It’s hard to fathom the thinking. Detroit, 1964. Ford builds the seminal pony car and calls it Mustang. Before the end of the decade, the Stang is legend, performance icon of the people and youth culture hero. Models like the ’69 Boss 302 and 429 and, of course, the Highland Green ’68 Fastback 390 GT driven by Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt just about close the book on mass-metal muscle with attitude.
But bad news is about to break. It’s called the ’70s, and while the crimes against fashion are uncomfortable – mirrored visually by the Mustang’s fall from sexy beast to basket case – it’s the fuel crisis that hurts most. Rather than hit the pause button and resume Mustang action when burning rubber returns to the curriculum, in the meantime lashing together a faux street fighter with a different name for people who want to pretend, Ford elects to go down the the faux street fighter route anyway. And calls it Mustang.
Seldom, if ever, has greatness so cynically been bled dry. With a kerbweight of well over 1300kg and an engine that got nervous in the presence of rapidly cooling rice pudding, the 1972 Mach 1 was an insult to everything the Mustang stood for. By 1974 it wasn’t just the sting that had deserted the Stang. It looked like dog food and its pitiful 88bhp delivered tragic acceleration – a catastrophic collapse of credibility in the car once called Boss and a miserable nadir for a brand with fan clubs on five continents and appearances in over 300 movies.
But as those enduring fan clubs are witness to, the public’s love affair with the iconic ’60s Mustang never waned. Ford must have known all along that what it had to do to plug in to past glories was to relive them with a degree of conviction not just fans could believe in. It worked brilliantly with the GT40-apeing, Ferrari-stuffing GT, after all. Why not something a little more affordable? The moment of re-engagement came last January when Ford unveiled the Mustang GT concept at the LA show.
No, it wasn’t McQueen’s Shelby GT reincarnated. It wasn’t any Stang in particular, more the basic original formula – front engine (brawny), rear-wheel drive, five-speed stick-shift (auto optional), a tree trunk of a live rear axle – wrapped in a seamless composite of best bits from the ’64-’70 era. Reaction was ecstatic, nostalgia kicked in like only nostalgia can, the Stang was finally back in spirit as well as name.