An American institution that’s gone global, here’s how the Mustang has evolved over 50-plus years on sale
18 July 2017

First-generation – 1964-1973

Heralded as “a new American automotive concept” the Ford Mustang launches in 1964 with the promise of “economy of operation to sports car performance” in one model range. A tradition maintained in the new one, with its choice of EcoBoost or high-performance V8 engines. In 1965 the Mustang scales the Empire State Building in a publicity stunt and spawns its first performance variant, the Shelby GT350. By 1966 Ford has sold a million Mustangs, every year’s model introducing new and exciting variants. The Fastback of 1967 becomes the definitive Mustang shape, Steve McQueen powering it to movie stardom a year later in Bullitt while Boss and Mach 1 versions become enthusiast favourites. In 1971 Ford introduces a heavily revised look; the mighty 429 Cobra Super Jet leading the charge.  

Iconic models: 1965 Shelby GT350, 1967 Fastback bodystyle, 1969 Boss 429, 1971 429 Super Cobra Jet

 

Second-generation (Mustang II) – 1974-1978

After the excess of the early ’70s, the Mustang II heralds a new era of reduced size and weight, launching with smaller V6 and four-cylinder engines in response to the fuel crisis of the time. Unlike the original there is no convertible option either, though a ‘T-top’ version with removable roof panels follows. V8 engines return in 1975 and in 1976 some of the first-generation’s attitude is restored with the Cobra II package of stripes and spoilers. In 1978 the King Cobra arrives and is the first to use the metric ‘5.0’ description for the 302 cubic-inch V8 – a badge carried over to the Mustang GT you can buy now!

Iconic models: 1976 Cobra II, 1978 King Cobra 5.0

Third-generation (‘Fox’ Mustang) – 1979-1993

American icon or not the Mustang proves it can move with the times, the third-generation car is lighter again and has a modern, square-cut ‘Euro’ look. Economy and emissions are again in the spotlight and the new car is offered with a turbocharged 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine – forerunner to the EcoBoost Mustang you can buy today! The hard-edged looks are smoothed off in 1984, the 5.0 V8 returns in 1985 and in 1987 the styling is updated again. After celebrating its 25th birthday in 1989 the Mustang has got its teeth back by the time production ends in 1993, thanks in part to the Special Vehicle Team and its SVT and Cobra R models.

Iconic models: 1984 Mustang SVO, 1993 SVT Cobra R

Fourth-generation – 1994-2004

With 1,330 of the 1,850 parts used in its construction changed, the all-new Mustang arrives in 1994 with a curvier, more up-to-date look. The classic 5.0 survives just one year before being replaced by a smaller, more modern V8 in 1996. In 1999 the Mustang gets a significant new look and a year later the latest SVT Cobra R puts fire in its belly, this followed by the Bullitt GT and revival of the Mach 1. In 2004 Ford builds its 300 millionth car – a Mustang GT convertible – and when production ends so does the era of Mustang construction at Ford’s Dearborn plant.

Iconic models: 2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R, 2003 Mustang Mach 1

Fifth-generation – 2005-2014

The fifth-generation Mustang goes back to its roots, with looks inspired by the iconic Fastbacks of the late 60s. There’s nothing old-fashioned about the way it goes though, modern V6 engines offering more power and performance than the V8s of old while in 2010 the Mustang gets a more aggressive look and in 2011 the 5.0 returns. This is swiftly followed by the revived Boss 302 – the “best handling Mustang ever” – in 2012. Things get really serious with the Shelby GT500 that follows – it is the most powerful production V8 in the world at time of launch and the Mustang’s muscle car reputation is fully restored!

Iconic models: 2012 Boss 302, 2013 Shelby GT500

Sixth generation – 2015-current

The sixth-generation car goes global with the new model including a right-hand drive version for the first time ever. The styling again evokes the classic ’60s Fastbacks but is sharper and more modern than ever, the 2.3-litre EcoBoost turbocharged four-cylinder engine living up to that original dream of compact car economy with sports car performance. True enthusiasts still have the choice of a V8 too, the famous 5.0 GT badge continued into the new generation and now offering crowd-pleasing functions like the tyre smoking Line Lock system and 410bhp to distribute through 19” inch black-painted alloy wheels in the case of the new Shadow Edition. But whichever way you look at it, few automotive icons have been able to constantly evolve with the time as effectively as the Mustang.

Iconic models: 5.0 GT

 

To find out more about the Ford Mustang, click here 

Our Verdict

Ford Mustang Shelby GT500

Pricier but thoroughly updated Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 packs the power to justify the Shelby tag, but also offers accessibility and a dynamic edge

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