In 1947, Gladden Products Corporation introduced the world to Mustang motorcycles, a family of bikes that were cheap, cheerful, and very, very, compact. Over the next 20 years, the company produced around 20,000 Mustangs, Small and fun, they filled a gap in the market no one had even known existed. In 1965, the company called it a day, but by then, they’d already made their mark. Even today, motorcycle enthusiasts still lust over these vintage machines. But which of those models rank as the best of the best? Find out as we take a look at the five best Mustang motorcycle models of all time.
5. Mustang 1946 Colt
Throughout World War II, Gladden Products Corporation made items for combat aircraft. As the war started to draw to a close, owner John Gladden realized that if his business was going to survive, he’d need to find a new product to make. It didn’t take him long to find inspiration. Walking through the company parking lot one day, a very unusual motorcycle drew his eye. Small enough to be a scooter but very clearly a motorcycle, it was unlike anything he’d ever seen before. The motorcycle in question belonged to one of Gladden’s employees, an engineer named Howard Forrest whose passion for motorcycles was matched only by his talent for building them. He’d built the motorcycle in question from scratch, using a water-cooled, 300cc 4-cylinder engine he’d designed and constructed himself.
Now, Gladden was many things, but a man known to look a gift horse in the mouth he was not. Recognizing that Forrest’s machine would be exactly what every returning soldier would want for Christmas, he tasked him and Chuck Gardner (another Gladden Products engineer and motorcycle fanatic) to come up with a line of scooter-sized motorcycles that would satisfy the need for a lightweight, affordable bike. The result was the 1946 Colt. Small, fun, and perfectly formed, it featured a 125 cubic centimeter Villiers engine, a peanut-sized gas tank, a supremely lightweight frame, twin exhausts, and tiny 8-inch wheels. Small but beautiful, the Colt gave us the perfect introduction to the Mustang family of motorcycles.
4. Mustang Model 2
The 1946 Colt may have been a stunning machine, but it wasn’t exactly the bike that Mustang had wanted to deliver. As Motorcycle Classics writes, they’d initially wanted to use 197cc Villiers 2-stroke engines, but after some teething problems with the prototypes, they’d resorted to the 125cc 2-stroke instead. Buyers may have been happy with the tiny engine, but Forrest and Gardner were less impressed. When Villiers started threatening to cut their supply, Gladden realized that if Mustang were going to survive, let alone thrive, they’d need to start making their own engines. Shortly after, he acquired an airline company with a division that made small, industrial engines. Their 320cc flathead single-cylinder 4-stroke seemed exactly what Mustang had been looking for.
The first motorcycle to feature the engine would be the Mustang Model 2. Rear-facing intake and exhaust ports, a rear brake, a coil spring supported tractor seat, a 3 speed Burman transmission, telescopic front forks and a cast aluminum primary cover featuring the Mustang logo completed the design. The Mustang Model 2’s bigger (but still compact) frame, snappy new engine, and 12-inch disk wheels would go on to become the basis for all future Mustangs.
3. Mustang Model 4 Standard
The Mustang Model 2 was a good-looking machine with a respectable performance, but it wasn’t completely without its teething issues. As Wikipedia notes, most of the problems were overcome by applying special quality control measures, which included having the production foreman test and approve each bike that left the plant. By 1950, the production foreman had clearly had enough of testing Model 2s and Mustang decided to move in a different direction. Shortly after, the Model 4 Standard was unveiled. The Micarta timing gears reduced noise, ignition and lighting were enhanced with the addition of a new magneto and alternator, the exhaust design was simplified, and an improved 3-speed Burman transmission was added to the design. Available at just $346.30, it was a clean, affordable machine that would eventually become the base for the DeliverCycle and the Pony.
2. Mustang Pony
If the Model 4 Standard was an improvement on the Model 2, the Pony was an improvement on the Model 4. Featuring a standard front brake, an improved drivetrain, a Burman 3-speed, foot shift gear box, a telescopic front fork with hard chrome actuating pistons, pressed steel wheels, and a comfortable, cross-country saddle, it was a home run for Mustang. Lightweight, very attractively priced at just $346.30, and with a bumped-up output of 9.5 horsepower, it appealed to anyone looking for a transitional bike that occupied that hallowed middle ground between a scooter and a full motorcycle. It quickly became the company’s best-selling motorcycle. Eventually, it would serve as their base model. So popular was the Pony among novice riders, in particular, Mustang even released a 5 horsepower version to satisfy certain state’s criteria for junior riders.
1. Mustang Thoroughbred
The mid to late 50s wasn’t a particularly good time for Mustang. Sales of the DeliverCycle fell far enough for Mustang to kill it. Their attempt at a lower-cost motorcycle, the 1956 Colt, failed dismally. With a poor build quality, a clunky kick starter, and a centrifugal clutch that took great bites out of the crankshaft, it was despised within the factory and despised by the public. Within just 2 years, Mustang had dropped it from their lineup. But then, after several years in the wilderness, Mustang returned with a bang in 1960 with the Mustang Thoroughbred.
As Hot Cars notes, the Thoroughbred couldn’t have had a more apt name, as this was, without doubt, the ultimate Mustang. Unlike any Mustang that had come before, it featured a dual seat (with an optional storage compartment underneath) and a swingarm rear suspension. The 320cc Mustang flathead single-cylinder 4-stroke engine previously seen on the Stallion had been refined to bump the output to 12.5 horsepower. All in all, it was a beauty. Despite starting on a high, the rest of the 60s wouldn’t be a great time for Mustang. By the time the Thoroughbred rolled out, it had fired Howard Forrest for unknown reasons. Chuck Gardner stepped into his shoes in Lead Development, but things were never quite the same. By 1965, it was all over.