The Ford Mustang is an icon in American motor vehicle history. Over the last 50 years, few vehicles have earned the same acclaim and following as the Mustang. At any point in the Ford Mustang history timeline, you’ll discover that this was much more than a simple car. All of the Mustang generation years were boldly changing the industry standard and rising to meet consumer expectations.
At Raybuck Auto Body Parts, we have a fond appreciation for classic Mustang history. All six Mustang generations have their own unique hallmarks, and it’s difficult to single out one as the absolute best. From the Fox Body to the Shelby GT to the King Cobra, Ford has given us a parking lot full of amazing Mustang models over the last half of a century.
- First Generation (1964-1973)
- Second Generation (1974-1978)
- Third Generation (1979-1993)
- Fourth Generation (1994-2004)
- Fifth Generation (2005-2014)
- Sixth Generation (2015-Present)
- Decoding VIN & Door Plate Codes
The Evolution of the Ford Mustang: Six Generations and Beyond
From 1964 until today, the Ford Mustang history timeline is stacked with an impressive line of high-performance models. Let’s take a ride through Ford Mustang history, cruising through the various Mustang generations to see how this beloved car was first envisioned and how it may look in the future.
First Generation Ford Mustang: 1964 – 1973
When the first Ford Mustang came off of the line in the mid-1960s, it was an instant best-seller and sold more than 400,000 models in the first year alone. More than one million of these cars were built over the next decade. Unveiled by Henry Ford at the World’s Fair in New York, the Ford Mustang was priced at $2,368. The original Mustang was featured in James Bond Goldfinger. The Fastback body style was changed in 1967, and it’s 1968 version appeared in Steve McQueen’s movie Bullitt.
Ford changed the Mustang’s body shape in 1969, making it larger than the previous model. In ’69 and ’70 they also released new trim and performance packages such as the Mach 1 and the Boss. The Mustangs of ’69 and ’70 are some of the most desired models to collectors. Known as a “pony car,” the Mustang launched a new generation of automobiles with countless imitations. By 1971, however, the Mustang’s redesigns were bulkier and notably different from the first editions, forcing Ford to rethink their popular vehicle.
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Second Generation Ford Mustang: 1974 – 1978
A decade after Ford introduced the revolutionary Mustang to the world, they reinvented it for the masses. First released in 1974, the second generation of classic Mustang history was marked by the “Pintostang” — a Mustang design based on the Pinto platform. Known as the Mustang II, this was pitched as an “upscale economy car” as opposed to the “working man’s Thunderbird” of the first generation. These vehicles were smaller but much more fuel-efficient. This generation was also the shortest of the Ford Mustangs.
With a 4-cylinder engine, the Mustang II found success within its first year, nearly selling as many models as the first generation’s maiden year. It won Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award, a title that the Mustang wouldn’t receive again for another two decades. Ford then produced the flashy Cobra II and King Cobra Mustang. Although the Mustang II was able to meet the changing demands of the market, Ford lovers were missing the hallmarks of the original Mustang, which Ford would quickly cater to.
The one great thing that came from this redesign was the front suspension. With its tubular a-arms, coil springs, and rack-and-pinion steering, this compact independent front suspension was quickly adopted up by the hot rod community and is widely mimicked today.
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Third Generation Ford Mustang: 1979 – 1993
Of the many Mustang generations, the third generation is the longest in Ford Mustang history. Released in 1979, the Fox Body Mustang was a new design blended with a return to form. Incorporating the same Fox platform that was used in the Mercury Zephyr and the Ford Fairmont, this Mustang offered a number of different engine options from an inline-four to a V8. It retained the long hood and short rear deck of past models but added rectangular headlights and a European-esque design.
In 1983, a turbo-charged engine and a new convertible design continued to showcase the Mustang’s power, performance and style. By the end of the 1980s, Ford began manufacturing the Ford Mustang SSP for law enforcement use. Thankfully, they gave civilians their own high-performance model in 1993 known as the Ford SVT Mustang Cobra.
