Will European sales plan kill the Ford Mustang as we know it?

The Ford Mustang is going European.

The automaker has announced plans to begin marketing the next generation of its iconic sports car in the old country, likely in time to mark its 50th anniversary in 2014.

Ford is so committed to the overseas expansion that it will even offer a right-hand-drive drive version of the two-door coupe in the United Kingdom. But that’s not the only change on the way with potential foreign appeal.

Ford has been tight-lipped about the new Mustang, but the rumor mill is flooded with insider reports that it will be smaller, lighter, more fuel efficient and feature less of a retro look than the current car. The Evos Concept unveiled at the Frankfurt Auto Show in 2011 is thought by many to indicate the direction that the new ‘Stang will take.

In two words: très chic.

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“It’s a great idea to market the Mustang worldwide, but it would be a mistake to pander to those cultures for its styling or technology,” says Steve Turner, editor of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords magazine, a publication that caters to the brand's most enthusiastic fans.

“The Mustang has an allure outside the States because it is distinctly American. Diluting that personality could make it less compelling to everyone.”

Turner remembers well that in the 1980’s Mustang owners staged a literal revolt against the company when plans were revealed to replace it with the very modern front-wheel-drive Probe. Succumbing to the will of its customers, Ford chose to keep the Mustang and sell the two cars side by side. Eight years later the Probe was dead.

But time around, things could be different.

“Turning the Mustang into a global vehicle seems like the next natural progression of the car. Globalizing, downsizing, and reducing mass are staples in the development of most next-generation vehicles,” says Nick Saporito, a marketing professional and editor of FordInsideNews.com.

Today’s Mustang is the slimmest and trimmest of the American muscle cars, but Saporito points out that General Motors is expected follow the same downsizing approach with the next generation of the Camaro. GM is already selling the current model in Europe with some success.

Changing tastes on this side of the pond are also playing a factor.

“I'm inclined to believe both companies are taking a smaller, high-tech approach because they recognize that their pony cars need to start catering to a younger demographic,” says Saporito.

Ford is almost certain to do that with the Mustang by adopting a version of the twin-turbocharged EcoBoost V6 engine that has proven popular in its F-150 pickup truck, winning over even tougher customers in that segment than pony car buyers. If it does, the move will mark a big change to the Mustang’s image, but is not necessarily a deal breaker in Turner’s eyes.

“Obviously external forces like fuel economy standards, gas prices, and the like may call for a lighter, more high tech car to keep up with the times. So long as the Mustang retains some of its heritage and, at least, enters this next phase with a V8 engine in a rear-wheel-drive platform, Mustang enthusiasts will embrace it.”

There’s very little chance Ford won’t do that, but a Mustang powered by a four-cylinder EcoBoost could be in showrooms, too. The high performance Focus ST has one that puts out 252 hp, more than some V8 Mustangs were delivering as recently as the 1990’s.

And it wouldn’t be the first time. From 1984-1986 Ford sold the Mustang SVO, which used a four-cylinder turbo in an effort to challenge refined and efficient European coupes like the BMW 3-Series. Although it was critically acclaimed, a high sticker price kept the SVO from becoming a sales success. Something Turner worries could happen again.

“Ideally, fusing the brawn of American muscle with the refinement of a European sports car could result in an incredible car. However, the strength of the Mustang is that it offers stylish performance in an affordable package. Taking the car too far upmarket could disenfranchise its core fan base,” he cautions.

But Saporito believes the changes in store are simply a modern take on the Mustang’s origins as small, nimble vehicle aimed to compete with the European sports cars of the 1960’s.

“Only this time they will be driven in Los Angeles and London, and probably be powered by a turbo four,” he says.

In any event, it won’t be long before we find out. The first Mustang made its debut at the 1964 World’s Fair New York on April 17th, which just happens to be one of the dates set for press previews at the 2014 New York Auto Show.