2011-2014 Ford Mustang S197: A History & Evolution

The Mustang has a special place in the heart of America’s car culture. We all have a Mustang story, and it usually goes like this: “My [insert family member or friend] had a Mustang, and [insert fun memory].” The Mustang can accommodate a four-person family on an unforgettable trip across the country, or it can be used to merely run errands. What kid doesn’t want to go to school in a Mustang?

America’s Blue-Collar Performance Car

Anecdotes are common because the Mustang’s price is within reach for most American buyers. As a result, millions of Mustangs are in American driveways. Mustang ownership is accessible to both the blue-collar employee and the boss.

The Mustang’s affordability makes it an unpretentious option for those who enjoy driving. From the moment the Mustang rolled into the 1964 World’s Fair, Ford marketed the Mustang as a youthful alternative to contemporary ho-hum transportation. That included promoting the Mustang’s sporty nature through aftermarket performance parts. From 1964 to today, Ford has offered performance upgrades so that owners can get the performance they desire along with the satisfaction of installing the parts themselves.

The 2011–2014 Mustang carries on this tradition as a competent, capable platform upon which enthusiasts can build the performance car of their dreams and make memories for themselves and their families.

Bucking the Trend

In the decade following World War II, American manufacturing switched from churning out fighting machines to churning out consumer products. Meanwhile, returning soldiers’ families churned out babies.

The Mustang debuted at the World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. It was a hit with the public. The Mustang was designed to please a broad demographic: young and old; male and female. Ford knew it had a hit when visitors lined the fence at the display, craning their necks for a look at the new Mustang. (Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Company)

In 1960, an engineer-turned-marketing genius named Lee Iacocca sniffed a coming opportunity: the surge of babies that clogged maternity wards in the late 1940s and 1950s were primed to make their mark on the world, rebel against their conservative parents, and buy a car. Iacocca, forever the salesman, wanted to pounce.

From the beginning, Ford wanted to lure performance enthusiasts behind the wheel of Mustangs. Ford knew that customers who were enthusiastic about high performance were more likely to consider a Mustang if there were parts available to make them faster. Hot rodders often shopped for go-fast goodies even before taking delivery of their new Mustang. Advertisements such as this were printed in Hot Rod magazine just as brand-new Mustang owners were laying rubber out of dealership parking lots. (Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Company)
As this advertisement from 2011 shows, Ford Performance Parts continues to support horsepower lovers who want to enjoy their Mustangs on a racetrack, twisty back road, or from stoplight to stoplight. (Photo Courtesy Ford Motor Company)

Small product glimmers, such as GM’s Corvair, hinted that customers yearned for smaller high-performance cars, and Iacocca knew it. He wanted Ford to build a hip, sporty car that would capture the imagination of these new buyers—and loosen the grip on their wallets.

However, Iacocca had a problem: Robert McNamara. McNamara came to Ford as 1 of 10 financial Whiz Kids (veterans of the US Army Air Forces management science operation called Statistical Control) that Henry Ford II hired to run his grandfather’s company in 1946.

It didn’t take the Whiz Kids long to realize that statistical control didn’t square with performance. That is, unless performance was of the financial kind. In wartime and in business, McNamara’s specialty was minimizing risks. The development of an entirely new, youth-oriented product with a Zeppelin-sized marketing budget was the antithesis of McNamara’s business philosophy.

Getting McNamara to accept Iacocca’s plan would be impossible. That is, until a young man from Massachusetts named John F. Kennedy was elected president of the United States and asked McNamara to be his Secretary of Defense in 1961. With McNamara out as Ford’s president, Iacocca was unleashed. Thirty-seven years old and full of ideas, Iacocca grabbed the controls of Ford Division and swung it into the 1960s. Once Henry Ford II (the Deuce) was on board, Ford Motor Company went from selling reliable appliances into the era of total performance. The linchpin of Ford’s Total Performance program was Iacocca’s new car: the Mustang.

The idea of the Mustang didn’t arrive like a bolt of lightning in the night. Instead, it was like a building storm—a brainstorm of ideas from a group that Iacocca convened during a weekly dinner at Dearborn’s Fairlane Inn. The Fairlane Committee commissioned a survey to determine what baby boomers wanted in a car. The committee learned that buyers overwhelmingly valued fun things (bucket seats and manual transmissions) over sensible things (expanded interior room and low operating costs).

The drafting rooms and prototype shops got busy. The two-seat Mustang I concept car was spawned, and it was subsequently scrapped because it didn’t have the mass appeal that Iacocca envisioned. Market trends pointed toward young buyers who were single and young families looking to add a second car. This meant that interiors that prioritized comfort for rear-seat passengers weren’t a priority. Then came the Mustang’s 2+2 concept, which wasn’t exactly a four-seater, but rather it was a two-seater with two smaller back seats.

Meanwhile, Iacocca knew that future customers were roaming high-school hallways and time was running out before these baby boomers began car shopping. Iacocca wanted them buying Mustangs. To accelerate development and lower cost, Ford engineers borrowed parts from the Fairlane and Falcon. A focus group of couples from varying tax brackets was chosen to gauge their reaction to the Mustang prototype. Everyone was impressed with the long-hood, short-deck design of the new pony car. The low retail price sealed the deal.

Such was the reaction of the general public when the Mustang officially debuted at the World’s Fair in New York on April 17, 1964. A highly coordinated promotional campaign ensured the success of the Mustang. Thirty million people saw the Mustang unveiled the night before when Ford bought the 9 p.m. time slot on all three major TV networks.

Over the next two days, four million people flooded dealerships to see thousands of Mustangs that were already staged in dealerships across the country. Perhaps the campaign worked too well. According to legend, one dealership was forced to lock its doors to control the mobs of people that were hoping to see the new Mustang. In Garland, Texas, one eager buyer slept in his Mustang while his check cleared to ensure that no one bought the car out from under him—literally.

Read on