First, a definition of "pony car" is in order for those of you who are too young to know. A pony car was a popular type of American automobile in the '60s. It was compact, sporty and relatively affordable. The first such models were the Plymouth Barracuda and the Ford Mustang, released just weeks apart of each other in 1964. The Mustang's phenomenal success gave the segment its name, "pony," which literally means "small horse."
Two years later, in 1966, General Motors launched its own version of the pony car, the equally iconic Chevrolet Camaro. In 1967, both Ford and GM introduced Mustang- and Camaro-based pony cars, the Mercury Cougar and the Pontiac Firebird, respectively. In 1968, American Motors Corporation entered the fray with the AMC Javelin. And finally, in 1970, it was Chrysler's turn to jump on the bandwagon when it released the Dodge Challenger.
Pony cars should not be confused with muscle cars. The latter are more performance-oriented (think big V8 engines) and generally heftier in size. Famous muscle cars in history include the Dodge Charger, the Ford Torino and the Pontiac GTO.
While pony cars became massive bestsellers in the second half of the '60s, the global oil crisis in the early '70s practically sealed their doom. Car buyers turned to small, economical cars from both the US and Japan. That was how the likes of Toyota and Honda gained significant ground in the American market.
Slowly but surely, pony cars became a dying breed. AMC and Plymouth stopped producing the Javelin and the Barracuda in 1974; Dodge killed the Challenger in 1983; and Chevrolet, Mercury and Pontiac all gave up on the Camaro, Cougar and Firebird nameplates in 2002. Only Ford stuck it out with the Mustang brand. Then again, if you have a model name as legendary as the Mustang's, you just have to find a way of keeping it in your product line even if it's no longer practical to do so.
From the '80s to the new millennium, surviving pony cars all but lost their soul and were made to share bastardized platforms with more pedestrian twin models. They were made to appeal to a wider market base--to no avail, of course, since the very concept of the segment had the car enthusiast at its core.
Left with no real competition for the Mustang after the Camaro's retirement in 2002, Ford surprised the world with an all-new retro-styled, fifth-generation Mustang at the 2004 North American International Auto Show, immediately bringing it to showroom floors the following year. Wow. How the market responded to this new model that harked back to the original Mustang styling-wise. This renewed interest in the retro-styled pony car prompted Dodge and Chevrolet to revive the Challenger in 2008 and the Camaro in 2009. And so the world--the United States in particular--is now gleefully witnessing "Pony-Car Wars II."
Here in our humble market, Chevrolet was the first to give us a taste of the modern pony car when it brought in the Camaro this year, available to interested buyers by indent. Great news indeed, but it could be much better if we also had the Mustang and the Challenger--something that has a realistic chance of happening since both Ford and Dodge are also sold here. However, in my Camaro story in our January/February 2010 issue, former Ford Group Philippines president Rick Baker shot down the idea of the Mustang possibly reaching our shores. "You won't be able to support a car that sells 25 units a year with adequate parts supply," he said at the time.
But now comes this welcome development. A source at FGP recently teased me with the possibility of the Mustang's arrival. Without giving specific details, he told me: "I will neither confirm nor deny anything. I can't make an official statement until we put ink on paper. But see this sheepish grin on my face right now? I think you know what it means."
To make our conversation more intriguing, he then said he was also pretty sure that CATS Motors would soon bring in the Challenger, citing industry whispers he was privy to. "But the pony-car wars won't start until we (Ford) say so," he smugly declared.
What about Mr. Baker's previous prognosis of the situation--that selling the Mustang in a very limited market like the Philippines would be awfully difficult?
"Yes, it’s a difficult proposition," my source said. "But difficult is for losers."