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The Pony Car: A Brief History Of A Revolutionary Vehicle Class

The first "Pony Car" (a sub-class of the popular American Muscle Car) was introduced by the Ford Motor Company in 1964 and was appropriately named The Mustang. Since then, it's changed the auto industry.

"Pony Cars" are classified as affordable sport coupes with long hoods and shorter backends. The Ford Mustang gave rise to competitors with the Plymouth Barracuda, Chevrolet Camaro, Pontiac Firebird, AMC Javelin, and the second generation Dodge Challenger. The Mustang also gets credit for inspiring the designs of the Toyota Celica and the Ford Capri which were eventually imported to North America.

The reason that "Pony Cars" gained so much popularity was because they typically were affordable, sporty, and stylish. In 1964, the base listing price for a Ford Mustang was $2,368— a cost that was attractive to a younger demographic who needed vehicles to get around. By appealing to the younger drivers, the "Pony Car" also helped develop brand loyalty, and by 1967 this style peaked with 13 percent of the market share. In 1970, Car & Driver reported that few owners of this particular vehicle class would buy a second model, and around 50 percent stayed loyal to their brand.

They were pretty revolutionary for the time as they allowed manufacturers to utilize smaller engine blocks to generate power, it offered a whole new genre of car for young people to go out and grab. Because the cars were, and relatively still are, cheap for newer models, there was almost an infinite number of customization possibilities, leading to hot rodding. While this isn't a new concept, it gave youth an easy platform on which to perform these experiments.

Despite that, the craze died down in 1969. By 1973, things got worse thanks to the 1973 Oil Crisis which saw emissions controls put in place. This essentially made the American Muscle Car, and its little brother the "Pony Car," dinosaurs.

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Ford saved its little pony by turning The Mustang into a sub-compact with the Mustang II, but other models weren't so lucky. By 1974 The Barracuda, Challenger, and Javelin were discontinued. The Camaro and Firebird were scheduled for discontinuation at this time too, but they somehow managed to hang around for a bit longer. By the late 80s "Pony Cars" had a brief renaissance with progressively more powerful, albeit fuel-efficient V8 engines. The early 2000s saw the brief demise of the Camaro in 2002, though it was brought back in 2010 after Dodge had relaunched the Challenger in 2008.

Since then, the 21st Century has been positive for the "Pony Car." On July 2, 2010, NASCAR debuted the Challenger, Mustang, and Camaro models for its second-tier division, at that time called Nationwide Series (presently called Xfinity); which still uses these cars in competition.

With strong sales, the future is still bright for the "Pony Car," but what does the next decade hold? Odds are, it will march into the 2020s continuing its wave of popularity as Gen X'ers look to re-live their youth and millennials with a need for speed purchase their first sports cars. Overall, this car genre is one that changed motoring history for how many demographics it appeals to, that will only expand as time goes on because these cars are iconic.

Their popularity lies in the fact they were and still are a car that was designed with the everyman in mind. They're fast, fun, and— for what they are— they are cheap. If one is looking at a modern sports car, "Pony Cars" are still among the most affordable on the new market. With that in mind, they do tend to appreciate in value, so someone who has a modern-day "Pony Car" might, in fact, be sitting on a gold mine once they reach old age.

Because of their smaller size compared to their full-sized muscle car cousins, the "Pony Car" is a favorite for those involved in drag racing as they can accelerate quickly and go in a straight line fast. Like their full-sized brethren, they need to take corners slower than compact cars, but you're not driving one of these to do that.

That's probably why this style of car stood the test of time and continues to attract people not just in North America, but in Britain too. A lot of young Brits have a wealth of sports cars to choose from in a lower price range and built closer to their own homes, but what do they really want? A snarling V6 or V8 in the form of either a "Pony Car" or the heft of a full on American muscle car. Cars that continue to thrive despite the world trying to go ever-more cleaner with hybrids and electrics.

This storied vehicle class isn't going away any time soon, and with a history like that, we don't ever want them to. So let's take a minute to appreciate the "Pony Car" and how it changed the way we drive.

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