The birth of the ponycar

It’s a big moment. In April, Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Mustang, but not technically this Mustang. The coupe came first and the swoopy fastback model didn’t actually arrive until the fall of ’64.

The Mustang has become a near mystical icon for generations of drivers needing a sporty departure from everyday rank-and-file transportation.

Its combination of looks, performance and price have kept it going strong where others have tried and ultimately faltered.

The original coupe and convertible Mustangs were churned out by the hundreds of thousands. But it was the later-to-arrive and slower-selling fastback that has come to represent the era of the “ponycar.”

Proof of that fact appeared in the fall of 2004 when a completely new ’05 Mustang appeared with – you guessed it – a fastback roofline as one of its key styling ingredients. Same goes for the new 2015 model.

The first Mustang 2+2, as it was officially branded, arrived almost without warning in October of 1964, six months following the launch of the coupe and convertible styles.

As with the others, it was available in no-frills basic trim with a meek 120-horsepower sixcylinder engine matched to a three-speed manual gearbox.

By far the most popular choice was the optional 289 cubic-inch V8 offered in 200, 225 and highoutput 271-horsepower strengths and with a floor-shifted, four-speed manual transmission or three-speed automatic.

There were also some special 2+2 touches, including larger wheels, standard front bucket seats and a rear bench that could be folded flat for those times when extra cargo space was required. A pass-through opening into the trunk allowed skis or other bulky items to fit inside, which made the fastback easy to live with.

Since the 2+2 had no rear “quarter” windows like the coupe, the rear-pillar-mounted louvers provided fresh air for back-seat riders.

A GT option package, available on all Mustangs beginning in mid-1965, gave the fastback even more appeal.

Along with the high-output 289 engine, the GT came with a firmer suspension, quicker steering, front disc brakes, extra gauges (including a tachometer), unique wheels, grille-mounted fog lamps and racing stripes that extended along the rocker panels.

By far the hottest – and rarest – of the

Mustang fastbacks were the 516 GT-350 models constructed by Cobra sports car builder Carroll Shelby.

These specially prepared quasi-race cars might have been few in number, but for the enthusiast crowd they were the absolute ultimate. More importantly, they helped position the fastback among performance buffs as the most desired Mustang in the herd.

Professing to be a four-passenger car, Mustangs in general, and the 2+2 in particular, had back seats that were best used for small children or pets. It hardly mattered to anyone contemplating a Mustang purchase that rearward accommodations were little more than an afterthought.

Buyers, especially the baby boomer crowd, loved the Mustang based on power and looks alone.

In its first complete year, Ford sold an astounding 559,451 Mustangs. Of that total, a little more than 77,000 – nearly 14 per cent of production – were fastbacks.

Interestingly, and without explanation, while Mustang sales topped the 600,000 level in 1966, the fastback dropped to less than half its first-year mark.

In fact, the more expensive convertible outsold the fastback by nearly two to one.

Still, the die had been cast. Subsequent Mustangs with their cascading rooflines would become famous for packing the most potent engines in Ford’s arsenal.

Today, the fastback that began it all is considered a highly-prized collectable for its fetching beauty. And the current-generation Mustang’s styling has already made it a winner with a new generation of fans who worship its intoxicating mix of heritage and horsepower.