1964 Ford Mustang

The Ford Mustang as the first — and so far the only — car to receive the Tiffany Award for Excellence in American Design.  Not bad for a car that was designed using mostly existing components, an existing chassis (from the Ford Falcon), and base price of $2368.  A rediscovery of the classic proportions of long hood and short deck set the Mustang apart from its contemporaries.  The Mustang was also an instant hit wîth the car-buying public.  Over 100,000 were sold in the first four months and in less than 24 months Ford had sold its 1 millionth Mustang, a record that has yet to be equalled or eclipsed.  The Mustang was quite simply the right car at the right time.
The Mustang created a category of cars, called ‘Pony’ cars.  The Mustang’s debut in the spring of 1964 (the early models were called 1964 and 1/2) took advantage of the lack of new models from other makers.  It took other automakers until 1967 to bring out real competition for the Mustang.  As the advertisements on display show, the Mustang was promoted as ‘a car to escape the mundane nature of life.’

After the record-breaking success of the Falcon, Ford decided to offer the public a small sporty car in the lower price range – a decision that promptly gained success with the motoring public and which continues to this day.
During its debut in the mid-1964, the Mustang was offered in a 108-inch wheelbase hardtop coupe or convertible that weighed nearly 2,500 pounds and cost under $2,700 for the convertible and under $2,400 for the hardtop.  Since it was introduced mid-year, the Mustang faced virtually no competition.  By the end of 1964, 263,434 Mustangs had been sold – and that level of popularity has not diminished.

The Mustang was introduced at the 1965 New York World’s Fair, Mustang Mania instantly swept the country, and a new automotive market segment was created – the 2+2 or better known as the ‘ponycar.’  Though its mechanical underpinnings descended from the Falcon, the Mustang was completely different.  It was a compact, tight, clean package weighing in at a modest 2,550 pounds – a departure from the ever-enlarging American cars of the day.  The classic long-hood short-rear-deck combined wîth a forward-leaning grille, elegant blade bumpers, sculptured body sides, fully exposed wheel openings and restrained use of bright trim gave the car a unique look that belied its affordability.  Its looks were backed up wîth power, providing three optional V8 engines wîth up to 271 horsepower.  Other options included automatic transmission, power steering and brakes, styled chrome wheels and air conditioning.  Not surprisingly, the entry-level modes were a minority of the production.

To say that the first Mustang was a success is an understatement.  Following the introduction, the Mustang was on the cover of both Time and Newsweek.  A week before introduction, Ford ran ads wîth the air times for the first television commercials, which all three networks broadcasted simultaneously.  Mustang was selected as the Official Pace Car for the 1964 Indianapolis 500, and more than 22,000 orders were taken the first day.  By its first anniversary, over 418,000 Mustangs had been sold, breaking the all-time record for first year sales of a new nameplate.

The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air

Ford outsold Chevrolet in 1957, but the 1957 Bel Air has been called ‘the most popular used car in history.’ This Bel Air Sport Coupe has the iconic 1957 Chevy color combination of Sierra Gold and Adobe Beige. It is equipped with the popular ‘Power Pack’ option, which added a four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts to the 283 cubic-inch V8. This car is not equipped with the optional heater, which is rather unusual for a Bel Air.

From 1950 through 1952 Chevrolet hardtops in the Deluxe model line were dubbed the ‘Bel Air’.  It took a few more years before it would become its own distinct series.  In 1953, the Bel Air became its own model and was applied to Chevrolet’s top-of-the-line model range.  By 1955, the cars were offered with an optional V8 engine which greatly improved the cars performance.

In 1953 Chevrolet had three new models and 17 body styles to select from.  This was the company’s widest range of offerings in its history.  The introduction of the Chevrolet was stirring press for the company, but so was the Bel Air, considered the company’s Crown Jewel.

The Bel Air Series consisted of a two and four-door sedan, sport coupe, and a convertible coupe.  Everything that was standard on the lower priced series was standard on the Bel Air, plus so much more including comfort, convenience and styling options.  There was a one-piece curved windshield which added superb visibility.  The luggage compartment was massive and the 115-inch wheelbase provided plenty of interior room for its occupants.  The 115-horsepower Blue-Flame six-cylinder engine was new and the most powerful engine in Chevrolet’s history.

