Ford Mustang Site

THE FORD MUSTANG - AN AMERICAN CLASSIC

The Ford Mustang was introduced to the public on April 17, 1964 in a large park near New York City in front of thousands of onlookers. While this was the official unveiling of the Mustang, there were many twists and turns within the Ford Motor Company that led up to it’s design and production.

Ford effectively stopped making automobiles in 1941 to support the U.S. war efforts in World War II. Rather than making automobiles, Ford began making bomb sights, tank track rollers, destroyer hatches, and even aircraft engines. When the war came to an end in 1945, soldiers came home with war-time pay and a desire to live life a little bolder. The major automobile manufacturers began to experience demand for cars which were more luxurious or had a higher level of performance. They did not have the tooling available to meet demand so they took existing tooling and dies and added wood trim to give the public a limited-production luxury car.

By 1949, the major car manufacturers were once again introducing new models. The wood trim was now gone, replaced by chrome trim and two-tone paint. Styling was up but performance was still lagging.

In the early 1950s, Max Hoffman opened a new type of automobile showroom right on Fifth Avenue in New York. The showroom features performance cars from overseas. The floor was packed with 190SLs from Mercedes Benz, Jaguar XK120 sports cars, Triumph TR2s and Porsche 356 sports cars. These cars were light, came with bucket seats and 4-speed transmissions and they flew past anything the Big Three were offering at that time.

In 1953 Chevrolet took a bold step by producing an all new, fiberglass bodied two seater powered by their in-line 6 Blue Flame motor. This car was named the Corvette after the Navy’s convoy escorts. While this car did not appeal to everyone, Chevrolet sold 3,540 Corvettes in 1954 which was considered a big success at the time. Ford watched Chevrolet make a splash with the Corvette and became convinced that they needed to produce their own two-seater sports car.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, Henry Ford II wanted to build a car superior to the Corvette. The Corvette had a straight 6, Ford would carry a V-8. The Corvette had plastic side curtains for windows, Ford would have classic roll up windows. The resulting car was the 1955 Thunderbird which was introduced on October 22, 1954. Ford did their homework well and in 1955 the T-Bird outsold the Corvette 16,155 to 675.

To attract more customers, Ford began to enlarge the T-Bird. Soon it became a 4-seater, with a large trunk, more headroom, etc. All these additions added another 430 pounds to the car and its performance began to drop off. Still the car was hugely successful selling around 40,000 cars in 1958 and around 80,000 a year by 1960.

At this time, Volkswagen and Renault started to have success in the U.S. with cheap, economical cars. Ford saw their success and responded with a model of their own, the Ford Falcon. The Falcon sold a stunning 417,174 Falcons in their first 12 months.

While Ford was busy mass producing basic transportation for the public, the other car companies were starting another performance trend. Chevrolet was promoting it’s engineering with a “general excellence” program, updating their cars for better performance and led by design chief, Bill Mitchell, began putting out some more imaginative designs. Chevrolet’s hemi-spherical-head, high performance V-8 engines for their Chrysler 300 series were the stuff of legends and the sporty Monza version of the Corvair were capturing the public’s imagination.

Then, in 1960, a young engineer turned salesman was placed in charge of the Ford Division. His name was Lee Iacocca. Iacocca was concerned with the engineering advantage that Chevrolet was developing. He felt that Ford was not focused enough on the performance side of the market. Immediately, Iacocca gathered up eight of his best department heads and began off-site meetings at the Fairlane Inn to discuss the future of design at Ford.

At this time, Ford had committed a large sum of money to the design and production of a new vehicle code-named “Cardinal”. Cardinal was even more economical and boxy than the Ford Falcon featuring a 4 cylinder engine, front wheel drive and unimaginative styling. Iacocca used his considerable influence and pulled the plug on the Cardinal program in the U.S. The Cardinal did go on to be introduced in Europe as the Taunus which sold millions of vehicles over the next decade.

With the way cleared, Iacocca began a “Total Performance” campaign at Ford. Ford began introducing performance options for the Falcon, including a 221 cubic inch lightweight V-8 engine and a convertible model as well. Ford also began participating in various forms of racing.

Ford was working various designs trying to come up with a mix of the appeal of the two-seater Thunderbird with the success of the venerable Falcon. In 1961, a retired race car driver approached Ford with the idea of placing a high performance American V-8 into a lightweight European sports car. Ford liked the idea and Shipped Carroll Shelby their new 260-cubic inch V-8s. Carroll Shelby’s idea became the Ford Cobra which terrorized race tracks all over the world. At this time, Ford also entered into an agreement with Formula 1 driver Dan Gurney and English car builder of the Lotus Colin Chapman to build a V-8 rear engined racer for Indy style endurance racing. Ford was becoming seen as a performance oriented brand and the term “Powered by Ford” began to mean something special.

So the Cardinal project has been still born in the U.S. and Ford was beginning to flex its performance engineering muscle. They needed to produce a sports car for the public to reflect these changes. During one of their off-site meetings, a design for a small, mid-engined sports car (drawn by designers Najjar and Sipple) was brought up as a possibility for a show car which would reflect these changes. The group liked the idea and production began immediately

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