During an epic production run that spanned over nine years and shattered multiple sales records, the first generation was used as the base for more concepts than any other Mustang. Although more than five decades have passed since these concepts were unveiled, some are still fascinating today. One of the most legendary nameplates in the history of the automobile, the Mustang was unleashed on public roads during the second half of 1964.
With styling inspired by Europe’s finest sports cars, American reliability, and a price range that made it accessible to everyone, it quickly became one of the blue oval’s brand best-selling models. It survived ever-stricter emission regulations as well as an energy crisis that killed off some of its rivals, and it’s still around in the era of electrification, nearly sixty years after it was first shown to the public.
Out of the six (soon to be seven) Mustang generations continually produced since 1964, the first remains the most beloved. Apart from being responsible for more engine options or general improvements than any other generation, the original ‘Stang was also the building block for more concept cars than its successors.
The story of the legendary nameplate actually started with a fascinating concept. The plan for what was to become America’s most famous pony car was outlined as early as 1962 when decision-makers realized that Ford’s lineup needed something more exciting.
Lee Iacocca, the corporation’s vice president and general manager, kicked off the development of an advanced concept car that would prepare the public for the upcoming production car that he envisioned. A stunning, wedge-shaped roadster built around a spaceframe chassis with fully-independent suspension, the car was powered by a V4 engine that came from Ford Europe’s models, like the Taunus.
Legend has it that one of its designers, John Najjar, who was also an aviation enthusiast, thought that the concept resembled the P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Thus, it was officially called Mustang, a name that would carry over to the production model.
Remembered as the Mustang I, the concept was introduced to the public during an event held at the famous Watkins Glen circuit in the fall of 1962. Both the press and the general public were captivated by its design. It went on to take center stage at various auto shows in the years that followed, making the nameplate famous and preparing the public for the release of the mass-produced model.
Mustang III “Shorty”
With the coupe and convertible production models taking shape as early as 1963, the team of designers that worked on the project continued to experiment with different body variations for years to come. One idea that they flirted with was a short-wheelbase, two-seat version that would make the Mustang easier to live with in busy cities with nightmarish traffic. The idea translated into a functional prototype in 1964 when Dearborn Steel Tubing (DST) was commissioned to make it happen.
Using a convertible chassis taken from the assembly line, DST shortened it and designed a new fastback rear end in just four months. Officially labeled Mustang Concept II and nicknamed Shorty, it featured a lowered suspension system and an F-code 260 V8 that was bored out to 302 ci (4.9 liters).
Ford eventually decided against mass-producing a two-seat Mustang, ordering DST to destroy the concept. Thankfully, it was saved from the crusher, and it’s still around today.
Mustang Mach 1
Although the first-generation Mustang was a sporty four-seater, it was not quite a legitimate sports car (even when equipped with a powerful V8), so initially defying classification, it gave birth to the pony car segment. However, months after the production car was introduced, some Ford designers were tasked to create an experimental vehicle that would transform the Mustang into a full-blown, Corvette-rivaling sports car.
Called Mach 1, the concept car was based on a highly modified version of the production chassis. It featured an aggressive-looking body that was wider, and its fastback roof profile was chopped off, borrowing a popular custom car recipe from the prior decade.
Ford’s Advanced Design department actually created two separate cars that bore the Mach 1 moniker. The first was built in 1965, featuring a race-bred 427-ci (7.0-liter) V8. The second, finished a year later, shared the same chassis and drivetrain, but its front fascia was less futuristic, previewing the changes that the production version would receive in 1968.
Mustang Mach 2A
Ford’s idea of creating a thoroughbred sports car on the Mustang chassis didn’t end with the Mach 1 concepts. In 1966, the Advanced Design department also worked on another project dubbed Mach 2 that explored the feasibility of creating a mid-engine two-seater capable of challenging the Corvette on both the showroom floor and the race track.
With the help of long-time partner Kar-Kraft, two functional mid-engine prototypes were built around a modified 1968 chassis. The first was a road-legal version that came with a completely new fiberglass body with cues from the production ‘Stang as well as the GT40. The second looked similar but was conceived as a race-bred version with a competition-spec engine and suspension package.
Both were extensively tested, but the results were far from encouraging, so the Mach 2A never came close to production. However, the project continued using the upcoming 1970 Maverick’s Delta chassis, and succeeding variations came very close to hitting the market, albeit not as mid-engine Mustangs, but as a stand-alone model that would have probably carried the Mach 2 moniker.
The last entry on our list is unquestionably the gorgeous first-gen concept of them all and one of the coolest Mustangs ever created. It debuted at the 1970 Chicago Auto Show, showcasing the upcoming design cues of the 1971 model.
With headlights hidden inside two huge vents that made up the front grille and a nearly-horizontal fastback rear end that made it look more like a 1970 Fairlane/Torino, the two-seater was the most radical first-generation Mustang concept.
Apart from its eye-catching purple paint, it featured innovative taillights that turned green when the gas pedal was pushed, switching to orange when the car was cruising, and flashing red when braking.
While the 1971 Mustang looked considerably worse, the Milano concept went on to influence the design of other Ford models, most notably the XB-series Falcon coupe, which debuted in Australia four years later.