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Fourth Generation Ford Mustang: 1994 – 2004
1994 marked the 30th anniversary of the original Mustang, and Ford wanted to commemorate it with a new line of models. Celebrating the Mustang generations of days gone, Ford introduced the new SN-95 Mustang. Again, drivers wanted a more recognizable Mustang, so Ford designed the SN-95 with features that resembled the first generation, such as a twin-cowl dashboard. The exterior, however, featured a more modern shape that was larger and stiffer. The 1994 and 1996 models had 5.0-liter and 4.6-liter modular V8 engines, respectively.
The 1994 Mustang GT etched another victory in Ford Mustang history by once again claiming Motor Trend’s Car of the Year award. The GT could go from 0 to 60 in about six seconds and birthed a number of special additions. The SVT Cobra and Bullitt were followed up in 1999 with Ford’s “New Edge” styling, allowing the Mustang to race into the Millennium in a class all its own.
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Fifth Generation Ford Mustang: 2005 – 2014
The fourth generation of the Ford Mustang enjoyed a decade of success, but by 2005, the world was ready for yet another variation of the iconic automobile. Looking back at classic Mustang history, Ford manufactured their newest models with a D2C platform that resembled the style of the first generation car. The fifth generation of the Mustang was a hit and encouraged other automobile manufacturers to resurrect their classic models. Again, the Ford Mustang was setting the pace for the industry.
Along with a brand-new Mustang, the fifth generation also brought back an old favorite: the return of the Shelby Mustang. The Shelby GT500 Mustang and the GT500KR Mustang could reach 662 horsepower with a 5.0-liter engine. Ford also created a fifth generation Bullitt modeled after the ’68 classic.
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Sixth Generation Ford Mustang: 2015 – Present
The modern Mustang is more than just a car. It’s the effort, imagination and innovation of the last half of a century. Ford celebrated the 50th anniversary of the legendary car by releasing the 2015 Mustang. This sixth generation model features a 2.3-liter EcoBoost four-cylinder engine and received a 5-star rating from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. The new Shelby GT500 also became the most popular Shelby ever created.
What’s next in the long legacy of Ford Mustang history? The seventh generation is planned for release in 2022, and while there are no official details about body style or what’s under the hood, the rumors we’ve heard already have us in overdrive. The S650, launching in 2022 for the 2023 model year, may be a hybrid, all-wheel-drive system with electric motors on each front wheel backed by a V8 engine that delivers exceptional low-end torque.
Although it’s not official, one thing is for sure: We’ll be ready to test drive the next entry in the Ford Mustang timeline the minute it leaves the line.
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Decoding Classic Mustangs
Over the last fifty years, the Ford Mustang timeline has given us a number of impressive, innovative cars that astound even the most discerning car enthusiast. With so many of these beasts on the road, we believe all Mustang lovers should be able to easily identify and learn more about each model using door plate codes, VIN codes and engine identification tags.
Door Plate Codes
Lovers of classic Mustang history can quickly view a list of all original options for models manufactured from 1964 through 1973 via this Ford Mustang door plate decoder. Use the warranty number and door tag information to view this information, keeping in mind that the original door tag may have been changed after an accident. If you don’t have the door tag information, enter the VIN in the warranty number box.
All vehicles, Ford or otherwise, will have a 17-digit VIN code identifying the country of production, manufacturer, vehicle type, attributes, model year, assembly plant and unique vehicle number. Each Mustang VIN code will tell you everything from the technical specs to the safety equipment to the available colors, styles and trims. Decode a Mustang’s VIN effortlessly with this Ford Mustang VIN decoder.
For those who want to learn more about the early generation engines, you can find the Engine Identification Tags by referencing these codes:
- S550 EITs are found on the front of the engine block itself.
- S197 EITs are found on the driver-side apron fender.
- SN95 EITs are found stamped on the engine block itself.
- Foxbody EITs are found on the front-passenger side fender.
Mustang Restoration Parts From Raybuck Auto Body Parts
All six Ford Mustang generations deserve to ride free across the nation. Keep your Mustang looking and running at peak condition with restoration and replacement parts from Raybuck. Raybuck Auto Body Parts has a vast inventory of Ford Mustang parts for all Mustang generation years.
Our industry reputation has held strong over the last 35 years thanks to our partnerships with trusted brands, top-tier quality parts and exceptional service. We love classic Mustang history just as much as you do, and we’re here to help you keep your Mustang running for the long haul.
Browse our restoration and replacement parts or contact us with any questions.