(first posted 5/4/2017) Given its role as pretty much the most significant car of the whole modern era, never mind the sixties, the original Mustang doesn’t exactly garner all that much bandwidth or love here at CC. Of course, we do tend to be a bit wary of cars that have been overexposed, and are all about shedding light and love on the overlooked and underloved ones. But every once in a while, I’ll find a Mustang on the street that’s just right, and I can’t help but stop, gaze, get a bit emo, and contemplate just how outsized its popularity and influence was.
Since we’ve already done a more detailed story of the Mustang here, let’s just ponder two aspects of ’66 coupe I found in San Mateo in February. One, is just the appreciation of this particularly fine example, done just the way I would if I had one, minus the little parking lot protection side strip. Other than that, it’s perfect, and the white paint glowing at sunset really makes the most of its chiseled lines.
We’ll get back to it shortly. But let’s ponder just how insanely successful and popular the Mustang was, most of all the ’66, of which there were 608k sold. Yes, technically there were more ’65s sold (680k), but that very extended model year started in April 1964. On an adjusted basis, the ’66 towers of the ’65, and was by far the high water mark for the Mustang, never mind any of its challengers, which never got anywhere close; the closest being the ’69 Camaro with 243K units. Not close at all.
And what does that 608k of ’66 Mustangs sold represent in terms of the total market? The US market for domestic makers was 8.93 million, so the Mustang represented no less than 7% of it. If the Mustang had been a brand in itself, it would have been the #6 selling brand in the country, beaten just barely by Plymouth and Dodge, and coming in ahead of Olds, Buick, Mercury and all of AMC. And since it was a Ford, Mustang sales pushed Ford ahead of Chevrolet for the 1966 sales crown.
Now let’s put those 608k into contemporary terms. The ’66 Mustang had about 6% of the total market; 6% of the 2016 US market (17.58M) equals 1.05 million. That’s a whopping 45% more than the Ford F-Series, which sold 733k units in 2016. Can you imagine over one million Mustangs being sold in 2016?
The Mustang was the car that proved that folks cared more about looks and projecting an image than anything practical about a car.
This shot of a Mom with her daughter in back of a Mustang from the other day’s vintage gallery brought this point home: plenty of kids, including a lot older than this girl, did some serious seat time in the very cramped back seat of one. I couldn’t resist a Google search, and here’s some other juvenile Mustang back-benchers:
But no doubt, they were all undoubtedly quite happy to crawl into the little hard cave back there, especially when the neighbors were looking. The Mustang, starting at $2,368, gave just about every American family the chance to have something truly distinctive in the driveway. Of course, within a couple of years, when there were half a dozen on the block, the Mustang party was over. Which is really what killed the pony car boom. They just weren’t worth the hassle once they weren’t new and distinctive anymore. Folks quickly graduated to a Monte Carlo or Cutlass Supreme Coupe. The Mustang nearly killed the sedan. And it was never about any genuine performance or sporty qualities, which these base Mustangs almost utterly lacked.
The Mustang was the equivalent of Beatlemania, and although we’re all a bit over-saturated on the Fab Four, every once in a while, a certain song of theirs will pop up somewhere, and its sheer brilliance and timelessness makes the whole world stop for three minutes or so. This Mustang had the same effect on me that day.