The Ford Mustang Mach 1

The year 1969 was a great year for American muscle cars as it saw the birth of the first version of the Ford Mustang Mach 1. The car became a star attraction and still, today stands out as one of the best American Autos. The Mach 1 performance option was first launched in 1968 as a 69 model and was immediately welcomed but the growing Ford Mustang fan base.

The 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 was just one of a range of Mustangs available in the late '60s and '70s. Mustangs were always 2-door but were available as the standard hardtop notch-back coupe, the full convertible and later the SportsRoof fastback. The reason for the Mach 1 popularity was the cars offered customers a real performance option at an affordable price. You could buy the base model for looks or put some serious muscle under the hood. Your choice.

Based on a concept car of 1967 the Mach 1 was introduced in 1968 and was positioned below the Shelby GT350 and GT500 range of Bullitt mustang fame and the high spec racing specials the BOSS 302 and BOSS 429. During the first 4 years, the Mustang Mach 1 would evolve in looks with changes to lights and grill and different paint and decals. In 1974 Ford changed the whole Mustang range with a Mustang II body re-design, a smaller lighter range to match the changing times. The Mach 1 version survived in its new form until production ceased in 1978.

The Mach 1 missed out completely during the Fox-chassis Mustang 3 years. Ford was to re-introduce the Mustang Mach 1 in 2003 on the new Mustang 4 chassis as a nod to their heritage and the original Mach 1 styling.

The 1969 to 1970 Ford Mustang Mach 1

The birth of the Ford Mustang Mach 1 came in Aug 1968 when this iconic suffix was given to another performance option of the now very popular Mustang pony car. The original concept of the pony car was already being stretched from a sporty little 2 door runabout by the Shelby Mustang GT's with race breading and it was soon to be shattered by the BOSS Mustangs to come. But slipping in between was the very attractive Mustang Mach 1.

The Mustang Mach 1's unique proposition was you could have a car that was a minor modification of the much loved standard Mustangs but with the addition of some visual prompts that made it look like it belonged to the race-bred versions. This gave a much more affordable car that was a practical everyday vehicle. However, if you had the money and desire you had the option of putting real muscle under the hood and uprating the rest to get a car that performed as well as it looked.

Big Engines ruled the day and V8 was the order. Starting with the 351-ci small block with 250 hp and rising to the awesome big block 428-ci Cobra Jet with 335 hp with optional Ram Air Shaker Hood. The more civilized Mach 1 and BOSS became the models of choice leading to the demise of the Mustang GT that same year.

The chassis was restricted to the new fastback or sports back version and no convertible or notchback was available. In 1971 the front end and rear sports back were restyled to the be much flatter than before. This gave a whole new look to the lights and grill but emphasized the big powerful rake of the original.

That the '69 Mach 1 was a good looking machine there is no doubt. The full black hood held down with tethered racing style pins and the optional shaker air intake. Color-keyed racing style door mirrors pop open fuel filler and chrome style wheels made it look the finished item.

In 1970 small changes were made. A few new engine options, rear stabilizer bar were added. On the styling side, the full black hood was limited to a central area with twist type hood fasteners. The larger Mach 1 decal on rear and lower side body and the loss of two front lights in place of mock air intakes.

1971 to 1973 Ford Mustang Mach 1

The Mustangs of 1971 were very different in shape and size to all the previous models. The new Mach 1 being a fastback had it's metal panels changed with a larger higher rear end and a longer and more square front end. The beautifully styled Milano concept car had some very simple lines and it is easy to see why the new Mustang body was chosen but the problem is that it never captured that pure simplicity of that original concept car.

More space was required for the bigger and more powerful V8 engines and so the body grew by 3 inches in width, 2 inches in length and 1 inch in wheelbase. This, of course, all means extra weight and cost. In a time when the oil crisis was looming and the market was shifting towards smaller, lighter more fuel efficient motors it turned out to be a move in the wrong direction for the consumer. This would not be remedied until the 1974 Mustang II was released.

