This year marks the 50th anniversary of three big events for classic cars.
First, the “pony” car era began April 17, 1964, with the release of the Mustang to the public.
Much like the Beatles’ appearance on “The Ed Sullivan Show” in February of that year, there was a frenzy surrounding the car’s release and the anticipation was almost palpable. The Mustang had undergone an incredible marketing blitz by Ford and thus V-6 and V-8 Mustangs were snapped up in record numbers by consumers during the year.
Interestingly, sales projections for the model year by Ford were pegged at 100,000, but sales passed that figure in the first three months. About 418,000 units were sold in the first year. Another highlight is that the Plymouth Barracuda was actually the first “pony” car to be released on April 1, 1964, but it was not as popular as the Mustang.
Also, in 1964, the GTO was released. The GTO wwas also a variant of an existing car that had low sales projections – this time of around 5,000 units.
Now, the 1964 GTO is considered by most to be the mother of the muscle car era, with its 389 engine stuffed into an intermediate sized frame. The GTO was offered as an option package on the Pontiac Le Mans and should never have been made available to the public because GM had a company policy restricting cubic inches to 330 for that size of car. A few executives at Pontiac sneakily got the car approved and before anyone could stop it, there were more than 10,000 orders for the car on its way to total sales of 32,450 for the year.
Sales were, no doubt, boosted by Car and Driver magazine’s road test of the Pontiac, where the car accelerated from 0-100 in 11.8 seconds. Of course left out for more than 30 years was that the test Pontiac GTO actually had a souped up 421 engine in it. Nevertheless, the muscle car era had officially begun in earnest as all manufacturers rushed to get a piece of the pie.
The third huge event of ’64 involved not a car, but a legendary “elephant” engine. The 426 race Hemi engine was first produced in 1964 for racing purposes and it completely dominated the NASCAR events of that year. So much so that the engine was outlawed for 1965 by NASCAR on the premise that those engines were not installed in cars that could be bought by the public.
Dodge rectified this situation in 1966 by introducing the street Hemi in cars sold to the public and meeting the requirements of NASCAR.
Bill Deaton of Fort Mill is the owner of B&D Business Services in Rock Hill and also a classic car enthusiast. He can be reached at email@example.com for comments or any story ideas.