Today In History: 1964 Ford Mustang Debuts

Ford’s millionth Mustang built in Flat Rock announcement isn't the only bit of Ford sports car history to fall on April 17. For instance, April 17 is when the Ford Mustang first made its public debut some 49 years ago.

Ford vice president Lee Iacocca had been lobbying for a “poor man’s Thunderbird” since 1961, but the finished product – the Falcon-based Ford Mustang – didn’t become reality for another three years. After years of hinting at such a vehicle with concept cars like the Allegro and Mustang II, and weeks of public teasing before the official reveal, Ford unwrapped the Mustang at its stand at World’s Fair in New York City on April 17, 1964. That was roughly a month after the first Mustang rolled off the assembly line, but it was the very same day cars arrived at Ford dealers.

These cars – billed as “1964.5 Mustangs” by Ford but technically date-coded as ‘65s, were available in coupe, fastback, and convertible forms. Engine choices largely mirrored the Falcon – a base 170-cubic-inch I-6 with 101 hp; a 164-hp, 260-cubic-inch V-8; and a 210-hp, 289-cubic-inch V-8. A high-performance 289, offering 271 hp, was added to the Mustang lineup in June of ’64.

Ford went out of its way to promote the Mustang, staging massive print ad buys, primetime TV spots, and placing the Mustang front and center at its World’s Fair pavilion. If that wasn’t enough, it also placed Mustang convertibles on its Magic Skyway attraction, a ride that allowed visitors to “drive” in an elevated glass tunnel overlooking the fairgrounds.

To say that the Ford Mustang was welcomed by the public is an understatement. After six weeks on the market, the Ford Mustang was the best-selling compact car in America. By April 17, 1965, Ford had sold just shy of 419,000 Mustangs – four times Iacocca’s original sales volume target.

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Speaking of April 17, 1965, Ford also made another amendment to the Mustang lineup. For 1965, it had already re-shuffled Mustang’s engine lineup slightly, ditching both the 170-cubic-inch I-6 and the 260 V-8, and adding a 220-hp 289 to the lineup. But another change came on the 17th, when Ford announced the availability of the new GT Equipment package. Available on any V-8 Mustang, the GT package added manual front disc brakes, quick-ratio steering, grille-mounted fog lamps, a five-instrument gauge cluster, GT ornamentation, and contrasting tri-band rocker sill stripes. The GT package also included the Special Handling Package, which lumped in stiffer springs, shocks and stabilizer bars; along with a choice of 3.89:1 or 4.11:1 rear axle ratios.

The GT package added $165 to the base price of a Mustang, which ran between $2330 and $2557. That GT package price didn’t include the cost of adding the required V-8. A 200-hp 289 ran $105, a 225-hp 289 cost $158, and the “hi-po” 289 – when ordered in concert with the GT package – cost $276. All told, 15,079 1965 Mustangs were built with the GT package – a drop in the bucket, considering 559,451 were built that year.

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Ford pony car history again fell on April 17 four years later, when its Mercury division launched the European Capri 2+2 in the U.S. market. Launched as a Ford in 1969, the svelte Capri was crafted in the footsteps of the Mustang’s success, and to wrapped everyday mechanical bits (mostly cribbed from the Cortina) in a sporty, youthful wrapper.

Early Capris were available only with a 71-hp, 1.6-liter I-4, but a 2.0-liter OHC four-banger with 100 hp followed in 1972. A 2.8-liter V-6 became available for the 1973 model year, and offered 107 hp and considerably more torque.

Between 1970 and 1978, Ford/Mercury sold nearly 464,729 Capris in the United States. A successful venture, perhaps, but the Capri’s niche status and rising costs helped sales dwindle towards the end of its U.S. visitation. Ford sold 54,586 Capris (as 1976 models) in 1975, but roughly half that volume the next year. Capri imports ceased in 1977, although dealers sold Capris through 1978. Although the European Capri lived on in Europe through the 1980s, only the name lived on in America -- it was simply slapped on a Mercury-badged Mustang for the 1979 model year.

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