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Buying a Used Ford Mustang: Everything You Need to Know

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author photo by Basem Wasef December 2014

Why Buy a Used Ford Mustang?

The lure of the Mustang is strong for car enthusiasts of all stripes. One of the oldest continuously produced models in automotive history, the 50-year-old nameplate carries a rich history of trendsetting style and evocative lineage that's challenged by few rivals, including the Chevrolet Corvette and Porsche 911. The instantly recognizable Mustang has left an indelible mark on culture, playing memorable roles in films and television shows including "Bullitt," "Charlie's Angels" and "Gone in 60 Seconds." They also represent a level of attainability that eludes their aforementioned higher-priced competitors. Spare parts are readily available for all but the rarest of limited edition models, and maintenance is relatively affordable given the model's potent levels of performance. With a wide variety of flavors, styles and generations available, the only question is where to begin your quest for a secondhand 'Stang.

A Brief History of the Pony Car

Nearly 10 million Mustangs have been sold since the model debuted as a 1964 1/2 vehicle. Initially unveiled as a car that "has generated more advance interest than any new product in the Ford Division's 15-year history," the Mustang was championed by now-legendary executive Lee Iacocca, who debuted the car at the New York World's Fair. The Mustang was aimed at young buyers with the target of being priced under $2,500 and weighing less than 2,500 pounds. It may not have sounded promising, but the new sports car made a massive splash, selling 22,000 units on opening day and a staggering one million vehicles in its first 2 years on the market.

The Mustang started with a $2,300 sticker price and a 170-cu-in V8, with a 260-cu-in V8 available as an option. Since that first model, the Mustang has seen no fewer than 10 generations, which are most easily distinguished by their platforms:

  • 1964 1/2-1973 Mustangs were built on the Falcon platform, and among the most collectible early models is the '65 Shelby 350, which packed a 306 horsepower 289-cu-in V8. The latter part of this period saw a dramatic increase in size, weight and engine displacement, exemplified by the 1971 Boss 351, which was available with the rare 429 Super Cobra Jet engine.
  • The 1974-1978 Mustang II was created as a reaction to the fuel crisis. These small-bodied cars were based on the unloved Pinto platform, and are considered among the least desirable Mustangs in history.
  • 1979-1993 Mustangs saw a resurgence of crowd-pleasing power and were built on Ford's Fox platform, which was shared by myriad models including the Fairmont, the Thunderbird and the Granada. This era saw the debut of the fabled 5.0 engine designation, as well as the Special Vehicles Operation (SVO) version, which was powered by an unorthodox turbocharged 4-cylinder.
  • 1994-2004 Mustangs enjoyed a major redesign, and during this period, Ford celebrated its 300 millionth vehicle in the form of a 2004 Mustang GT Convertible 40th Anniversary Edition. This time frame also saw the demise of the Mustang's closest competitors: the Pontiac Firebird and Chevrolet Camaro -- the latter eventually returning after a 7-year retirement.
  • 2005-2014 Mustangs enjoyed significant refinements and more spin-off models than ever, epitomized by the Shelby GT500KR and the Boss 302.
  • The 2015 Mustang reflects the most dramatic mechanical upgrades to date, namely the introduction of an independent rear suspension (replacing the solid, or "live," rear axle) that dramatically changes the car's road manner and brings new levels of refinement. Though the SVT Cobra model featured an independent rear setup 14 years earlier, that was a limited edition model that proved to be the exception, not the rule, until 2015 rolled around.

Which Pony Car Is Right For Me?

The attraction to particular older Mustangs will likely depend on your aesthetic tastes -- whether you prefer the classic, unadorned shapes of the early cars, the bulky muscularity of the '70s, the boxiness of the '80s, the rounded edges of the '90s or the retro-inspired designs of the mid-2000s. Then there's the question of power, which almost invariably highlights the Shelby variants named after the late, great tuning legend Carroll Shelby. Standouts from Shelby include the GT350 ('65 and '15) and GT500 ('67 and various subsequent years), many of which have become 6-figure collectibles.

The Ford Mustang has had its share of ups and downs, with power peaking, plateauing and dipping depending on global petroleum supplies. Convertible models have also ebbed and flowed. In 1973 there was an absence for as long as a decade when Mustang IIs, the least desirable 'Stangs, were produced.

While the new 2015 Mustang is a world-class sports car that shows Ford's ability to refine and perfect its icon, there's no shortage of historic Mustangs to satisfy buyers seeking classic American muscle.

This image is a stock photo and is not an exact representation of any vehicle offered for sale. Advertised vehicles of this model may have styling, trim levels, colors and optional equipment that differ from the stock photo.
Buying a Used Ford Mustang: Everything You Need to Know - Autotrader