As they say, one man's meat is another man's poison and so while the market was slow with the new models all the petrol heads from then till now still appreciate the last throws of the big block dynasty. Standard motor for the 71 Mach 1 was a 210 hp 302 small block, two barrel V8. This was intended to appeal to the conservative buyer who liked the look but didn't need to prove a point. For those who liked to prove a point or two, the 370 hp 429 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet with Drag Pack were optional. In between were the 240 hp 351 two barrel and 285 hp 351 four barrel motors. Transmissions were 3 or 4-speed manuals or the Cruise-o-matic auto box, but not all boxes were available with all engine options.

Externally apart from the obvious body shape came some nice features such as the pop-open fuel filler set in a black honeycomb grill at the rear. Optional dual hood scoops were there either as dummy non-functional or functional when the optional ram induction system was fitted. Lower body paint was black whilst the bumpers were color-keyed in urethane at the front and chrome at the rear. Changes to the interior with dash options, high back bucket seats, simulated wood inserts many of which were to be paid for as extras.

As far as film credits go look no further than the chase scene in James Bond 'Diamonds are forever' where he gets in on two wheels, is it the left or right? Maybe both.

1974 to 1978 Ford Mustang Mach 1

After those short years of true muscle car looks and performance 1974 brought a reversal back to the original pony car concept with the launch of the Mustang II chassis. This was a more economical nimble footed version that took account of the changing world order of oil and rising gas prices.

The standard plant was a 105 bhp 2.8ltr V-6 that proved to be too underpowered for the sporty image that was required. In 1975 the 122 bhp 302ci V-8 was added and later upgraded to 139 bhp but it was not enough to stop the Mach 1 sales from fading away and finally going out of production with the Mustang II in 1978. Sales in 1974 were good but faded badly in a difficult climate and the Mach 1 failed to live up to its heritage. In 1979 the Mustang II chassis was replaced by the Fox-chassis or Fox-bodied Mustangs that would never carry the Mach 1 badge, a wise move.

The 1974 Mach1 was a 2 + 2 hatchback layout with some of the external styling of the previous Mach 1 machines. It was a welcome change and attracted good support initially. When all considered though it was a mere shadow of what had gone before. The ideal pony car it may have become but enthusiasts had come to love the stallion.

The slide began across the whole range in 1975 with sales halving. At least a small block V8 122 hp 302 may have prolonged the interest. 1976 saw sales plummet even further but with a good excuse. The launch of the Cobra II. The Cobra with its striking twin stripes, spoilers front and rear and various power plants was to outsell the Mach 1 by 2.5: 1. Nothing much to add for the 1977 edition. Sales continue to fall with other options to spend your money on. In its final year of production 1978 sales perk up a little but its the last gasp of breath before a terminal sleep.

So all in all the Mustang Mach 1 stretched nearly a decade. A decade in which its identity was confused. A lightweight sporty fashion beauty or a muscle-bound race bread beast. I guess that means something for everyone. For me, it would have to be the 1970 Mach 1 428 CJ for its balance of style, smooth lines, attention to detail and raw power.

There was just one more chapter to the Mach 1 story but that would not come until 2003.

2003 to 2004 Ford Mustang Mach 1 Remake

In 2003 the Mach 1 trotted back with a retro-styled black striped hood and a Shaker scoop that gave the owner a glimpse of the 1969 version but with the comfort and driveability of a modern high tech machine. Ford saw a gap in their line-up between the budget Mustang GT and the high-end SVT Cobra and the Mach 1 just fit well between the two. At this stage, the Mustang 4th generation chassis is coming to its end of life and the 40th anniversary approaches. So time for a bit of nostalgia before the new era beckoned.

The 305-bhp 4.6-ltr V-8 DOHC with 4 valves per cylinder was enough power to outperform the original big-block machines. On a quarter mile, it would out-drag the '69 Mach 1 Cobra Jet. This car was special and the Mach 1 badge well deserved.

Handling was also much better due to a modern lowered and stiffened suspension. This car certainly has a large following of enthusiasts who see it as a worthy bridge to the original machines. Power is one thing but stopping when required is another. The 2003 Mustang Mach 1 had all around Brembo power disk brakes to do the job. The transmission was a Tremec five-speed manual or auto box as an option although auto performance was limited.

Internally there were some nice touches such as the aluminum ball shifter and retro instruments but a generally more modern interpretation of the original. Apart from a few color options, there were few changes to the 2004 Mustang Mach 1 line-up. And so the icon that had been faded from the scene and as yet not returned to be admired.