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  Mustang's Rise to Popular Culture "Pop Star" Status

  Apr 26, 2004
  By:  Ford Motor Company


* Beatlemania and Mustang invade America in 1964.
* Mustang makes costar Steve McQueen No. 1 with a "Bullitt."
* "Little Cobra" shuts down Sting Ray on the radio while "Sally" rides into pop-music immortality.

The U.S. Postal Service polled Americans in 1999, asking them to vote for the people, places and things that set the trends for American popular culture in each decade of the 20th century. Top vote getters from the 1960s ranged from the Fab Four to the to the Fab "Four-on-the-Floor."

That was the reason Ford Mustang became a commemorative stamp in the postal service's "Celebrate the Century" series, along with other symbols of '60s, including the Beatles, man landing on the moon and the Green Bay Packers.

Rarely do commercial products transcend their market niches and become woven into the fabric of American popular culture. There's the hot dog introduced in 1871, Coca-Cola in 1894, the cheeseburger in 1934 and the Barbie doll in 1959.

Like Beatlemania 40 years ago, "Mustang mania" began the day the car went on sale in April 1964. A Ford dealer in Chicago locked the doors of the new Pony cars in his showroom out of fear for the safety of customers trying to crowd into them.

In Garland, Texas, 15 customers bid on the same Mustang, and the winner slept overnight outside the dealership until his check cleared the bank in the morning. In Pittsburgh, a restaurant advertised, "Our hotcakes sell like Mustangs."

Before the Mustang was three years old, it had more than 500 registered fan clubs.

Mustang's pop-culture status has been perpetuated in more than 500 movie and video works. Its cameos and close-ups have ranged from a series of sexy sidekick roles with James Bond to MTV videos alongside Sheryl Crow and Britney Spears. Mustang has been the casting director's vehicle of choice to underscore the theme of all-American muscle from "Apollo 13" (a '66 Shelby GT 350) to "Urban Cowboy" (a '67 coupe).

Its greatest Oscar-worthy performance was in the legendary car-chase scene in the 1968 police drama "Bullitt," in which a 1968 GT 390 catapulted Steve McQueen through the streets of San Francisco and created an indelible image in the minds of millions of baby boomers.

Mustang has appeared alongside such megastars as Tom Cruise ("Born on the Fourth of July"), Paul Newman ("Harper"), Robert De Niro ("Cape Fear") and Robert Redford ("The Candidate"). It went under the stage name "Eleanor" alongside Nicolas Cage in "Gone in 60 Seconds," appeared in a pair of Academy Award winners ("Guess Who's Coming to Dinner" and "The French Connection") and even was raised to the high heavens as George Burns's ride when he played the title character in "Oh, God."

Mustang has had plenty of airtime on the radio, too, as songwriters have tried to outdo each other in setting its muscle to music. The Rip Chords bragged, "The Stingrays and Jags were so far behind, I took my Cobra out of gear and let it coast to the line" in their classic race tune "Hey Little Cobra." Chuck Berry used the lyrical image of spinning the wheels backward and employing a rear parachute to get "My Ford Mustang" to come a stop. In the next verse, he described how his speedy "cherry red" overshot his intended stop in Indianapolis, ending him up in Terre Haute.

David Bowie used the Mustang to symbolize his female character's free spirit in "Young Americans" in 1972. But, perhaps the most famous Mustang song of all time is the Sir Mack Rice/Wilson Pickett 1965 classic "Mustang Sally." The song embodied the liberated spirit of the many young women who drove Mustangs and chronicled the frustration of one male suitor's failure to win the heart of the heroine, lamenting, "All you want to do is ride around, Sally, ride Sally ride."


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