The economy’s in terrible shape and sales of new cars are running barely more than half what they were a couple of years ago. People are putting off purchases of new vehicles, many likely waiting to see what happens to their personal finances and those of the nation as a whole.
Amid all this chaos of commerce, Ford is updating its retro-themed Mustang. It’s been almost five years since the car was completely redone, so it gets little tweaks here and there to keep it looking fresh. It still carries that famous look from the late 1960s, but with a decidedly modern look at the same time. Recession? Heck, the Mustang has weathered many of those since its original debut in 1964.
The timing of the car’s ’64 debut was just about perfect, as the economy was strong and post-war baby boomers were ready for an affordable sporty car. In the first two years of production, Ford sold one million Mustangs and it was such a success that General Motors scrambled to bring out their own Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.
Mustang sales would drop off a bit in the ensuing years, and a recession in 1969-70 took a little bit of the fun out of the “muscle car” era. As the seventies got moving, Ford realized the Mustang had gotten a little large and heavy, and a return to the car’s original mission would be needed. Just as the 1974 Mustang II was hitting showrooms (it was a much smaller than the 1973 Mustang and featured more efficient engines), the OPEC oil embargo caused havoc in the economy and made fuel economy a priority.
The early 1980’s saw the dawn of a new era for the Mustang, as technology had allowed engineers to bring performance back while still keeping pollutants and gas mileage intact. But alas, the 1982 Mustang debuted smack in the middle of a recession that dragged on for nearly two years. Moving forward, the rest of the decade saw great strides for the Mustang.
I guess my point is that this new Mustang may be hitting the market at a really tough time, but if history is any indication, this fun-to-drive car probably still has a bright future. Sales numbers will be a lot lower than they have been, and it’s got formidable competition for the dollars of muscle car buyers (the Dodge Challenger and upcoming Chevy Camaro). Without a doubt, the Mustang is up for the fight. One of the challenges in redesigning a so-called “retro” design is how to keep from changing the things that make the car so appealing. The 2010 Mustang gets a slightly different headlight design, but keeps the overall look of the 1967 fastback. Likewise, the three-element taillights still resemble those of the 1969 model, but they get a little more of a contour. A cool new feature is that the three LED lamps flash sequentially, much like the taillights of the 1960’s Ford Thunderbird and Mercury Cougar.
Further refinement is found inside, where the circular theme of the center dashboard vents has given way to rectangles that almost perfectly resemble those of the 1967 Mustang. The instrument cluster gets a slight revamping as well, but keeps its well-done retro tribute theme. Even the font on the gauges mimics the numerals Ford used back in the ‘60s, to great effect.
Even though some may see the Mustang as an automotive Neanderthal, it really is a very modern vehicle under its skin. The GT model will be flagship for now, although not the volume leader. That honor will go to the “base” Mustang with a V6 engine, and really only the well-read auto enthusiasts will be able to tell the two models apart. Since the standard Mustang enjoys such a price and fuel economy advantage over the GT, it will easily outsell the latter.
But the GT is what gets enthusiasts’ blood flowing. Its overhead cam V8 makes a solid 315 horsepower, an improvement from last year’s GT. In addition to the added punch, Ford engineers re-tuned the intake and exhaust systems for an even more muscular growl when it’s time to get moving quickly. Like a true muscle car, a manual transmission is standard, though most buyers will choose the automatic for convenience sake.
Option choices have been a Mustang hallmark since the beginning, and for 2010 there are many ways to order up a Mustang. There are essentially two body styles, a convertible and a fastback coupe, the latter is also available with a fixed glass roof to let some extra light into the interior. Option packages can send the price from just under $21,000 for a base V6 coupe, to nearly $40,000 for a GT convertible with all the options, including a newly-improved navigation system.
The recession may have us in the financial doldrums, but the Ford Mustang will soldier on, just as it has for decades. When our economy does improve, there may even be pent-up demand for new cars. What better way to celebrate a rosy future than with a sporty new car that’s ready for the times.
I’ll see you down the road.
Dave Kunz is the automotive reporter at KABC-TV Channel 7. He’s also a car enthusiast and owns several classics. Dave can be reached at TVCarz@pacbell.net.