25 September 2007

And then there was the Mustang.

It has become a legend. Sales were phenomenal. It even beat the Ford Falcon's first year sales record, though not by very much. Proof, of course, that Americans wanted muscular sporty cars.

Well, no, actually. It was a triumph of styling and marketing. Here's Lyon again from Cars of the Sensational '60s,

The long hood/short deck lines were fresh, the dimensions compact but sporty, and the look came to define a generation of two-door coupes know as "pony cars.

But the kicker is this.
... the first Mustangs were as much bird as horse. Underneath the jaunty coupe sheet metal, the chassis was largely borrowed from the Ford Falcon.

The appeal of the first Mustangs, until Ford tried to turn them into muscle cars, was that they looked good, and were cheap and practical. My friend Budweiser, who in that period was a high school near dropout who spent most of his time on the beach in central Florida, remembers that at first they were a "chick car." They were popular with young women, not the stereotypical driver of the supposed male fantasy "Mustang."

The car only cost $2,368, which was cheap even back then. "Ford's true stroke of genius was to offer a mile-long option list. With it, a buyer could personalize their purchase, according to their wants, needs and the depths of their pockets."

Notice that last phrase. Any car salesman will tell you, they make their money on the options.

I am not saying that Americans did not like their cars big, overdressed, and fast, but at least part of the impulse for this came from the manufacturers and the allure of a relatively narrow but glamorous (and lucrative) part of that market. Small, economical cars, with relatively small engines that were easy on gas always had an enormous market. It's just that the car manufacturers of America did not want to waste too much time catering to them.

In the years to come, weird little foreign cars, to the open derision and scorn of Detroit, would start paying a great deal of attention to that segment. Through the 60s and 70s the American manufacturers virtually ceded that portion of the market to the foreign companies. They themselves knew that they knew what Americans really wanted.

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At 26 September, 2007 09:23, Blogger jack perry said...

It's just that the car manufacturers of America did not want to waste too much time catering to them.

...and so Geo was dismembered, and Saturn became a rebadged Opel.

At 26 September, 2007 23:11, Blogger Clemens said...

Yep. And even Toyota is making its mini-Scions longer, lower, wider, as the Chevrolet ads on Bonanza used to say.


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