START YOUR ENGINES! A promotional studio shot of a 1965 Ford Mustang, produced in 1964. This first series of the popular pony car is often referred to as "1/2 Mustangs," because they were not rolled out in October 1963 with the rest of the new 1964 Ford cars.
Ford Motor Co.

The legendary FORD MUSTANG celebrates 50 years of giddyup and go.

The V-8 roars to life as Don Metz stomps on the gas. his 1967 Shelby GT 350 jets down the highway, pinning me to the seat. “It’s fun opening it up like that,” Metz says. While we stop at a light, the rumbling exhaust and flashy styling of the ice-blue Mustang draws the collective gaze of young onlookers in the next car. “Excuse me, sir,” a kid yells from the backseat, “what year is that?” Metz smiles and shouts back, “1967.” Big grins stretch across their faces.

Reactions like that have become common when Metz is driving around in one of his Mustangs. “You can’t go to the gas station without someone wanting to talk about it because they had one like it or similar to it, or a friend of theirs had one like it,” Metz says. “Everywhere you go, you run into people who relate to it and want to talk about the car. It’s pretty amazing.” Metz, the Mustang Club of America representative for the Mustang Owners Club of Austin, Texas, has been a Mustang owner for the greater part of his life, starting with a ’66 he and his brother purchased in 1969. Today, he has four, spanning from his ’67 Shelby to his wife’s 2005 Mustang.

During its 50-year history, the Mustang has been an American cultural icon. It is a centerpiece for conversation and a bond that has united thousands of people who have formed car clubs across six continents (there aren’t many automobiles in Antarctica). But if not for a visionary and his team, the Mustang would have never come to be.

In the early ’60s, Ford Motor Co. knew it needed something unique to attract the baby boomer generation that was rapidly approaching driving age. Lee Iacocca, the vice president and general manager of the Ford division at the time, was joined by engineers, designers, product planners, marketers and executives to develop a vehicle that would appeal to the younger generation and raise Ford’s stake in the compact-car market. The Fairlane Committee (the name came from their meetings held at the Fairlane Inn in Dearborn, Mich.) had to create a car that would be stylish, sporty and affordable.

Almost three years later, Iacocca walked on the stage of the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair on April 13, 1964, and Ford’s newest addition — a sporty coupe with room for four and loads of options — was unveiled. With the help of extensive market research, the car became the ­Mustang, named after the free-roaming horse based on a sketch by a Ford designer. Later, the sketch was updated, and a galloping ­Mustang became the badge for the car.