2014 marks the Mustang’s 50th anniversary on sale. Yet few would argue that it’s been a smooth ride, and Ford’s decision to launch the new Mustang to coincide with the anniversary highlights everything that’s wrong with the brand.
Debuted in 1964, the original Mustang was a pony car, not a muscle car. Then Carroll Shelby’s GT 350 came along and redefined the Mustang brand. That’s about all the Ford wants you to remember. They would rather you ignore the fact that the third generation Mustang was on sale from 1979 to 1993 or that new sixth generation is the first to get independent rear suspension. Basically, Ford has been lazy with the Mustang, and now they want a pat on the back for dragging the brand through the mud for the better part of a half century.
If Ford had cared for the Mustang like Porsche has cared for the 911, which coincidentally celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, then the Mustang would be something to truly cherish. Instead, the brand feels hollow. At its inception, it may have resonated with people but now it just feels burdened with decades of neglect. The biggest hurdle facing the new Mustang is that it’s a Mustang.
Sports cars cannot rest on branding alone, especially bad branding, and the Mustang has become the poster child for rental cars, often dressed in garish colors, as opposed to the enthusiast’s choice. There’s little racing history in the Mustang’s bloodline, let alone simply being known as a competent sports car. Legitimacy breeds desirability, and the Mustang has virtually none.
Ford can make great sports cars (Ford GT), but the Mustang brand is holding them back. They won’t kill the Mustang simply because they’ve already invested so much into it. Keeping the brand alive is the safe move, and safe is rarely good for a sports car’s image.