I haven’t been to a Knott’s Berry Farm Fabulous Fords Forever show in a couple of years, but decided to go this year to see what was out there. It was an opportunity to catch up with old friends and meet a few new ones. When I entered the show field, I couldn’t help but notice a huge shift in the balance of generational power from what I remember way back in the early 1980s. I got a fit of the giggles that still hangs with me at this late night hour.
What’s so funny about this? The shear abundance of late model 1979-2013 Mustangs. I laugh at this because I remember a very different time, the early 1980s, when late model Mustang owners were shunned and advised to either leave or park “back there in the corner…” Anyone driving a new ’82 Mustang GT wasn’t considered a real Mustang enthusiast.
Changing Times – And Attitudes
A lot has changed in 30 years because Mustang demographics has shifted significantly. Thirty years ago, classic 1965-73 Mustangs dominated shows everywhere. What’s more, you couldn’t modify a classic Mustang without persecution from the purists. Purists wanted these cars kept showroom stock – even the base sticker priced six-cylinder hardtops most didn’t want. There were purists who believed Ford stopped making Mustangs after 1973. Extremists believed Ford ended Mustang production after 1970.
A lot has changed in 30 years because Mustang demographics has shifted significantly. Thirty years ago, classic 1965-73 Mustangs dominated shows everywhere.
Mustang isn’t just an automobile, but a state of mind dating back to when these cars were introduced in April of 1964. Ford’s original Mustang slogan was “the car to be designed by you…” and so it went. People fell in love with these cars, bought them and drove them home. And when they brought them home, they combed auto parts stores, mail order catalogs, car magazine ads, and Ford dealer parts departments for cool ways to personalize them.
They even found ways to personalize themselves with Mustang clothing, hats, sunglasses, jewelry, shoes, memorabilia, and more. Mustang swiftly became a subculture that endures today. Whether you own and drive a ’65 Mustang or a ’12, the spirit and drive of the original Dearborn pony car is what continues to excite people today.
Although the Mustang hasn’t always been everything everybody has liked through the years, it remains an American institution loved by the masses for its attitude and the way it has brought people together. And quite the emotional experience Mustang has always been by the way. Lots of emotional highs and lows through the years, but always ultimately a ride everyone wants. They may not always want the latest version, but they typically always want a Mustang.
When Mustang grew big in 1971, critics hammered Ford for its size. Ford tried to make the Mustang all things to all people, which ultimately hurt sales because it took the car far and away from what it originally was. When Ford downsized the car for 1974, there were the critics – but also the buyers because Ford sold more than a million 1974-78 Mustang IIs. Cobra II was a terrific little Mustang for its time if you ordered the 302 V-8 and four-speed stick. It looked sharp and was great fun to drive.
The Mustang II
Although Mustang II arrived before the Arab Oil Embargo of 1974, it was deemed the right car at the right time. Perhaps it was, but that’s not why it sold so well. Mustang II sold well because it was a vastly better Mustang in terms of engineering and creature comforts. It was the car’s advanced engineering, vibration isolation, crisp handling, improved fuel efficiency, and better quality that made it a hot seller.
Mustang II was elegant with its button and tuck interior, molded door panels, digital clock, full instrumentation, solid feel, and super comfortable bucket seats. Instead of that stupid hand brake from 1965-68, Mustang II had a hand brake between the buckets that actually held the car on a hill and would stop in an emergency. Gone was the sloppy worm and sector steering and in its place rack and pinion. There were all kinds of reasons to buy a Mustang in the mid-1970s because it felt good to drive, was peppy and nimble, and was a great handler. At a time when Ford quality wasn’t very good, Mustang II broke all the rules, bringing buyers exceptional quality, fit and finish.
Ford introduced an all-new Mustang for 1979 with a European feel thanks to the talents of Jack Telnack, who became Ford’s North American chief stylist in the mid-1970s. Telnack believed it was time to get away from traditional Mustang styling and get on with a new approach to the car. Although Mustang traditionalists did not like the car, it sold very well and led us to even better versions of the breed during the 1980s. Beginning in 1982, the Mustang gained critical momentum, with performance improvements each and every year in order to keep up with Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.
The 1979-04 Fox body got its name from Ford’s inspiration for the car – the Audi Fox. Team Mustang at the time infused a lot of fresh European nuances into Mustang’s persona. And though a lot of us were critical of Ford at the time, the Fox wound up being one of the most popular Mustangs ever. Because it lasted 25 years in production, you could say the 1979-04 is easily the most popular Mustang ever.
Regardless of what Mustang generation you like most, you can surely agree the common bond that brought Mustangers together in 1965 will continue to bring them together for a long time to come.