Why Old Mustangs Remain The Most Iconic Muscle Cars - Muscle Car

Why Old Mustangs Remain The Most Iconic Muscle Cars

Ford Mustang


Written by Elise

7th October 2020

Why Old Mustangs Remain The Most Iconic Muscle Cars
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Why Old Mustangs Remain The Most Iconic Muscle Cars

By Charlotte Iggulden

From their iconic American image and trailblazing origins to their unmistakably aggressive appearance, agility, and high-performing V8s, it’s not hard to see that classic old Mustangs remain legendary. But why? Let us count the ways:

5. Trailblazers: Old Mustangs Defined a Generation

They were revolutionary. The brainchild of Lee Iacocca, the 1964-1973 Ford Mustang shared the goals and end results of the famous old Ford classic cars. They were mass produced, had a low price, performance image and trend-setting features.

Leading up to its debut in April 1964 and official ’65 model launch, the Mustang was marketed at the new generation of post-war baby boomers. 

With V8 power in a small body, the car was fast and handled well. It was also beautiful. Available in 1964 as a two-door hardtop or convertible, the model also sold as a fastback in 1965.

Causing a Beatles-scale sensation, with young people eager to buy an affordable sporty car, the Ford Mustang set the standard for the ‘pony’ craze. Over two million were sold in ’65, and even more in the 1966 model year.

Despite this, Iacocca worried its popularity would decrease in a generation obsessed with drag racing, NASCAR and the Trans-Am Road Racing Series. The early Mustang couldn’t compete against the best muscle cars of the time, such as the Chevrolet Corvette, the Pontiac GTO and L79-powered ’65 Chevelle

Iacocca asked Carroll Shelby, AC Cobra and Daytona Coupe racer, to convert the Mustang into a legitimate street and race-track performer. Shelby initially responded, ‘you can’t make a race-horse out of a mule,’ thinking it an impossible task. But with Ford’s financial backing, he aided its evolution from lightweight pony car to high-performance, modified fastback: the GT.

The competition version, GT-350R, won the SCCA B-Production Championship in 1965, 1966, and 1967, and Trans-Am in 1966 and 1967, especially when driven by Ken Miles of ‘Ford vs Ferrari’ fame. ‘67-‘68 mustangs like the Shelby GT-500 (pictured above, and available for sale in the UK) were more like American muscle cars, with increased length and weight and a small gearbox designed to win a drag strip.

4. Legendary Status Makes Mustangs Highly Collectible

The old Ford Mustang has proven to be a very desirable and sure investment. Classic Mustang collectors are interested in their history, aesthetic, immense popularity when new, rich heritage, and the many limited-edition models. Buyers of modern Mustangs look for the spirit and essence of the original.

1965-66 Shelby GT-350 Mustangs, particularly the ‘65 model year, are among the most sought-after Mustangs to date. Only 562 GT-350s were produced and can now fetch six figures. In July 2020, a rare 1968 Shelby GT-350R (pictured above) reached a staggering $3.85 million, becoming the most expensive Mustang car on the planet. 

The original Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT-390 ‘Bullitt’ car sold for $3.4 million in January 2020. Its iconic image makes that model year highly collectable.

Steve McQueen’s car portrayed Mustangs as the best muscle cars, due to the influential 11-minute chase sequence with a 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 400 through the streets of San Francisco. It transformed film-making, as Hollywood had never produced a realistic car chase scene before. At over 110mph and with just the sound of the V8 engines, it was dangerous and exciting.

3. Classic Old Mustangs Embody American Muscle Cars

… despite not technically being one – yes, we know. Ford Mustangs are pony cars, but we’ve established that in the spirit of things, that doesn’t matter.

The 1960s were culturally a defining period in America’s history. The great looks and noise of muscle cars reflected the demands for greater individual freedom.

Old Mustangs helped define what America meant to its citizens and the rest of the world. Originally called Project T-5, Iacocca chose the name ‘Mustang’ as it evoked American culture: ponies, cowboys and the freedom to pursue new horizons.

When featured in films, adverts or music videos, muscle cars to this day are usually classics, with vintage Mustangs reflecting their owner’s non-conformist image. Neither Bullitt nor John Wick follow the crowd.

The best muscle cars look like they mean business. Old Mustangs, with their aggressive appearance, handling characteristics and power, make you feel like you can take on the world. Take the rare and highly sought-after 1969 Boss 429, for example, which had the looks of the ultimate American muscle car and concealed one of the largest Mustang racing engines to date.

The Mustang Boss’s high-performance 429 cubic-inch engine was built to compete against Chrysler’s 426 Hemi at NASCAR. To accommodate its enormous size, Kar Kraft had to make major modifications to the engine bay. With Larry Shinoda’s design influence, the 1969 Boss 429 became even more elegant, powerful, and aggressive. Compared to other Mustangs at the time, the hood scoop was larger and functional. Its wide lower front, Magnum 500 wheels and reworked suspension also meant it had great handling at speed. The car went from zero to 60 in 6.8 seconds and was estimated to reach straight-line speeds of 175mph, so could have been used for drag racing.

The Boss 429’s 7 litre semi-Hemi engine was shockingly underrated at the time, possibly for insurance purposes. Ford rated the ‘shotgun motor’s’ power at 375 horsepower and 450 ft-lbs of torque, with a limited rpm at 6,200. However, the engine’s potential was closer to 600 horsepower, with claims it could run 9000 rpm for a long time.

2. Mustangs Offer Better Handling

Whereas modern American muscle cars are dictated by computers, driving a classic Mustang makes you feel more connected with the car.

Most American muscle cars had powerful, large engines, designed for straight-line performance. Mustangs performed well on the drag strip and on the street. By being more lightweight, they were fun to drive and consequently popular. (Hey, why not have a go on the 1967 Ford Mustang pictured above? Book a test drive.)

For instance, the ‘65/’66 Shelby GT was powerful and elegant, suitable for road-trips. The GT-350 design followed the GT-350R closer than any other Mustang. It didn’t use Shelby’s 450 horsepower version of the 289ci V8 due to compliance issues, but it did have identical suspension and consequently has some of the best handling configurations available.


1. Classic Mustangs Are Popular and Easy to Restore

Ford Mustangs are among the best muscle cars to restore, as many classic Ford parts are relatively cheap and readily available. Classic Mustangs are also generally easier to work on and have more space in the engine bay, eg: a vintage Mustang fits into a European garage and is better suited to narrow UK roads.

Many Mustangs were limited edition, each with identifiable features, and even mass-produced models had personalisation options to make them more unique. Al this adds to their aura of ‘specialness’ and highly collectable aesthetic. Perhaps the twentieth-century equivalent of internet phenomenon FOMO?…

Author: Charlotte Iggulden

If you’re looking for the best muscle car restoration shops, or want to buy a classic Ford Mustang, look no further than Muscle Car UK.

As the UK’s leading classic Mustang specialist, our workshops house expert car mechanics and craftsmen. We are also an authorised Steeda Performance parts dealer, so it’s easy for us to source car parts like the best battery available and specialised wheel sets.

For more rare muscle cars including Ford Mustangs, follow us on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter.

Browse our classic Mustangs for sale in the UK.

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