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Richard Nesbitt Interview - Hardtop For The Ford Mustang II
Richard Nesbitt was fresh out of art college when he found himself working on the design for the Mustang II hardtop
MM: At that point, the new Mustang was scheduled only as a fastback, correct?
RN: That was surprising because Mustangs always had three body styles, but for some reason they were limiting this proposal to either a notchback or a fastback but not both. They liked the fastback proposal and selected that one. It was clinic reviewed with positive results. But when they went to San Francisco to get a final clinic decision, the participants were enthusiastic but there was also a strong indication that they wanted to see a notchback as well, especially women. So they decided that they did indeed need to get back to working on a notchback proposal in addition to the fastback.
MM: How did you end up designing the hardtop?
RN: Our studio was given the assignment to put together a proposal based on the approved fastback, and they selected a design I had done. At that point, I got one of the fastback clay models and we removed the top. I directed the clay model as a coupe that had fixed window frames. From that version, we went into fiberglass, which was a very finished looking model – clear plastic back windows and actual metal trim. Iacocca was very enthusiastic about it at that point. Not long after, however, Iacocca decided he wanted a strong, miniature Thunderbird character for the coupe. They revised my roofline into a stiffer, more upright design with a larger quarter window. I personally thought the car lost a lot at that point. But that was their decision.
MM: The early sketches and clays show a "dip" in the top of the doors. Why did that change?
RN: The scooped door area was part of Mook's original proposal. We preferred the car that way. In the Mustang booklet, Al Mueller said (reading from book), "Mr. Iacocca felt, however, that our car was a little too radical. The beltline, which we had lowered considerably, had to come up higher, and he wanted the car to have the distinctive touches that would readily identify it as a second generation Mustang." They took a lot of the excitement out of the original proposal and it suffered for that.
MM: Were you concerned that Mustang was getting away from its performance car heritage?
RN: From the indications we had from product planning, it was actually pretty exciting in that it was going to be an American version of the Capri. We thought that seemed like a great idea. But when Iacocca decided to go with more of the Thunderbird flavor, it seemed to lose a lot from the enthusiast point of view. And we missed the idea of a performance car. There were some really great cars out in the parking lot – Boss 351s and cars like that - and it was hard to believe that they were going to disappear.
MM: Where you surprised when the Mustang II became a sales success? Ford sold 385,992 for '74, which ranks number four in all-time best Mustang sales years.
RN: Iacocca's Thunderbird idea turned out to be a very good decision, by default more than anything, because when the '74 Mustang II was released, the initial reaction was not what Ford hoped it would be. People liked the idea that the car was being downsized but they didn't feel it was a spiritual successor to the original. Then the Yom Kippur war in late 1973 changed everything. The cost of gas wasn't just going up, there was no gas available in parts of the country for several weeks. Ford had Pintos and Mavericks but they were pretty basic cars, whereas the Mustang II was a more upscale compact. There wasn't another car on the market like the Mustang II, which was plush and luxurious. It turned out to be a winning combination for people who needed better fuel economy but didn't want to give up comfort. So unlike the original Mustang that was based on a very strong enthusiast response, the Mustang II was more than ever the right car at the right time for reasons that no one could have possibly imagined when we were working on it.
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MM: It's interesting that the '74 Mustang II is the only Mustang ever offered without a V-8.
RN: We couldn't believe that the Mustang II wouldn't have a V-8, and at the time we were doing it there was really no plan for it, although the 302 was eventually offered in 1975. The mandate was that it was going to be a V-6 or a four-cylinder to follow the Mercury Capri formula. Interestingly, Mustang IIs built in Mexico were available with the 302 using the original '74 front end, not the revised front end for the V-8 that they did here for '75.
MM: You must be very proud of your involvement with the Mustang II.
RN: I am proud. Buck Mook and I got to be really good friends. We were both really serious car enthusiasts. It was hard to believe that we were participating - especially for him because his design had been chosen - on a car with that kind of legacy. For me, having just started at Ford – a little more than a year before I'd been a student in college – and now I was working on a new Mustang. And it wasn't just a Mustang redesign, it was an all-new Mustang, the first all-new Mustang since the original.