The American Pony Car

Let’s be clear about this from the beginning; I am a Dodge guy. My only car is a 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat — the most powerful sedan in the world. My daily driver is a Ram 2500 crew cab pickup with the Cummins 6.7 liter diesel. (I have a camp trailer that I tow, and we have 2-1/2 acres of horse property to maintain.) Prior to the truck, I had a Jeep Wrangler. So, yes I am a die-hard Chrysler fan.

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My 2016 Dodge Charger Hellcat

But, remember the reality of our car history here. Were it not for Ford and the Mustang, there would likely be no 21st Century American Muscle Car, whether it be Ford, Chevy or Dodge. Why?

Muscle cars were born in the later 1950s and early 1960s. There is a huge debate as to what exactly was the first official muscle car. Many people think it was the Pontiac GTO that was introduced in the mid 1960s. Others will argue that Chrysler produced the first muscle car with the Chrysler 300 of the later 1950s with the Hemi engine. That’s not really important here, however. What is important is that the Ford Mustang was introduced as a 1964 1/2 model, and it has survived intact as a brand since that time with no interruptions or discontinuance.

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One of my favorites from the Steamboat Springs, CO Mustang Show – a later 1960’s Mach 1

Oh, I know there are many folks who are going to say that the original Mustang was in no way a muscle car. In fact, they were called pony cars at the time. By today’s standards, that original Mustang with a little 289 cubic inch V-8 engine was pretty anemic. If you’re a GM person, you had the 409 which was made famous by the Beach Boys song. By 1966, Chrysler Corporation had the mother of all muscle car engines, the 426 Hemi, otherwise known as The Elephant. So no, those original Mustangs could not keep up with the Pontiac’s, the Chevys, the Plymouths or the Dodges. But there was something about that original Mustang that appealed to the people.

The car was light; it was nimble; it was good-looking, and it was an affordable sports car. Adding a 426 Hemi as an option on a Chrysler product could cost more than a couple of thousand dollars in the mid to late 1960s. That was almost as much as the cost of the whole car. And, the Mustang adapted quite quickly with the introduction of the Boss 302, and of course the various Shelby Mustangs, which were developed as joint ventures between Ford Motor Company and the racing legend, Carol Shelby. By the later 1960s, Mustangs had come into their own as true muscle cars. The Mach 1 could be had with a 351 Cleveland engine, which with a little tweaking was quite the monster. And then of course there was the Boss 429, which was Ford’s answer to the Hemi.

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If I remember correctly, this is a 1967 Shelby GT 500 Mustang.

By 1972 and 1973, the muscle car era was dead. The mighty American V-8 had been neutered by the Arab oil embargo which brought with it the rising fuel costs. Then we had the new emissions standards (thank goodness we have those or we would not be here today), and the insurance industry’s crackdown on auto safety, which again is why we are still here today. Those Chrysler nameplates lived on for a few more years, but the cars were mere shadows of their former selves. The same thing happened over at General Motors. In fact, in 1976 you could get a Pontiac Trans Am with a 454 cubic inch V-8 that made a whopping 140 horsepower. I know because my next-door neighbor had one. So, those great muscle car names either faded away completely or became nothing more than a neutered status symbol.

However, Ford adapted as the original Mustang morphed into what was called the Mustang II. Among muscle car aficionados, these cars became the laughing-stock. They were sold with base four-cylinder engines, and like other American V-8s of the day, the bigger engines were just as anemic as the four bangers. Nevertheless, Ford had the last laugh. Ford kept building the Mustang with appeal. They were stylish, and they could be had with many different racing trim packages even though the cars were no longer really go fast machines. By the mid 1980s and into the 1990s, the only other American muscle car that was still around was the Chevrolet Camaro in the Pontiac Firebird. These cars were big and brash, but they were gutless. Somehow the Ford guys kept massaging their designs to keep the cars appealing to their customers.

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This is my friend’s car — Ken’s 2010 Mustang Shelby GT 500 making over 550 hp in Steamboat Springs, Colorado.

With the dawn of the 21st-century, our computer technology had finally allowed us to begin to push some muscle back into those tried-and-true American V-8’s while maintaining good fuel economy and clean-air. By 2005, Ford’s Mustang body was an incredible hit that looked every part of its muscle car heritage. Gone was the tiny front grill and anemic looking air intakes; that was replaced with a large aggressive, serious looking front grill. Like its grandfathers from the 60s, the new body had hips and a bold stance. And most important of all, when you stepped on the gas with the new V-8’s, things happened.

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Another friend’s 2005 Saleen edition Mustang. This is one of my all time favorite Mustangs.
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Here is Dave’s Saleen Mustang from the rear. Very cool car.

So here we are in 2018 right in the middle of another glorious muscle car era. I’m not going to lie; these new cars are so much better than their predecessors in every way possible. They are safer, more comfortable, way more fuel-efficient, and considerably faster. My Dodge Charger Hellcat can hit 60 mph in 3.4 seconds. When passing someone on the highway at 70 miles an hour, if I mash the petal, the car literally jumps ahead and I am at 100 mph in the blink of an eye. And yet, I can cruise down the highway at 70 miles an hour getting 30 miles per gallon.

Richard Shelby GT
Richard’s 2008 (maybe 2007) Shelby GT. This is a naturally aspirated V8 that was actually built at the Shelby factory in Las Vegas, Nevada. It started life as a Mustang GT.

But, I owe this to our friends over at Ford who kept that Mustang alive all of those years. The name and the legend lived on while the others faded away into our memories until about 10 years ago. Without the Mustang, there would be no Camaro ZL1 they can outdo a $350,000 Ferrari on the race track. Without the Mustang, there would’ve been no new generation Dodge Challenger. And without that, we would have no 700+ horsepower Hemi V-8 in that Dodge Charger. So I’m dedicating this post to my many Friends who drive Mustangs. Every time that Hemi puts a smile on my face, I need to remember that it wouldn’t be there except for that American icon – the original pony car, the Ford Mustang.

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My buddy, Mike had this 2013 Boss 302. Jay Leno, the avid car collector, said that this Mustang Boss 302 was the best Mustang he had ever driven.
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I took this shot on one of our trips to Steamboat Springs a few years ago. This is at Rabbit Ears Pass in mid June. Notice the snow. In the foreground is Mike’s Boss 302. In the middle is Ken’s Shelby GT 500. And at the back is Dave’s 2003 Mustang Cobra (not Shelby) convertible. That was such a cool car.

6 thoughts on “The American Pony Car

  1. My last “muscle car” was a 1970 Dodge Charger 440, which I did a complete frame off restoration, and raced it on the drag strip. Fun! Today I talked with a GTO 1968 convertible restorer. Would love to send pics? But…word press isn’t so user friendly in this?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are welcome to use my Facebook page; it should be on my WordPress main page. If not I can message you my email. Loved the last two posts about the Arizona Meteor Crater. That’s one big impact.


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