|From 1964 to 1966 the Mustang fired up the ponycar fad and blasted sales records for a new car introduction. Except for a weak challenge from the first-generation Barracuda, the Mustang had the sporty sedan genre all to itself, but in 1967 that would change as General Motors introduced its Camaro and Firebird models to take it on. Ford knew it would have to come up with a new car to meet the challenge, but without breaking the bank.
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The 1967 Mustang was significantly upgraded, being slightly longer, wider and heavier than the 1964-1966 models. To make up for the extra heft, Ford added to the option list a big-block 390-inch V-8 with 320 raging horses. This heavy engine added straight-line speed (0-60 in 7.5 seconds), but took a toll in handling. The previous six-cylinder and 289-inch V-8s were still offered as well.
The body was completely restyled, but still unmistakably a Mustang. The long hood/short deck styling was retained, along with the gaping grill and side scoops. Once again there were three body styles. The hardtop remained the best seller, but the fastback passed the convertible to take second place. The new model was handsome and handled better due to a wider track, but the Mustang now had fearsome competitors.
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The 1967 Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird were new designs based on Chevy II parts. They were slightly heavier than the Mustang, but had more powerful engines. The 327 and 350 engines were proven performance mills, and the 375-hp Chevy 396 was hotter than Ford's 390. And the Camaro 302 Z-28 engine was to prove superior to the Ford 289 in Trans-Am racing.
The Firebird was basically the same car as the Camaro, but with a technically advanced overhead cam six as standard, with 326 and 400-inch engines that were an even match for the Mustang motors. Plymouth revamped the Barracuda with slick new bodywork, but the old 273-inch V-8 was on the weak side. Even Mercury was itching to take a shot at the pony with its new Mustang-based Cougar. Shelby American continued building the GT350 versions of the Mustang and added the GT500, which was powered by a massive 428-inch Ford V-8.
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With such a crowded field, it is no wonder that Mustang sales were off from previous years, with "only" 472,121 sold in 1967. The Camaro was a comparatively distant second at 220,917, besting the Cougar (123,672), the Firebird (82,560) and the Barracuda (62,534). Although the Mustang was still the king, it was obvious things were going to get tougher. Production of the Shelby models was shifted to Ford, and they began to lose their performance edge.
For 1968 Ford made few changes, adding an optional 390-hp 427 engine to counter the 396 threat (just in time for Chevy to add a 427 of its own). There were also a number of minor body trim changes, including a deeply inset grill and rear quarter panels with integrated side scoops. A large number of safety features were added as well, such as a padded instrument panel and an energy-absorbing steering column. But times were getting tougher and 1968 sales slipped to 317,404 units. The AMC Javelin entered the ponycar frey, but never managed much in total sales.
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Ford responded to the faster Camaro and Firebird models with a major Mustang revamp. The 1969 model was restyled and the suspension upgraded. The hardtop, fastback and convertible models were highlighted by special versions like the Grande, Mach I and Boss 302. The Grande was a luxury hardtop with a vinyl roof, fake wood trim and extra insulation. The Mach 1 featured the new 351-inch engine and had the famous "shaker" scoop that projected through the hood. Also new for 1969 was the very hot Boss 302, styled by Larry Shinoda and equipped with an excellent 302. The 1970 Boss was also offered with a 429-inch V-8, while the Mach I got the 428. The de-clawed Shelby Mustangs drew their last gasp in 1970, but by then they were so far from their original intent it could have been considered a mercy killing. Despite the improvements, and winning the 1970 Trans-Am championship, Mustang sales dropped from 299,824 in 1969 to 190,727 in 1970.
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With sales falling, Ford made major changes to the 1971 Mustangs. The new model was longer, wider and over 600 pounds heavier than a 1965 model. There were still a bewildering number of engine options, including a 200-inch six, and three V-8s: a 302, 351 and 429. The Boss 302 became the Boss 351, and the Mach 1 was equipped with the 429 Cobra Jet engine developing 370 hp. Actually, the Boss 351 was much better balanced and a touch faster than its big brother.
The ponycar fad had run its course and, although the Mustang still outsold its competitors, only 149,678 Mustangs were sold in 1971 and 125,093 the next year. The 1973 Mustang was a carryover from 1972, and little was changed except that the best car in the lineup, the Boss 351, was dropped. Ford announced that the 1973 Mustang convertible would be its last ragtop, and this accounted for sales going up to 134,867 units as collectors reached for their pocketbooks.
Clearly something had to be done. The Mustang had become too big, too expensive and did not provide enough fun to survive in a gas and emission-conscious world. In our next installment, we'll see how the Mustang II temporarily increased sales, but lost the lead to Camaro. Stay tuned.