50 Years of Mustang
By Amos Kwon
on 4.14.14

The Ford Mustang has always been like a blackened, rare slab of sirloin: not the top choice of meat, but great flavor for less, served up hot and bloody, American style. It’s never tried to be a world crowd pleaser or catered to a more sophisticated bunch that demands refinement and sleek style. Its duty is blunt force trauma delivered via automotive Americana, muscle and power encased in metal and delivered to the pavement with ample horsepower and fat rubber.

american-muscle-icon

So what has Ford wrought with the 2015 Mustang? It’s rumored to be better than the previous car in virtually every way, including safety, technology, refinement, handling and performance, and its styling is more svelte and less in your face than previous generations. But dare we say, it also seems less American and less, well, ‘Stang. In Ford’s quest to make the new Mustang a “world car” like they did with the Focus, they seem to have lost some of the car’s red, white and blue attitude. It’s probable that the 2015 Mustang will be hailed as much improved overall, but is Ford on the path to losing the car’s longstanding appeal by diluting the classic mixture of power and patriotism that’s made it an icon for fifty years?

There’s a reason the Mustang has stood the test of time. With the exception of the anemic-looking second generation car, it’s always been a pinnacle of manliness. If you see a guy cruising along in a Mustang Shelby GT500, you assume that he’s not a vegetarian, that he owns a well-worn jean jacket and at least one Lynyrd Skynyrd album. Just take a look at the car’s reputation from movies, including both versions of Gone in Sixty Seconds and Bullitt. Add Carroll Shelby’s obsession with making the Mustang even more aggressive and potent than the stock versions, and you have all the evidence you need to prove that the Mustang’s brawny pony car reputation is cemented in our culture. That the fifth-generation car, which was heavily inspired by the ethos of the first-generation icon, had excellent sales goes to show how directly the Mustang’s original DNA matters.

But it’s clear from the new body styling that some initial head scratching went on behind closed doors at Ford prior to a collective agreement by the brand’s key decision makers. Though they obviously didn’t deliberate that the next Mustang needed changing after the fifth generation’s Methuselah-like nine-year lifespan, there was probably a fair amount of debate as to exactly how to manifest those changes in the new car. What transpired was a clean-sheet mentality. Other than the wheelbase, nothing from the last car was retained. Yes, the Mustang ethos remained via easily identifiable Mustang design cues like the large grille, the triple vertical taillights and the steeply sloped roofline and fastback glass; designers even mimicked the taillight theme in the triple LED strips in the headlamps to make sure we didn’t forget the car is still a Mustang. But in reality the thing looks altogether different, still muscular but in a leaner and more subdued way.

If you see a guy driving a Mustang Shelby GT500, you just assume he’s got a well-worn jean jacket, has at least one Lynyrd Skynyrd album and isn’t a vegetarian.

To put it simply: the new car betrays the American muscularity we loved about the fourth-generation car. Though the new car is a bit smaller than the old one (length and height), it actually looks longer and sleeker due to the pushed-back A Pillar and a lower hood and trunklid. The overall aesthetic seems to have less presence and punch, even though it’s undoubtedly a handsome car.

Yes, the new Mustang also has to keep up with the times, and the replacement of the longstanding and primitive solid rear axle with an independent rear suspension is proof that Ford plans on catching up to the rest of 21st century autodom. The new setup provides more composed handling over bumps and uneven pavement and virtually eliminates the nasty wheel hop that was just about trademark for the Mustang. It’s turned into a car for the more discerning driver and is less geared toward the straight-line, heavy-footed drag racer. It’s part of Ford’s revolution in making the Mustang a world car instead of just a brawler for the States.

Fortunately or unfortunately, this is the way of things today in the automotive industry. Ford can no longer afford to rest on its laurels, especially with the likes of more refined American muscle in the form of the Corvette and the Camaro. So, it’s with heavy patriotic hearts that we say goodbye to the purely American Mustang, and with a small amount of trepidation that we welcome the new world pony car. Only time will tell if we’ll all be passionately swayed or we’ll be misty for the glory days.

ADVENTURE IS ONE CLICK AWAY

Subscribe to GP for a daily dose of the best in gear, adventure, design, tech and culture. 5pm sharp.