The Mustang's wild success and popularity fifty years ago was almost unbelievable. Certainly, it was enough to create a great deal of envy among Ford's rivals. This of course spurred them to try and match the Mustang's success, each of course failing to do so. Other companies tried to develop their own version of the pony car, and within three years there were several competitors to the Mustang, but no other even came close to matching the Mustang's sales in the 1960s.
The Mustang had a formula, one that was pretty straightforward. It came in three body styles- a coupe, a convertible and a fastback. It had a variety of engine choices and a low starting price. It also came with a wide list of options that allowed buyers to personalize their Mustang. Fifty years later one would think that it shouldn't have been too hard to replicate the formula, but it seems that manufacturers back then just couldn't make it work.
Chrysler actually hit the market two weeks earlier than Ford with it's compact Barracuda. As the Mustang was derived from the Falcon, the Barracuda shared DNA with the Plymouth Valiant economy car. However, the Mustang shared none of the Falcon's body, which might have been the Barracuda's problem, it couldn't hide it's humble beginnings, which affected it's image as a sports car. The Barracuda also only came in one style- the fastback. The Barracuda was redesigned in 1967, and then offered in hardtop, fastback and convertible models with more power. Production grew substantially, but still never even came close to the Mustang.
Studebaker also tried to give the Mustang a run for it's money with the luxurious Avanti. Unfortunately, it was well within a different price bracket and more sophisticated. It was better suited to take on the Ford Thunderbird.
American Motors had two sporty cars at the time, the Rambler 440 and the Marlin fastback. Neither was able to truly challenge the Mustang though- the Marlin was too big and the Rambler was marketed as an economy car. In 1968 they launched a two-seater AMX and a four-seater Javelin, again, failing to even come close to the Mustang's success.
GM had their Chevrolet Corvair. It came in several body styles, offered turbocharged engines and was the closest model they had to the Mustang. The Corvair, however, was designed to take on imports like the Beetle and various British sports cars with it's rear-engine design.
Volvo had the P1800 sport coupe that was launched in 1961. It wasn't really a contender, as it didn't offer any engine or body-style choices and was much more expensive than the Mustang.
In 1967, Ford brought out the Mercury Cougar. It was a European-inspired performance car, a luxurious pony. Underneath, it shared many of the Mustang's characteristics and was another huge success for Ford. It outsold every other non-Mustang car on the market those days, except for the Chevy Camaro.
The Chevrolet Camaro was introduced in late 1966, coming closer than any other car on the market to truly challenging the Mustang's success throughout the rest of the 1960s. It, and the Pontiac Firebird, which hit dealerships in 1967 were offered in coupe and convertible models with a wide array of high-performance options. A year later, GM launched the 1968 Pontiac Firebird Trans-Am coupe.
It's been said that Ford's success was about the company's comprehension of the size of the youth market, and their development of a car that would appeal to the baby boomers who were beginning to exercise their purchasing power.
By Linda Aylesworth - autoExpert.ca