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Ford prepares for Mustang's 50th birthday

Image: New Mustang logo
Ford designed a new logo to accompany the 50th anniversary of the Mustang.Ford Motor Co.

It may be a year away, but Ford Motor Co. is saddling up to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the original “pony car,” the Mustang.

It’s getting plenty of help, with 50 companies planning to join the celebration by producing products to commemorate the occasion, from Mustang-emblazoned jackets to watches to videogames. They’ll use a new black-and-white logo featuring the familiar galloping horse over the words, “50 Years.”

The Mustang is “a timeless statement,” says Ford Chief Creative Officer J Mays, who oversaw the creation of the new logo and who is crucial to the development of the next-generation Mustang expected to come to market sometime next year, closer to the official golden anniversary.

The automaker revealed the first coupe on April 17, 1964, just a few days before it officially made its public debut at the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair. It was an instant hit and landed Ford’s then-boss, Lee Iacocca, on the covers of Time and Newsweek.

Ironically, while the free-roaming horse has been the image Ford associated with the original Mustang, the car’s original designer, John Najjar, was actually a fan of the most successful fighter plane of World War II, the P-51 Mustang. Company officials liked the name but thought the equine image was more appropriate.

Introduced as a 1964-1/2 model, the first Ford Mustang was available for as little as $2,368. The coupe wasn’t nearly as spirited as it appeared, however, with its compact, 170-cubic-inch engine and three-speed manual transmission. That changed when the automaker rolled out an increasingly powerful series of engine packages and, in subsequent years, a procession of new bodies.

The need to put some pep into the pony created a partnership that lasted for decades: Iacocca turned to race car driver-cum-entrepreneur Carroll Shelby to offer some help pumping up the performance – and to lend his name to a special edition version of the Mustang. With only a brief time out during a short association with Chrysler – following Iacocca to the smaller maker – the tall Texan continued to work with Ford on a procession of ever-more-powerful Mustangs, including the current, 662-horsepower Shelby GT500.

(Carroll Shelby died last year. Nearly a year after his death, his Las Vegas-based “tuner” house, Shelby American, plans to introduce a new 1,200-horsepower custom version of the Mustang at this week’s New York Auto Show.)

While Ford hopes to ride high in the saddle as Mustang approaches its 50th birthday, the pony car has struggled. After decades leading the pack in the muscle car segment, Mustang has been tripped up by the reborn Chevrolet Camaro, a lead the General Motors division hopes to widen when it also introduces an updated version of its own pony car at the New York Show.

That puts pressure on Ford to get it right when it launches the next-generation Mustang. The company has not set an official date for the big event, but most industry observers are expecting to see it coincide with the original car’s debut.

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