by Joshua Dowling
WHEN the iconic Mustang muscle car went on sale in Australia in late 2015, Ford thought it might sell 1000 a year.
Imagine the Blue Oval's surprise when it took 4000 orders in the first few months.
This year Ford is on track to sell almost 10,000 Mustangs - a staggering 10 times more than what it originally forecast.
The Mustang has become a sales sensation Down Under as Aussie Ford fans fill the gap left by the much-loved local hero, the Falcon, which went out of production last October when Ford closed its factory doors after 91 years.
The Mustang waiting list initially stretched beyond 12 months.
The Ford factory in Michigan couldn't produce more Mustangs for Australia overnight because there are 104 individual parts unique to right-hand drive versions sold in Australia.
Ford had to contact the suppliers of those 104 parts and dramatically increase the order for right-hand drive parts, which took months to ramp up.
Fast forward to today and there are healthy supplies of Mustang in Australia.
The Mustang has just notched its 21st month in a row as Australia's top-selling sports car.
So far this year the Mustang has sewn up nearly 50% of the sports car market locally; 18 other models such as the Toyota 86 coupe and Mazda MX-5 convertible fight over the remaining 50.4%.
So why is an impractical two-door coupe powered by a thirsty V8 in such hot demand? Sports car sales usually start strong and then hit the brakes.
The Mustang has done the opposite because Australia was ripe for it.
The average age of new-car buyers is 51 years and people in that bracket grew up watching Mustangs on TV shows and in movies, such as Steve McQueen's 1968 hit, Bullitt.
Mustang buyers are also at an age when they're coming into money or have put a dent in their mortgage and have a bit of cash to treat themselves.
The other contributing factor: the end of local production of the Ford Falcon and its V8 derivatives.
When the Mustang was confirmed for Australia, Ford was adamant it was not a replacement for the Falcon. But it turns out that's exactly what has happened.
The Ford Mondeo sedan and wagon from Europe have technically filled the void left by Falcon. But their sales are modest compared to Falcon in its glory days because buyers have shifted to small cars, SUVs and utes.
Ford, despite spending millions of dollars over the past three years trying to soften its image to focus on women and technology, the macho Mustang is now the second biggest- selling Ford nationally - after the brawny Ranger ute (which accounts for more than half of all Ford sales locally so far this year).
It's the same picture on the Sunshine Coast. The Ranger dominates Ford sales at Noosa and Maroochydore, with the Mustang sitting in second place.
So far this year, Mustang sales on the Sunshine Coast are up nearly 40% on the same time in 2016.
Mustang sales are now higher than the Falcon's were in its final years.
The four-cylinder coupe can be had for $50,000 drive-away, the V8 coupe manual $60,000 and the V8 auto convertible tops out about $70,000.
There's one other prediction Ford got wrong: demand for V8s.
In case you missed it, the new Mustang is also available with a four-cylinder engine.
Some might call it sacrilege but Ford calls it smart planning, given the uncertainty around petrol prices and the possibility of stricter emissions standards in future.
The four-cylinder also happens to be nice to drive, if a little quiet.
When the Mustang launched locally two years ago Ford forecast four-cylinder Mustangs would eventually account for more than 50% of sales.
So far fewer than 10% of Mustangs sold in Australia are the four- cylinder variety and even then that's only because they've been forced into the dealer network - or bought by people who wanted to jump the queue for a V8.
Ingeniously, the only way to distinguish the V8 from the four-cylinder Mustang is a badge on each front fender. Both have the same large exhaust pipes but only one car makes the right noise.
Why did it take so long for the Mustang to arrive, even after countless letters over the decades from Ford fanatics in Australia to head office in Detroit?
Despite the Mustang's popularity here, it only represents about 5% of global production - but it costs just as much to engineer a right-hand drive version as it does a left-hand drive.
It's difficult to recoup development costs from such small right-hand drive volumes.
For decades the Mustang kept getting pushed down the list of priorities until someone at Ford realised it was the company's only car with global recognition. There are more Mustang car clubs outside the US than inside its borders.
Ford finally decided to take a hit on development costs and build a Mustang for the world. This is the first time in the Mustang's history Ford has built its iconic muscle car in right-hand drive on a US production line. Earlier models imported in the 1960s and early 2000s were converted locally.
So far the right-hand-drive gamble has paid dividends. Which is why Mustang chief engineer Carl Widmann was sent to Australia from Detroit soon after the Mustang launched locally - to talk to owners and find out what the fuss was all about.
After a long line of Mustang owners took turns to poke him the chest - figuratively speaking - it's fair to say he now regards Australia as the biggest market for Mustang globally, after the US and ahead of Europe.
"The interest in this market has really surprised us ... we need to understand it better,” Widmann said at the time.
"Australian customers are very passionate, they really love their cars. Australia certainly has our attention now.”
Ford has also confirmed a hybrid is in development. But given slow sales of the four-cylinder, Aussies appear keen to maintain their V8 rage.
During June Ford introduced a range of new accessories for Mustang enhancement. Buyers can also get dealer-fitted exhaust systems to enhance the V8 growl, along with a Ford Performance tuned set-up, which includes sway bars, shock absorbers and lowered springs that give Mustang a more aggressive stance.
DID YOU KNOW?
The arrival of the Mustang in December 2015 saw the sports car built in right-hand drive for the first time in its five-decade history.
Australians have since made this the number one market for right-hand-drive Mustangs globally.
Australia's love affair with sports cars has seen the Ford Mustang top its segment every month since going on sale, making it a 21-month reign for its time at the top.
In the first nine months of 2017, Mustang has repeatedly set sales records, topping 1351 units in May following Ford Australia's push for more supply to meet the demands of Australians looking to park a Mustang in their garage.
In 2015, a global analysis of Mustang sales saw red as the most popular colour in China and the UK, while black was the most popular choice in the US. Australians have made red their pick too, with the fastback body style chosen more often than the convertible