In 1954, the Bel Air was launched as a 1955 model and brought with it a fresh new, elegant look for Chevrolet. With bold features that included hooded headlights, tailfins, wrap-around windshield, and rear fender skirts, the Bel Air was able to out-style the competition. The base engine was a six-cylinder, 115 horsepower power-plant. At a base price of $1095, it was a bargain. It is considered America’s first low-priced ‘hardtop coupe’. The most famous of the Bel Air engine options was the 283 cubic-inch V-8 small-block, with Ramjet Fuel injection. It delivered one horsepower per cubic inch, a first for production cars. Along with style, the Bel Air was a fast machine. Chevrolet quickly ascertained a reputation for building performance vehicles.

A full-width grill, redesigned front and rear fenders, gas cap behind the left taillight, larger rectangular parking lights, and sweeping side trim were just a few of the changes that set the 1956 Chevrolet apart from the 1955, which had taken the country by storm with its all new body re-design.

For the performance-minded public, the 1956 Chevrolet offered three 265 cubic-inch Turbo-Fire V-8 engine options: base 170 hp, 205 hp 4 bbl and the 225 hp dual 4 bbl.

Chevrolet produced 1,574,740 cars in the 1956 model year, of which 41,268 were Belair Convertibles. The 3,320 pound car cost $2,443 with the base V-8. You could literally load your new Chevy with factory options and accessories and stay under $3,000.

In 1957, the Bel Air grew in length by 2-1/2 inches and received a wider and taller grille. Additional options became available including two-tone interior, power convertible top, shoulder harnesses, tinted glass, seat belts, tissue dispenser, and ventilated seat pads.

In total, there were seven body styles to select from.  In 1957, a two-page Chevrolet magazine ad proclaimed that ‘Chevy puts the purr in performance’. This Bel Air Convertible, with the optional 245 HP 283 CID small block V-8 equipped with two four barrel carburetors, would certainly deliver on the promise made by the ad copy noted above, delivering a hearty purr from its dual exhausts.

Over the years these popular cars became an icon for the entire generation and they have gone on to become one of the most desirable and collectable post war cars of all. 47,000 Bel Air convertibles were produced in the 1957 model year.

The Chevrolet models grew in length in 1958 and increased in size.  The Chevrolet Impala became their top-of-the-line model, followed by the middle-range Bel Air.  The front end featured a broad grill with quad headlights.

By the later part of the 1960s, the Chevrolet Bel Air moved into the territory of a fleet vehicle.  It was a basic machine built on Chevrolet’s large platform and outfitted with few thrills or options.  It was a good car though it lacked the prestige of times gone by.

The 1964 Chevrolet Be Air (Series 1600) was Chevrolet’s mid-priced line between the basic Biscayne and the Impala.

The Biscayne was discontinued after 1972 and the Bel Air was moved into its place, becoming Chevrolet’s low-level model.  Production in the United States continued until 1975 though production continued in Canada until 1981.
By Daniel Vaughan  | Dec 2007

Drag Racing at Santa Ana

Before it was called “John Wayne Airport” it was called “Orange County Airport”, and during the 1950’s it was the place for drag racing.

A man named C.J. “Pappy” Hart was credited as having built the world’s first commercial drag strip, named “Santa Ana Drag Strip” or “Santa Ana Drags”, and held races there every Sunday.  The drag strip operated from 1950 to 1959, until the County of Orange forced it closed due to increasing air traffic.

“Before it was called the John Wayne airport and before it was called Orange County Airport, it was just a sleepy little landing strip used by private planes, charters and the Martin Aviation Company. When I was a teenager in 1955 the airstrip would close down on Sundays and NHRA (National Hot Rod Association) sanctioned drag races were held on the runway. I remember seeing the “Green Monster”, Art Arfons jet powered drag racer, screeming down the runway. It was probably the first jet to ever “land” at SNA. The drags moved to Lyons Speedway in Long Beach sometime in the late 1950’s. They did return later on, for a few years, as the Orange County Raceway located at the I-5 and Sand Canyon.”

By: Richard M. Cowan, 10 Aug 2002