From its launch at the New York World's Fair in April 1964, the Ford Mustang burned rubber across the American psyche. "You always remember your first Mustang," says Duke Clancy, the 55-year-old president of the Mustang Club of West Central Florida and the owner of a ruby 1969 Mach 1 Fastback he exhibits at car shows across the country. Fans like Clancy know the story of the schoolteacher who bought the first Mustang a day before it was supposed to go on sale and still has the car. In all, so did about 418,812 other Americans that blockbuster first year. The next year, Ford sold more than half a million units. Eventually, the Mustang became one of the longest continuously produced cars in U.S. history. Calling Ford's muscle car an iconic, era-defining product on the order of Sony's Walkman or Apple's iPhone isn't a stretch.
The sixth-generation Mustang will go on sale next fall, 50 years after the first version was featured on this magazine's April 17, 1964, cover. Time got an exclusive preview of the new Mustang, which is lower, wider, roomier and a bit meaner-looking than the current version. The cult of Mustang, with its 5 million Facebook friends and 250 Mustang clubs in the U.S., eagerly awaits this latest incarnation. "There's a lot to live up to and a lot of passionate owners who are going to be really unhappy if we get it wrong," says Bill Ford Jr., the company's executive chairman. "Me being one of them."