1st GENERATION – 1964½ - 1973
by Jeff Burgy
In America, two life-lifting events occurred in 1964 – the Beatles arrived in February and the Mustang in April. Both brought hope and optimism to a generation that was still reeling from the Kennedy assassination.
When the Mustang debuted in April 1964, it put an exclamation point on the feeling of hope and optimism the Beatles brought with them when they came to the US from England in February.
The first generation, the early cars, which were introduced in 1964, ran until 1973. That’s nine and a half years of production – quite a long time. In those days they would change models every second year. They would change sheet metal bodies to make cars look different so people would come out and buy a “new” car. In 1964-65 the first Mustangs had three engine choices: in-line 6-cylinder, a 260 V-8, and two 289 V8s - you could get a 289 with a 4-barrel or a 289 “HiPo” [high performance] with a 4-barrel and solid lifters. Those cars were quite popular.
They produced the car with just two body styles - a coupe and a convertible. Later on in the fall they introduced a fastback model and adjusted the engine line-up. The 170 cubic inch 6 was increased to a 200 cubic-inch 6-cylinder, the 260 engine was dropped and a 289 2-barrel engine was introduced, so there were now three different 289s available.
The HiPo cars made the basis for the Shelby Mustangs, which were introduced in January of 1965. Those cars were very popular. Shelby’s task was to make the Mustang less like a secretary’s car and more like a race car. Lee Iacocca charged Shelby to do that and he certainly accomplished that. Those cars were very successful in B-Production road racing.
In 1967 they increased the size of the cars a little. Got a little wider, a little longer. And they increased the engine compartment, put a big block engine in it – a 390 cubic-inch engine. Again, you had coupe, convertible, and fastback models, and they were very hot in the market.
In 1969 the body changed again. The car looked even longer and lower. And they introduced two new models: the Mach 1 and the Boss 302. They were extremely popular. The Mach 1 was a performance model available with several different V8 engines. The top-of-the-line was a 428 Cobra Jet which had a shaker hood scoop and 335 horsepower - it was a real scorcher.
The Boss 302 was a little more balanced for handling. It had a 290 horsepower small-block engine and they were quite successful in Trans-Am racing.
A Boss 429 with a 375 horsepower Blue Crescent hemispherical head engine was also offered. They couldn’t call it a “hemi-head” because the Chrysler guys had a lock on that, but the Boss 429 made a name for itself. It actually had almost 500 horsepower.
They increased the “luxury look” of the car with the Grande model, which was a notch-back with a vinyl top and a fancy interior.
In 1970 they toned down the Mach 1. They took off the side-stripes and replaced them with a lower rocker-panel molding. The black-out paint on the Mach 1 hood was reduced to three stripes running from the front edge of the hood to the scoop.
In 1971 they increased the wheelbase, width and length. The ’71 to ’73 models were the last of the big Mustangs. They were the largest Mustangs ever - there has never been another Mustang as big as those models. The fastback roof was nearly flat – there was about a 14-degree slant on it.
They introduced a new model, the Boss 351, which replaced the Boss 302. And they had a 429 Super Cobra Jet engine available, which actually had wedge-heads. It wasn’t quite as fast as the Boss 429, but it was extremely hot and quite popular at the time.
The first generation of Mustangs are the most popular with collectors. They’re the oldest cars now, and the ones that haven’t been restored are less expensive than the newer cars. So it’s a very popular segment.
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