The Ford Mustang is easily the most iconic American model ever made. Introduced in 1965, it has been in continuous production, making it one of the longest-running nameplates ever. While not the first pony car to go on sale, the Plymouth Barracuda beat it to market by 16 days, it is the most successful and undeniably synonymous with that body style. It was such a hit that other automakers scrambled to emulate it with entries like the Chevrolet Camaro, the AMC Javelin, and later the Dodge Challenger.

Named by Ford executive stylist John Najjar after the P-51 Mustang WWII fighter plane and developed under Lee Iacocca's leadership, the Mustang was expected to sell 100,000 cars annually, but instead broke records, moving 400,000 units for the 1965 model year. By 2018, the one millionth Mustang rolled off the assembly line and the car is still one of the most popular vehicles today.

With the Camaro, Charger, and Challenger all leaving the ICE market, the Ford Mustang is the last remaining gas-powered American muscle car available. The mustang has been a pony car, sports car, race car, muscle car, and even an all-electric crossover, but it's always been revered as a cool, fast, fun car to drive. Through seven generations, spanning 57 years, the Ford Mustang is a true American classic, worthy of honor and celebration.

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Birth Of The Pony Legend 1964-1966

The Mustang got an unusual release, coming out in April 1964, four months ahead of a traditional model year. Blue Oval fans often refer to the first ones off the line as 1964½s, even though they are technically '65s. Though an American icon, the first Mustang was actually sold at George Parson's Ford dealership in St. John's, Newfoundland, Canada. It wouldn't be long however for Americans to get their hands on these beauties, and they went absolutely crazy for them.

The first-gen Mustang was offered in either a hard top or convertible and came standard with a 170ci straight-six engine that made a modest 105 horsepower. There were bigger engines available with the 260 small block V-8 and the 289 small block V-8. The larger of those two, made a respectable 271 horsepower and 312 lb.-ft. of torque, which was plenty of pep for the "Stang. Cars equipped with the V-8 were designated by a V emblem on the front fender along with the corresponding displacement number, i.e. "V 289."

1965 saw rise of the Shelby Mustang GT350, modified for speed by the famed automotive designer and race car driver, Carol Shelby. '65 was the first year for the fastback body style and Shelby modified the 289 to blast out 306 horsepower and 329 pound-feet of torque, making them fast from bumper to bumper. With the signature Le Mans stripes and a whole host of upgrades, these cars were made for performance not comfort or luxury. The reason why a car with a 289 is called a GT350 is, according to Autoweek, because 350 feet separated the Shelby American production shop from the race shop.

The Pony Becomes A Stallion 1967-1973

Still, in the first generation, 1967 was when the Mustang got some real muscle. Ford was still making regular Mustangs for average drivers, and even cranked out some duds like the underpowered Mustang E, but this was the performance era that put the pony car on steroids, making it a legit muscle car. The Shelby Mustangs were still going, though now produced in-house by Ford, and a couple other iconic models came out.

For the 1967 model year, the Mustang got three inches longer, a half-inch wider, and came optional with some bigger, beefier motors. In 1969, the Mustang was offered in a variety of performance packages, including the Mach 1 SportsRoof fastback. It had a matte black hood, hood scoop and pins, plus loads of optional spoilers and chrome accents. Most importantly, the standard 351ci Windsor engine could be swapped out for a 428 ci Cobra Jet.

Also in 1969, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 hit the scene. The latter of the two fastback coupes came into being because Ford was trying to homologate their "Semi-Hemi" engine for NASCAR racing. Rules state that for an engine to qualify, it has to be in at least 500 cars sold to the public. Ford decided to shoehorn 429ci 385-series V-8 into a Mustang. The result was that the pony car was now a thoroughbred, making 375 horsepower and 450 pound-feet. of torque. With a total of 1,359 Boss 429s ever made, it is one of the rarest and most sought after Mustangs.

RELATED: The 10 Most Powerful Ford Mustangs of All Time

The Pony Gets Corralled 1974-1978

Because of the gas crisis, environmental regulations, and shifting consumer tastes, all American muscle was neutered in the mid-to-late 70s and that included the Mustang. Lee Iacocca, now president of Ford, ordered a smaller more fuel efficient Mustang and he got it. The Mustang II was a subcompact car with a standard 140ci inline-four or an optional "sports package" 171ci V-6. It may have been underpowered, but it was the first American car to come with rack and pinion steering.

It wasn't all wienie-mobiles in the 2rd generation, however. In 1976, Ford came out with the wildly popular Mustang II Cobra II with design elements reminiscent of the Shelby GT350. People bought these cars up in no small part because Farah Fawcett drove one in the Charlie's Angeles TV show. Unfortunately the sporty package didn't back up its fast looks with an engine to match. A 139 horsepower 302ci V-8 was optional, but it was universally described as sluggish.

