(first posted 1/9/2013) Everybody has an opinion about pre-1974 Mustangs. The first four (well, four and a half) years are almost universally loved. There is also a small but dedicated fan club for the super-sized 1971-73 version, which some prefer for its aggressive early-1970s swagger. These two camps have debated for years, although neither side is likely to convert the other. Then there is the 1969-70 version: the middle-child of Mustangs. It seems to be nobody’s favorite.
Few cars had as successful a run as the original Mustang. From its mid-1964 introduction through the 1966 models, it broke the car market wide open and set one sales record after another. Likewise, few cars have had as successful a second act as the 1967-68 version. The second generation (or was it version 1.5) was plainly a facelift of the original, but many consider it even better looking. This series kept the magic going, adding a big 390 V8–and also a starring role in one of the definitive car chase movies of all time, Bullitt.
However, four model years with little significant change was an eternity for an American car in the mid-1960s. It was the decade of “more”, and the ’69 Mustang gave us more of everything – more length, more width, more weight and more performance. Although the car still remained on the original 108-inch wheelbase, almost everything else was bigger and more aggressive. Inside, the sunny, spacious interior of the original was giving way to a more of a spelunker’s theme, with its higher dash and seat backs making the interior quite cave-like.
It is plain that the stylists were doing everything in their power to maintain the styling cues and proportions that had made earlier Mustangs so popular. But can any of us say that if this car had come first, the Mustang would have become the runaway success that it was? Some cars simply look right, and they tend to become the breakout hits. It is a much harder job to follow a breakout hit with another car that keeps the magic going: Just look at the 2009 Honda Fit. Or just look at the ’69 Mustang. It is certainly an attractive car, but it is not one of the great ones.
Even at the age of ten, I knew that somehow the 1969 Mustang was a half-step off the pace set by the earlier iterations of America’s most famous pony. Ford may have been pitching it as an improvement, but I wasn’t buying. Maybe it was less the car and more the era itself. The sunny optimism of Camelot that was America in the early 1960s was giving way to a darker time that would eventually morph into the Malaise Era. The arc of John Kennedy to Lyndon Johnson to Richard Nixon seemed to be replicated in the life cycle of the Mustang.
For as many of these as were around at the time and after, I never heard anyone boast about how much better this car was than the earlier Mustang–or that it was so much better than the later one. Everyone who owned one of these seemed to wish their Mustang was a couple of years older or newer. At least Mary Tyler Moore looked happy on TV with her 1970 model.
These Mustangs got a much wider selection of engines than did their older siblings. In addition to the base 200 cid six, a new 250 cid unit was available–all the better to get nurses and secretaries to work on time in their portlier steeds. There were also more V8s. In addition to the 302 and 390 engines from 1968, there was the new 351. Finally, there were a couple of specialty numbers: the nearly 300 horsepower Boss 302 and the fire-breathing Boss 429. With its wide range of power trains, Mustang continued to offer something for nearly everyone.
One major change from the first Mustang was that there were now mulitple models. The Mach I and the Boss models were for the performance set.
The new Grandé gave you a little luxury. It was these specialty models that got most of the advertising promotion in 1969.
By then, there was something that never existed in 1965: just a regular, plain Mustang, as in “oh, you just got a regular Mustang.” Now, the basic Mustangs even came with dog dish hubcaps. How quickly Ford forgot one of the things that made the original Mustang so special – the fact that even a basic six- cylinder 1965 model was never viewed as a cheap car.
The Mustang’s slow loss of air showed up in the sales numbers, which started a slow deflation following 1966’s record sales year of roughly 600,000 units. Although sales had dwindled to about 317,000 by 1968, the 1969 model slipped to just short of 300,000–still quite respectable, but not the phenomenon the Mustang had been earlier in the decade.
I rode in one of these several times, a blue one with a four-speed and (I believe) a 302. It belonged to the family of a friend, and I was always in the back seat as his older brother drove. It was in this car that the older brother proved that the traffic lights that were timed for 30 mph on a major street through Fort Wayne, Indiana, were just as successfully timed for 60 mph. This was the car that proved to me that relatively hot cars and teenage boys do not mix well.
The 1969-70 Mustangs that get all the love today are the hot ones: the Boss 302, the Boss 429 and the Mach I. The garden-variety coupes and convertibles were not seen as frequently as they had been in 1965-68, and they certainly are not seen with much frequency now.
As I write this, it is cold outside and snow covers the ground, so it’s nice to recall the warm day early last summer when I found this little convertible parked outside the bank. Had this been a ’65 or ’66 model, I might have been tempted to keep on driving. Red Mustang convertibles have been done to death, and I am happy to let the red Mustang people go and hang out at their own website. My, my– does winter make me crabby?
Anyhow, because this was one of the much less common ’69s (and because the top was down just for me, apparently) I decided to stop and snap a few pictures. I’m glad I did, because this car seems to be a good, honest, refreshed-but-largely-original Mustang.
Looking over this car, I was reminded of why this model never appealed to me in quite the way that the earlier one did. The interiors of cars of this period were victims of many things–changing tastes, new safety regulations and, probably, some cost-cutting. However, while I would prefer the 1965-68 Mustang, one of this generation would be my second choice. How about you?