Matt Stone
April 17, 2015

Photography from Bertone period press release photos, courtesy of the author’s collection

Automobile Quarterly (AQ) founder and editor L. Scott Bailey had an idea. As he wrote in AQ Volume 4, Number 2: “Few American cars of recent vintage have so completely captured the European imagination as has the [new] Ford Mustang. The European motor press has reported on its performance—on the road and in competition—with undeniable enthusiasm. But somewhat less enthusiastic has been their regard for the Mustang’s styling, which one writer has described as ‘a form not fully resolved between a sedan and a sports car.’ In the past year we have had occasion to discuss the Mustang with a number of prominent Europeans. When we were in Italy last fall, we spoke at length with Nuccio Bertone, not only about the Mustang, but about other derivations of the fastback style, which originated in Italy in 1925. As a result of this meeting, Automobile Quarterly commissioned the Carrozzeria Bertone of Turin to design and build a special-bodied Mustang to be introduced at the 1965 New York International Automobile show.” And it was an international smash hit, winning the coveted Best of Show award in New York.

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Each AQ volume felt and read more like a book, being elegantly hardbound with gold embossed type on the exterior linen cloth cover. The wide format layout was much more book-like, with lavish photos and illustrations and widely varying articles on everything from the earliest days of automotive history to modern-day drag racing, employing a roster of top writers and journalists from around the world. Carrozzeria Bertone was one of those great Italian design houses and body builders who could design a car, build the prototype, and profitably accommodate low-volume production runs that most full-sized carmakers wouldn’t bother with. Bertone designed and bodied a number of great Ferraris, Maseratis, Alfas, and countless other cars, throughout its long history. Nuccio Bertone’s father founded the company in 1912. Bertone’s newest design talent in the early ’60s was a young Italian named Giorgetto Giugiaro, who has since become among the world’s greatest automotive design talents. AQ arranged for the procurement of a new 1965 fastback of modest but interesting spec: a red fastback (but not a GT) fully equipped with a 289 4V V-8, four-speed manual transmission, whitewall tires, and wire hubcaps. Alitalia Airlines came on as a partial sponsor and shipped the car to Turin for its meeting with Signores Bertone and Giugiaro.

The design he came up with for the AQ Mustang was a stunner. It involved a complete re-body of the Mustang’s underpinnings, retaining a fastback 2+2 look with the idea of looking even sportier and more luxurious than the stock Mustang. The job called for the Mustang’s major dimensions to be retained, so there was no monkeying with the width, wheelbase, or mechanicals of the original car. A lower and more aerodynamic front end (featuring quad hideaway headlights and a lower profile radiator) was paramount, which Giugiaro’s new design handily accomplished. The new body centered around a particularly glassy greenhouse with the slim window pillars so many great Italian designers are noted for. In addition to the conventional windows in the original Mustang’s two doors, Giugiaro designed in two additional small rear side windows, that could be raised and lowered, something no Mustang then or since has had. About the only other parts recognizable from the 1965 are its chrome grille-mounted galloping horse (although now running in a newly shaped corral) and the original gas cap on the rear fascia. The interior was also completely rethought and redone in supple Italian caramel-colored leather. The stock shifter was reused, and in a particularly interesting design twist, the two elements of a factory Rally Pac (clock and tach) were repurposed from their normal steering column mounting position to become built-in instrumentation now recessed in the console’s center stack. And they look trick there too.

The factory stock wheels, tires, and hubcaps hit the dumpster in favor of a racy looking set of Campagnolo 14x6 wheels designed by Bertone and cast of particularly light Elektron magnesium alloy wrapped by blackwall radials. The car was painted an elegant, metallic silvery blue/green that glowed in the sunlight and really showed off the Mustang’s subtle new curves.

The strangest part of this fabulous, Italianette Mustang’s story is that not long after its New York show winning appearance, the car simply disappeared. After the show, it was advertised for sale, for $10,000, directly by Bertone, but was not in the company’s collection when Bertone closed and was liquidated in 2014. Prior to his 2012 death, Mr. Bailey ran some advertisements looking for the car with the hopes of reacquiring it. Apparently to no avail. We can only guess that it disappeared into a barn or very private collection in Northern Italy after its return to Turin. Intensive Google searches yield lots of questions, but no confirmed sightings of this rare and desirable piece of early Mustang history; although everyone seems to agree that it wasn’t scrapped or destroyed.

Have you seen it?