The Pony Transforms Into A Fox 1979-1993

Ford came up with the idea of the "Fox platform" which was a one-size-fits-all chassis to serve everything from 4-door family sedans to 2 sports cars. The Mustang got the Fox Body treatment for the third generation, which is probably the most underrated era in the iconic pony car's history. When everyone else was making boring rides, Ford managed to crank out some pretty interesting vehicles. While the 1979 Turbo I-4 Mustang Cobra never set any land speed records, the graphics package alone was undeniably cool. Also, it came optional with a 302 V-8.

Gen-3 also saw the return of the GT, albeit not in its original awesome form. Beginning in 1987, the Mustang got a lot less boxy-looking with a sleeker more aerodynamic body. This gave rise to the most memorable vehicle of the bunch the 1988 Mustang GT. With ground effects and a two-color scheme, it was the "cool" ride of choice for every TV show, movie, and rap video of the late 80s. Marketed as a "5.0" it actually had a 4.9L small block V-8, that put out a respectable 225 horsepower.

Trojan Horse 1994-2004

For the first time in 15 years, the Mustang got a major redesign, as Ford spent $700 million to upgrade the Fox platform. They almost nailed it, but there was something a little weird about the fourth generation. It was the first time ever that a notchback body style wasn't available, but the real reason was its awkward looks, as if it was a Mustang pretending to be a Mustang. Car and Driver rates the Gen-4 base-model as one of the worst Mustangs ever made, gauging from performance to styling.

That being said, there were still some pretty bad-ass 'Stangs produced in this otherwise down era. In 2001, Ford partnered with Warner Bros. Studios to build Mustang Bullitt Edition to honor the GT fastback Steve McQueen drove in the classic movie of the same name. With upgraded handling and power, it was a 245 horsepower performer, in Highland Green of course. Then, in 2003 came the Mustang SVT Cobra "Terminator," which was packing a 390 horsepower supercharged 4.6L V-8.

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Back To Horse Races 2005-2014

In 2004, Ford came to its sense on got back to its roots with a complete redesign of the Mustang. The fifth generation recalled the styling of the badass first-gen fastbacks, and they packed them with the power to match. There were four and six cylinder base model engines, but they offered an optional 5.4L supercharged V-8 that made for a proper Mustang for the first time in a long time.

This was the era of the rebooted Dodge Charger and the rebirth of the Chevy Camaro where automakers started going crazy with extreme performance packages and Ford wasn't left out. In 2008 they came out with the 504 horsepower Shelby GT500KR "King of the Road" special edition. Then in 2012, the Boss 302 came back with a 5.0L V-8 that pumped out 444 horsepower and 380 lb.-ft. of torque. As cool-looking as the original, it was faster, hitting 0-60 in 4.2 seconds and blistering a quarter mile in 12.7 seconds. The '69 Boss 302 was a 6.9 sec/14.6 sec car.

Stay On The High Horse 2015-2023

Ford was definitely paying attention to the old adage, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." After a return to glory in gen-5, the generation six Mustang wasn't radically different from its predecessor. It got a little wider, rode a little lower, grew a hood bulge, and got a new front fascia, but still looked just as cool. The big changes were in performance and nothing demonstrates that more than the neck-snapping 310 horsepower they got out of the new 2.7L EcoBoost four-cylinder engine.

There were of course obscene V-8s in this generation too. There was the 526 horsepower 2015 Shelby GT350, the 2019 50th Anniversary Bullitt with 480 horsepower, and the 480 horsepower 2021 Mach 1. Then, there was the 2020 Shelby GT500 with a 5.2L supercharged V-8 that goes nuclear with 760 horsepower and 625 lb.-ft. of torque. Those lucky enough to have one of these rockets masquerading as a pony car reach 0-60 in 3.5 seconds and destroy a quarter mile in 9.7 seconds.

RELATED: 2022 Ford Mustang Shelby GT500 Heritage Edition​​​​​​​

The Dark Horse Cabdidate 2024 - TBD

The seventh generation of the Mustang gets a bit confusing. First, Ford put out a battery electric crossover SUV called the Mustang Mach-E in 2012, that has literally nothing to do with the Mustang car. According to Road & Track, Ford slapped the Mustang badge on this all-electric to stand out in the crowded EV class, so it's a marketing ploy and not a tribute to the iconic nameplate.

The other noodle-scratcher is that the next-gen Mustang doesn't appear to be much different from the sixth-gen models. Unveiled at the 2022 North American International Auto Show, it looks pretty much the same as a 2023. Again, if it ain't broke, don't fix it, but why isn't this just a continuation of the previous generation? While philosophers and automotive historians ponder that question, one cool thing to come out of this pseudo-generation is the 2024 Mustang Dark Horse. The performance package features the most powerful Ford 5.0L V-8 yet, producing 500 horsepower and 418 lb.-ft. of torque.

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