang, a trend-setting automobile produced by Ford Motor Company and described in that day’s edition of the New York Times as “a cross between a sports car and a family sedan,” made its official debut at the World’s Fair in New York City. The Mustang was the result of Ford’s efforts to come up with a competitive American version of the popular European sports cars traveling on highways across the globe at the time. In addition, however, the Mustang would be not only more affordable but also roomier (four seats instead of two) than its European counterparts.

The foremost champion for creating the Mustang was Ford Division vice-president and general manager Lee Iacocca. (He eventually attained even greater fame as president of Ford and then president and chief executive officer of the Chrysler Corporation.) It was Iacocca’s assistant general manager and chief engineer Donald N. Frey who oversaw development of the new vehicle in a record-breaking 18 months.

While promoting the Mustang at the World’s Fair, Iacocca hailed the introduction of this automobile as “one of the most important occasions in Ford Division history.” On that same day, Mustangs in showrooms throughout the United States were first made available for purchase.

An apt illustration of the widespread exuberance over this new vehicle could be seen in Iacocca’s hometown of Allentown in eastern Pennsylvania’s Lehigh Valley. “Ford Mustang ‘Gallops’ Into the Lehigh Valley,” proclaimed a headline in the Allentown-based Morning Call newspaper. The local rollout for the new model included a reception for area car dealers that was held at the Hotel Traylor in Allentown and co-sponsored by Ford. The new Mustang was also featured prominently at the opening drag races of the season at the Allentown Fairgrounds.

Nearly 22,000 Mustangs were grabbed up immediately by eager buyers nationwide at that time. Within a year, Ford would sell over 400,000 Mustangs. The debut of the Mustang, as a matter of fact, proved to be the company’s most successful launch since the introduction of the Model A back during the late 1920s.

The Mustang owes its name to either the P-51 Mustang fighter plane during World War II or J. Frank Dobie’s 1960 book The Mustangs. What is beyond dispute is that the Mustang, now in its sixth generation, led the way for what are now known as “pony cars” — coupes characterized by long hoods and short rear decks. Similar models that followed in the wake of the success of the Mustang include General Motors’ Chevrolet Camaro and Chrysler’s remodeled Dodge Challenger and Plymouth Barracuda.

The Mustang’s impact has also been seen within various forms of media. Following its big introduction, for example, this automobile was featured on the covers of both Newsweek and Time magazines. That same year, the Mustang made the first of its many silver-screen appearances when it showed up in the James Bond movie Goldfinger. Another sign of the Mustang’s far-reaching cultural significance took place in 1999 when the U.S. Postal Service released a stamp commemorating the 35th anniversary of the introduction of that vehicle.


For more information on the history of the Ford Mustang, please check out 

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