The History of the Pony Car

January 27, 2012

The history of the pony car dates back to the 1960s in America, and is synonymous with the emergence of the Ford Mustang in the mid-1960s. By definition, a true pony car is a sport coupe, compact relative to the muscle car, with a top of the line performance engine under the hood. In the years leading up to the debut of the pony car type, market research done by automakers showed that target consumers wanted smaller, more agile and sporty looking vehicles with high performance to match the athleticism in design. The Ford Thunderbird answered some of the demand, with its use of bucket seats and compact sport-coupe styling. Chevrolet, in turn, trumped Ford's innovations with the introduction of the Chevrolet Corvair. To an extent, both quenched the consumer thirst for sport luxury. However, there was still a niche to be filled. One that fit with the culture of the times that spoke tough, drove fast and cost less. Enter the classic pony cars of the 1960s.

Early Pony Car Models

Among the first on the scene were the Chevrolet Camaro, Dodge Challenger and the AMC Javelin along with the Ford Mustang. Even though the term pony car has ties to the Ford Mustang by virtue of its name, the first pony car to arrive in the marketplace was the Plymouth Barracuda. Coming to the showroom floor two weeks before consumers could buy the Mustang. Taking its cues from the auto maker's Valiant model, the Barracuda incorporated its compact design with a sporty, sleek fastback look. Because the focus was on design and versatility rather than engine performance, it was overshadowed by the Ford Mustang in the marketplace and its reputation suffered.

The Ford Mustang, on the other hand, heavily rivaled by the Chevy Camaro, enjoyed massive popularity throughout the 60s, leading up to the early 1970s. The design of these iconic types shared the characteristic silhouettes, long front, wide "open mouth" look to the front grille, coupled with a short, almost "chopped off" abrupt look to the rear. But the highlight of these cars lay beneath the hood. In general, these models came equipped with at least a six-cylinder or V8 high performance engine.

Decline and Revival

Performance demands required larger, heavier engines, and the models began to drift away from their earlier nimbleness. Successful models sustained popularity with drag racing and road racing audiences, but largely fell out of favor to the typical American consumer. Smaller, lighter economy cars were introduced into the market, and the 1973 oil embargo caused shoppers to look at less expensive, economy cars than those using less fuel.

Today, there has been a revival of the pony car. Starting with the re-introduction and widespread popularity of the Ford Mustang 2005 model, based on the classic design of the 1960's. Competitor auto manufacturers have also paid homage to their pony car models, bringing back the Dodge Challenger and the Chevrolet Camaro, which have succeeded in a fuel-economy conscious market due to smart engineering and design. NASCAR highlights this resurgence of the pony car, with the Ford Mustang and the Dodge Challenger racing in the 2010 season.

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