- Pony car
The pony car is a class of
automobilelaunched and inspired by the FordMustang in 1964. It describes an affordable, compact, highly styled car with a sporty or performance-oriented image.
Origins of the breed
The pony car (and of course the Mustang itself) had its beginnings at
Ford Motor Companyin the late 1950s following the demise of the original, two-seat Ford Thunderbird. While the Thunderbird's transformation into a larger, four-seat personal luxury car, starting with the 1958 model year, proved to be successful in sales terms, dealers and buyers alike lamented the loss of the two-seat 'Bird, which served as a halo car(image leader) for the company and a traffic-builder in showrooms, attracting buyers who would ultimately purchase more mundane automobiles. For several years Ford explored various plans for reviving some equivalent of the early Thunderbird.
An added impetus came from
Chevrolet, with the popularity of the Corvair Monza introduced in mid-1960. The initial Corvair had been positioned as an economy car, but it was much more successful with the plusher trim and sportier image of the Monza model that included bucket seats and a floor-mounted transmission shifter, which sold around 144,000 units by 1961 - starting a trend toward sportier cars with bucket-seats in all sizes from compacts to full-size cars. Ford responded to the compact Corvair Monza with sportier Futura and Futura Sprint versions of its Ford Falcon, and Chryslerwith the Plymouth Valiant Signet and Dodge Dart GT, as well as American Motors(AMC) with the 440-H and Rogue versions of the Rambler American, and Studebakerwith the sporty Daytona version of its compact Lark. Other sporty bucket-seat compact cars that appeared during the early 1960s included the Mercury CometS-22, Oldsmobile F-85Cutlass, Buick SpecialSkylark, and Pontiac TempestLeMans. Most of these sporty compacts came standard with the same economical six-cylinder engines as their more mundane counterparts, but in some cases more powerful V8 engines were at least optional along with four-speed manual transmissions and center consoles housed between the front bucket seats.
Some interesting technical developments of the early sporty compact cars offered in the U.S. (1961-63) included a turbocharged six-cylinder in the rear-engine Corvair Monza Spyder/Corsa (1962-66), turbocharged aluminum V8 on the 1962-63 Oldsmobile Cutlass Jetfire and a standard auto CID|194|1 four-cylinder engine mated to a rear transaxle on the 1961-63 Pontiac Tempest LeMans in several states of tune, including a four-barrel high-performance option, as well as (in 1963) a large (for a compact car) auto CID|326|1 V8 that was optional with up to Convert|280|hp|kW|0|abbr=on.
Although the sporty compacts were a commercial success for most automakers, some auto executives, however, principally Ford's
Lee Iacocca, believed that sporty versions of mundane compact cars only scratched the surface of the potential market. During this period there was a strong influx of young buyers with discretionary income and a taste for vehicles with a younger image than a standard sedan, and Iacocca's marketing studies revealed that if a unique-looking sporty car could be offered at an affordable price, it would find many buyers. Ford's response to this demand was the Mustang, launched on April 17 1964, which proved to be an enormous success. The company was forecasting sales for the first year to reach 100,000 units. However, Ford dealers took 22,000 orders the first day and the company had to shift production mid-year. The extended model year sales totaled 618,812 Mustangs. [http://media.ford.com/newsroom/feature_display.cfm?release=20253 Engelman, Emily "Ford to Increase Mustang Production to Meet Consumer Demand" Ford Press Resease, March 18, 2005] . Retrieved on 2008-01-30.]
Defining the class
The Mustang provided the template for the new class of automobiles. Although it was based on the platform of the Falcon, it had a unique body (offered as a
hardtop coupéand a convertible) with distinctive, "long hood, short deck" proportions. In basic form it was mechanically mundane, with a auto CID|170|1 six-cylinder engine coupled to a three-speed manual transmission. It carried an attractive base price of US$2,368 that included bucket seats, carpeting, floor shifter, sport steering wheel, and full wheel covers. The Mustang also had an extensive option list offering a range of V8 engines, Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmissionor four-speed manual gearbox, radios, air conditioning, power steering, and other accessories. A V8 Mustang with all available options would cost about 60% more than a basic model with a six-cylinder engine, which made it an extremely profitable model for Ford.
The requirements were therefore set:
* Attractive, sporty styling
* Affordable base price
* Extensive options, including six-cylinder and
* Aggressive, youth-oriented
While most of the pony cars offered more powerful engines and performance packages, enough to qualify some into
muscle carterritory, a substantial number were sold with six-cylinder engines or ordinary V8s. For the most part, the high-performance models saw limited sales and were largely limited to drag racing, road racing, or racing homologationpurposes.
Pony car competitors
Despite the immediate success of the Mustang, many (including some within Ford) feared that the bubble would soon burst, and other manufacturers were relatively slow to respond. The first competitor was the
Plymouth Barracuda, which actually went on sale on April 1 1964, about two weeks before the Mustang. [ [http://www.musclecarclub.com/musclecars/plymouth-cuda/plymouth-cuda-history.shtml Plymouth 'Cuda History 1964-1974] , retrieved on November 10 2007.] The Barracuda was not a direct response to the Mustang, which had not yet debuted (although Chrysler was certainly aware of the upcoming model), but a low-cost way to expand the sporty appeal of the Valiant. Chrysler's precarious financial situation meant that the Barracuda was compromised, with insufficient distinction from the Valiant and styling that drew mixed reactions; its sales were a fraction of the Mustang's. Some mentioned that if the Barracuda was successful, as well as the similar fastback Rambler Tarponintroduced as planned before the Mustang [Mitchell, Larry G. AMC Muscle Cars. Motorbooks - MBI Publishing, Inc. 2000, ISBN: 076030761X Page 17.] , the term for this class of automobile might have been "fish car," rather than "pony car." [ [http://www.allpar.com/model/cuda.html "The Plymouth Barracuda: First Pony (Fish?) Car" by Doug Zwick with material by Allpar and by Lanny Knutson, not dated] , retrieved on 2008-01-30.] However, the Mustang, unlike the Barracuda, featured a completely unique body style from the car on which it was based (the Ford Falcon), making it the first true pony car. [ [http://www.74barracuda.com/64_66.htm "1964-1966 Barracuda" not dated] , retrieved on 2008-01-30.]
