"Iacocca had to fight hard to get the $75 million it would take to develop and build Mustang from (then-Chairman) Henry Ford II. That was chicken feed," Davis recalled. But after the embarrassing and financially devastating failure of Ford's Edsel just a couple of years before, the company was reluctant to take chances, he said.
Cash in hand, Ford's designers and engineers worked feverishly to pull the project together in barely two years, about half the time it normally took to develop a new car from the ground up. But the first production models were already in dealer showrooms in time for the World's Fair debut on April 17, 1964.
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In fact, the first Mustang had already been sold. Gail Wise was a newly graduated teacher from suburban Chicago who, at 22, was looking for something fun to drive. But nothing in the Ford showroom interested her, so the frustrated salesman let her peek under the covers, where a Mustang was waiting for official word that it could go on sale. Wise wouldn't wait, and she bought the "pony car" on the spot.
At a modest $2,368—about $18,000 today—it was a relative bargain, even though such commonplace features of today, such as air conditioning, power windows and even power brakes, cost extra. Nonetheless, Ford erred on the conservative side, planning to produce just 100,000 of that first model year.
It could barely keep up with demand, hitting that target within months on its way to selling 418,000 the first year. Along with the original plant near its headquarters in Dearborn, Mich., Ford quickly tooled up assembly lines in New Jersey and California to boost capacity.
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The car was so successful it engendered a new breed of sporty, American iron, a class quickly dubbed "pony cars." But how the new Ford became the Mustang remains a matter of debate. According to some recollections, it was originally meant to honor the legendary P-51 fighter plane of World War II, though Ford veteran Davis insists the car was always envisioned as a four-wheel take on a galloping horse.
Whatever the truth, Mustang is "a timeless statement," contends J Mays, the recently retired Ford design chief who had the 2015 pony car as one of his last major projects.