In case you haven’t heard the story of how the Ford Mustang was born, here is a quick recap before we get into our list of the best examples of all time.
The original Ford Mustang – named after the P-51 World War II fighter plane – was relatively affordable as it was based on the underpinnings of Ford’s sedan at the time.
But its daring design and sharp $US2300 starting price saw sales take off as soon as it was unveiled at the New York Auto Show on 17 April 1964.
Ford reportedly took 22,000 orders at the show and the company eclipsed the first 1 million sales in March 1966.
Ford had originally forecast it would sell 100,000 Mustangs in its first year on the market; it would become the biggest selling Ford since the Model T (before being overtaken by the F Series pick-up).
Under-calling the Mustang’s popularity continued in modern times. When Ford introduced the first factory-built right-hand-drive Mustang in Australia in late 2015, the company forecast about 1000 sales annually but almost 10,000 were delivered in 2017 after orders placed in 2016 began to come through.
Ford wasn’t able to increase production overnight because there are 105 unique parts to build the right-hand-drive models, and each of those suppliers had to ramp up production. Mustang sales have since slumped but it remains one of the best-selling sports cars in Australia.
Back in the mid 1960s, a small number of original Mustangs were imported by Ford Australia – in 1965 and 1966, priced about $6000 – and converted to right-hand-drive locally in an attempt to enhance the image of the Falcon of the day, which shared its DNA.
Reports vary but some historians estimate about 200 Mustangs were officially imported by Ford at the time.
The Mustang then went onto Hollywood fame, starring in what would become one of the most iconic car chase films of all time, Bullitt.
The 1968 film, staring Steven McQueen, depicted a beaten-up Mustang driven by a San Francisco detective.
That car (one of two used in the movie) recently sold for a record $3.4 million in the US and has spawned three Bullitt special editions of the Mustang since 2001, including the most recent example, 700 of which were sold in Australia.
In the early 2000s, Ford Australia again introduced the Mustang (pictured above) – also converting it to right-hand-drive locally, this time with the help of its performance partner Tickford – to give the brand a boost after sales of the then-new AU Falcon flopped, and also to head-off the reborn Holden Monaro.
The numbers reported vary but CarAdvice has sighted historical data that shows 377 of these Ford Mustang Cobras – powered by a 4.6-litre V8 (240kW/430Nm) matched to a five-speed manual only – were remanufactured locally between February 2001 and December 2003.
Back then, the Ford Mustang coupe was priced from $85,000 plus on-road costs and the convertible was $89,000.
Fast forward to late 2015 and Ford finally introduced the first factory-made right-hand-drive Mustang (pictured above) after years of pleading from Australian fans. Ford admitted it had been receiving letters and email for years from Australians desperate for the Mustang to be sold here.
At the time, Ford said the Mustang was not a replacement for the Ford Falcon – which went out of production as Ford closed its local manufacturing operations in October 2016 – and was part of the company’s plan to take its muscle car global.
Ford pointed out there are more Mustang owner’s clubs outside North America than in its own domestic market and had lost count of the number of movies, TV shows and film clips the car had appeared in.
The Mustang was so popular in Australia, Ford increased the price, blaming currency pressure when in fact it was cashing in.
Today, the Mustang is firmly a part of Ford Australia’s line-up and one of its most popular models locally.
And Ford Australia is keeping the dream alive with the locally-developed Ford Mustang R-Spec because the US supercharged versions can’t be sold here.
Here are our five favourite Mustangs:
First Ford Mustang
The original Ford Mustang from 1965 remains one of the classic car designs of all time, arriving in the era of the Jaguar E-Type and Ferrari Dino.
Its shape would undergo numerous facelifts until the second generation Mustang arrived in 1973 but historians select the 1965/66 model as the most pure design.
Mustang from the movie Bullitt
Earlier this year, the original Ford Mustang from the movie Bullitt sold for a record $3.4 million at auction in the US – the highest paid for a Mustang.
The car was effectively in the same condition as it finished the movie, with the original Warner Bros gate pass on the windshield and left-over camera mounting points welded into the cabin.
It had initially been used as a daily driver for years and then remained out of the spotlight for decades until it reappeared on stage during the 2018 Detroit auto show.
McQueen’s grand-daughter Molly McQueen told the audience at the time: “We all know he loves cars, and truthfully he could have picked any car in the world to be in that movie”. However, she said Steve McQueen selected the Mustang for his character Lieutenant Frank Bullitt because: “Firstly, it was incredibly important to him to pick a car the average American could afford, especially on a detective’s salary. And second, it’s bad ass”.
In 2019, Ford Australia imported just 700 examples of the modern Bullitt limited edition, finished in metallic green paintwork inspired by the movie car. All of them sold out within weeks and most customers had to pay over the odds to secure a car, or wait for a cancelled order to become available.
The modern Ford Mustang Bullitt’s 5.0-litre V8 had a slight power bump from 339kW/556Nm to 345kW/556Nm, came with a louder exhaust, and was available with a six-speed manual transmission only.
There were no Ford badges on the car, but it did have a Bullitt badge on the bootlid and steering wheel and had a white ‘cue-ball’ style gear shift knob as per the car in the movie, as well as other classic touches.
Ford Mustang Shelby GT 500
In the US, Ford introduces high performance versions of the Mustang part way through the model cycle to keep the car fresh. Most recently, Ford US introduced the epic Shelby 500 GT.
It is powered be a supercharged 5.2-litre V8 that pumps out a phenomenal 566kW/850Nm (760 horsepower in the old money) matched to a heavy duty seven-speed dual clutch automatic transmission.
Unfortunately, that superb machine was not intended for Australia (our drive-by noise restrictions apparently ruled it out) so we got this next beauty instead…
Ford Mustang R-Spec
Because the Shelby 500 GT was not able to be sold here, Ford Australia built its own supercharged Mustang.
The blue oval brand enlisted the help of local Ford performance guru Rob Herrod to engineer, oversee and assemble the supercharger upgrade to an epic output of 522kW/830Nm – up from the standard 5.0-litre V8's 339kW/556Nm. Just 500 will be built and all are sold.
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