Initially, General Motors believed that the restyled 1965 Corvair would be an adequate challenger for the Mustang, but when it became clear that the Corvair itself was doomed, the more conventional
Chevrolet Camarowas introduced, going on sale for the 1967 model year, at the time the Mustang was entering its second generation. They were presently joined by the Camaro-based Pontiac Firebird, the Mercury Cougar, and, in 1968, the AMC Javelin. Dodgejoined the party belatedly, while the last to arrive was the 1970 Dodge Challenger, an enlarged version of the Barracuda.
The pony car was primarily an American phenomenon, but in 1969, Ford created a highly successful European equivalent in the
Ford Capri. Sharing most of its underpinnings and its four- and six-cylinder engines with an ordinary model, (the Ford Cortina), it had a combination of style and image very much in the spirit of the Mustang. The European Ford Capri (sold in the U.S. as a Mercury Capri through 1978 at Lincoln-Mercury dealerships) was last imported for the 1978 model year, and the nameplate was placed on a rebadged Fox-body Mustang until it survived through 1987. The Toyota Celicawas introduced in 1970 with strong styling cues from the Mustang. It was aimed at a similar market, and could arguably be considered the first Japanese pony car.
While sales were strong throughout the end of the 1960s, the greater value of the pony cars was in bringing buyers, particularly the crucial youth market, into the fold. In 1970 "
Car and Driver" reported that while very few pony car drivers bought a second pony car, around 50% moved on to purchase another car of the same make. Nevertheless, even by 1969 sales were beginning to slide, dropping to 9% of the total market, from a peak of 13% in 1967.
Expansion and decline
As with most automobile redesigns, each subsequent generation of the pony cars grew somewhat larger, heavier, costlier, and more plush. Big-block engines joined the option list, and both performance and comfort options proliferated. The 1973 Mustang, for example, was convert|8.5|in|0 longer, convert|5.9|in|0 wider, and over convert|600|lb|0 heavier than the original edition. The Dodge Challenger, meanwhile, was only slightly smaller and lighter than Dodge's intermediate cars. The added bulk left the standard six and V8 engines sorely pressed, while the introduction of powerful big-blocks underscored the limitations of the pony cars' suspension,
brakes, and tires.
By 1970 buyers were moving away from the pony cars, either toward smaller
compact cars (domestic or imported) or toward larger, more luxurious models. Performance of the hottest pony cars began to erode as a result of emissions controls and the added weight of required safety features. The 1973 oil crisisleft the bulky pony cars out of step with the marketplace.
The Challenger, Barracuda, and Javelin were cancelled after 1974, and the Camaro and Firebird nearly died at the same time, although they received last-minute stays of execution. The Cougar became an upscale personal luxury twin to the Ford Thunderbird, while the Mustang was reinvented as a luxury compact based on the
Despite mediocre performance, fueled by such things as appearances by the Firebird Trans Am in popular movies such as "
Smokey and the Bandit", and TV programs such as "Knight Rider" and "The Rockford Files", the GM pony cars experienced resurgence in popularity in the late 1970s that helped ensure their continuation. The Mustang was redesigned with a renewed sporty image in 1979, prompting Mercury to reenter the pony car market with a Mercury Capritwin based on the new Mustang. Chrysler, beset by financial problems, did not revive the pony car, although it did offer other front-wheel driveperformance models with a similar spirit. American Motorsbrought back its AMX model name to the performance-oriented I6 or V8 powered rear-drive Spirit, a similar car to the Mustang hatchbackof that era.
Sales of Mustang remained strong, although in the 1980s Ford gave serious consideration to replacing it with a front-drive model (which eventually appeared as the
Ford Probeinstead). Emissions and fuel economy concerns led many of the latter-day pony cars to offer four-cylinder engines (sometimes with turbocharging), although they were never as popular as six-cylinder and V8 models.
By the mid 1980s, the pony car survivors (Mustang, Camaro, and Firebird) enjoyed a period of renewed popularity as progressively more and more powerful (yet relatively fuel-efficient) V8 engines were offered in performance-oriented versions of these vehicles. However, declining sales and the growing popularity of light trucks and
sport utility vehicles ultimately led to the demise of the Camaro and Firebird after the 2002 model year.
The dilemma facing automakers in offering pony cars (or their spiritual equivalent) today is that few have suitable platforms that are affordable enough to be viable. Unlike the mid-1960s, the large majority of modern compact cars are front-wheel drive, with four- and six-cylinder engines, and the widespread use of
monocoqueconstruction makes engineering a specialized body an expensive proposition. Some would argue that the true modern equivalent of the pony car is the sporty compact, such as the performance models of the Honda Civicand Chevrolet Cobalt, although a pony car is a separate model only based on a compact, not a compact itself.
As of late 2005, only the original pony car, the Mustang, remained in production, although due to its popularity following the Mustang's 2005 redesign, the Dodge Challenger and Chevrolet Camaro are slated to return for the 2008 and 2010 model years.
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