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Ford Mustang turns 40

Broadcast date : 2nd May 2004

It was on the seventeenth of April 1964 that the car world was rocked by the birth of what became known as the first pony-car - the Ford Mustang.

Based on the conservative Ford Falcon econo-car, the Mustang was at the forefront of Ford's new marketing thrust for the sixties - Total Performance.

Yes, the horsepower race was well and truly on in Detroit, and with the Mustang, Ford added a masterstroke - great looks to go with great performance.

Ford launched the car simultaneously in showrooms across America with the Mustang shielded behind glass and under floodlights at night. Legend has it that more than one hundred thousand customers placed orders for the car before they'd driven it or even sat in one.

That very first year over four hundred thousand Mustangs were sold and by its second year in production, Mustang had reached the two million sales mark!

There have been many variants to that original body shape but most Mustang fans agree that the classic years were the first - from 1965 to 1967. And they don't come more classic than Bernie Klein's 1965 convertible.

This car has been restored to concourse de elegance level at great expense and Bernie has had offers from America for the car. It came into the country as a special import in 1965, when Ford South Africa brought in many examples for well-healed customers.

And the following year Ford South Africa raced two examples for Basil van Rooyen and Koos Swanepoel, Van Rooyen becoming saloon car champ in nineteen sixty six in a Mustang.

This sixty-five convertible has some rare extras, including these Ford factory option spoked hubcaps with a three-ear knock-off design, which were outlawed after 1965 because they considered dangerous to pedestrians!

Other special niceties include the rally grille with twin integrated spot lamps. No expense has been spared on the parts, most of which are NOS, or New Old Stock. This means the parts are new and original and have been gathering dust on a dealership's shelves for the last four decades.

The interior includes some Mustang special bits too. Back then the options catalogue for a car like the Mustang was endless. Bernie's car has the optional Woodrim steering wheel, or rather wood-look-alike steering wheel, and the rally pack instrumentation, which includes a rev counter and oil pressure gauge and a special cluster hugging the steering column.

The seat upholstery is special too. Known as the Pony Pack, these feature the Mustang horse logo emblazoned on the seat backs.

Fitted with a two eighty nine cubic inch, or four point seven litre V8 engine, this ponycar had plenty of get up and go.

Car magazine tested one in 1965 and the car ran the nought to one hundred kilometre per hour sprint - or sixty miles per hour back then - in under eight seconds.

Top speed was about one hundred and eighty kilometres an hour, which was plenty fast enough.

The ride in this car is outstanding. It not only looks new, it runs as smooth as a baby's tum. It brakes evenly, unusual for a car this old, idles like a new car and yet it still has plenty of punch. And it is definitely a babe magnet.

A babe magnet of note since the movie Gone in Sixty Seconds is the Shelby Mustang. Drawing more attention than female lead Angelina Jolie in this cult movie of three years back was the Shelby GT500 used by "car thief" Nicholas Cage. And if you know what Angelina looks like, you know that takes some doing!This one is actually a Shelby conversion on a stock 1967 fastback.

But it has all the right bits and pieces. Its owner Neels Steyn bought the car with the Shelby detailing already in place. Since then he's spent lots of time tuning it and it runs like a wild horse on a mission.

So, what makes a Shelby? Well the most obvious bit of equipment is the striping and it is worth noting that the first Shelby's were all white with a fat pair of dark blue stripes running over the body.

The lower side panels were decked out with striping two, also dark blue. Neels' car has GT350 striping, which was fitted to the first series Shelby Mustang in 1965.

Why 350? Well, word has it that Carroll Shelby couldn't decide on a name, and as it was three hundred and fifty feet from the parts rack to the engine hoist, that's what they called the car. Or something like that.

Carroll Shelby was a Texas chicken farmer-turned-racer who actually won le Mans for Aston Martin 1959. But he will be remembered most as the man who created the AC Shelby Cobra, Powered by Ford, and later the Shelby Mustang GT350.

This was built purely for racing purposes, but the rules in American sports car racing back in 1965 stated that at least one hundred examples had to be built for road use.

So that is what Shelby and his team did, stripping the car of non essentials like a back seat, beefing up the suspension and fitting a potent three hundred horse V8 motor.

Ford took over production in 1967 and gradually softened the Shelby, and the 1967 lookalike you see here was already a lot fatter than the original thoroughbred. Those scoops on the side wheel arches and rear roof panels are all Shelby specific, as are the Cragar alloy wheels.

Of course a monolith company like Ford couldn't leave the Mustang alone, and by the late sixties the car had begun to grow in bulk. This Nineteen Seventy One Mach One is an example of the Mustang going a bit soft, moving away from its pure heritage.

Nevertheless, it had more space for rear seat passengers and although it looks a bit hulking it has its own menacing charm.

This Mach One has the three fifty Cleveland motor, or five point eight litre V. This is an engine well known to lovers of the Fairmont GT, an Australian Ford classic available here in the seventies and the darling of street racers and caravan towers alike.

With well over three hundred horsepower on tap the Mach One was geared for acceleration rather than top speed. It covered the quarter mile, or four hundred metres, in under 15 seconds and it topped out at about one hundred and seventy kilometres per hour.

This example has the special Ram Air intakes on the hood, but it is oddly fitted with a two-barrel carburetor, which tends to tome down performance.

The hot performance options of the sixties and seventies enabled a Mustang owner to spec his car for outrageous performance using the Ford parts catalogue. This was so that Ford could legally race cars with these parts according to the Trans Am Racing series rules at the time.

Ensuing generations of Mustangs have either added to the legend or diminished it. The bad years are considered to be from nineteen seventy four until the early nineteen eighties when the Mustang's sporty image fell victim, first to the fuel crisis of late nineteen seventy three, then the safety crusades of Joan Claybrooke and Ralph Nader, and also to the ever stringent emissions laws which choked off performance.

But thanks to electronics and low emissions, the latest Mustangs are real ponycars once again. As are all the cars that copied the theme: Chevrolet with its Camaro, Pontiac with its Firebird, Dodge with its Challenger, Plymouth with its Barracuda- they all took the recipe laid out by Ford and tweaked it just enough to avoid copyright infringement.

Since nineteen ninety-six the importation of Mustangs has been outlawed in South Africa as they are all left-hand-drive. But perhaps in the future we will get right hand drive models and once again enjoy the Mustang Legend in twenty first-century form.

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