National Mustang Day....celebrating April 17 1964!

16 Apr

1964. The Beatles made their first appearance on the Ed Sullivan Show. Cassius Clay adopted a new faith, and changed his name to Muhammad Ali. Dr Martin Luther King won the Nobel Peace Prize, in America the Civil Rights Act was passed and in South Africa Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life imprisonment. The US Government issued the first warning that smoking could be dangerous to health. And a new automotive legend was born.

The Ford Mustang launch on Friday April 17 1964 would turn out to be so much more significant that just another new car introduction, for the way in which it was done, its immediate impact on the market, and the enduring influence and recognition that it continues to have to this day.

The story of Mustang’s development as a new, trend setting stylish and sporty two door model with distinctive performance cues at a very affordable price has been told many times, and is well known by all Mustang owners and fans. Perhaps less well appreciated is the story of April 17 1964 itself, and the day that America (and by extension, the world) woke up to the sensational new Ford Mustang.

The launch was carefully crafted by the Ford marketing execs, in the same way that the product engineering team had developed the car itself. With almost military precision, the strategy was one of a carefully planned advance campaign to tease the public and build awareness that something big was coming, and then....wham!! A full frontal assault on the weekend commencing Friday April 17, designed to reach and positively impact everyone,  whether an immediate new car buyer, those with a casual interest, whether a Ford fan or not, and everyone else too!

News paper ads (without details) ran from April 2, previewing the Mustang pony logo and “big news coming April 17”. These ads ramped up as they got closer, and on April 16 called everyone’s  attention to the full reveal on national TV that evening at 9.30pm, simultaneously on every US network, watched by 29 million viewers.

And as America awoke on April 17, the doors opened in every Ford dealership to showcase the all new Mustang. Plus there were Mustangs in every other location where people would see the new Mustang, no matter what else they were doing....displays in airports, banks, shopping centres, hotels.

Every advertisement, and every poster featured the same imagery, carefully selected to emphasise Mustang’s long bonnet/short boot sporty styling. A side profile of a fully optioned Mustang notchback, Wimbledon white, and heavy emphasis on the starting price, $2368. (Interestingly, the actual sale price averaged $3000, reflecting the willingness to buyers to “option up”).

The “marketing blitz” was completed with a wide range of other support actions, including high profile display at the New York World’s Trade Fair, initial media motoring reports from all the US automotive media, and the announcement that Mustang had won the Tiffany &Co award for Excellence in American Design (the first auto company to do so). In total over 2600 advertisements and stories appeared in print between April 16 -19.

The success of the April 17 launch strategy even caught Ford by surprise. Mustang production had commenced six weeks earlier, and with a daily rate of approx 540 Mustangs, there were around 16000 Mustangs in dealer showrooms or in transit across the US. But the order count, as of the end of the weekend was 22000! (As a result, urgent decisions were taken to convert two additional assembly plants to Mustang production, coming on stream mid 1964.)

So, why is National Mustang Day, and this story about April 17 1964, important? It’s because even today the essential spirit that is Mustang, and characterises Mustang owners and enthusiasts, date back directly and continuously to what happened that day. April 17 1964 was the day that Mustang captured the hearts of the public who saw the new car as something special, a car that reflected their desire for fun and style and performance, an affordable car that embodied a sense of freedom and achievement, and a car that brought people together. That’s very much what being a Mustang owner still means today, 56 years later.

Happy birthday, Ford Mustang!    

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