Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
Best Quotes and Comments from Ford Executives and Designers
Over past decades, many of the Ford executives and designers who worked on the early Mustangs have granted interviews to discuss their involvement with the iconic ponycar. Here’s a collection of some of their best comments and recollections.
Lee IacoccaFord Division General Manager
We followed the Kennedy assassination by only six months. It was springtime, with the World’s Fair and a heady time for me. We started that thing called “1964 ½” because we were building it midyear as a ’65 model. That had never been done in the auto industry.
No one believed we needed another brand, and here I come in and say I’d like to come out with a new concept, an all-new name and all-new car. They turn around and say, “We need another (Edsel) fiasco like a hole in the head.” So we got everyone off campus – Don Frey, Don Petersen, and the rest of the team. The styling guys were hot to trot.
We met at the Fairlane Motel at night, hence the name “Fairlane Group.” But we also had a place called “The Tomb” over at the Ford Division building, a storage room, where we took these guys because we weren’t allowed to be working on a car that wasn’t approved. It was like working on a prototype and not telling anyone!
Sid Olsen was a genius on copy, headlines, and writing ads. He was the original three martini guy. He couldn’t drink in the Ford Division building, so he would go to the Dearborn Inn and have a couple of martinis. Then he would work from about 3:00 to 6:00 PM. In the morning, he couldn’t do anything. Once he had a couple of drinks, he was fantastic!
We had all of the advertising as the Ford Torino, in an Italian renaissance theme and all that stuff. This doesn’t play that well, but Henry Ford II was married and seeing Christina, an Italian jetsetter who he married later. So we had to scrap all that Italian advertising and go like hell in another direction!
It’s tougher in the car business to name the car than it is to build it. Everybody has an idea about the name. We picked “Mustang” and it worked.
At the (World’s Fair) press conference, someone said, “Don’t you have the horse running the wrong way? Only race tracks in Europe run that way.” And I said, “This is a wild, runaway horse, we’re not going to worry about the way it is running!”
The first time I saw (Carroll) Shelby, he had a big Texas hat on at the Daytona 500 in the late 1950s or early 1960s. He walked up with this gorgeous girl because he was a handsome SOB anyway. We became good friends.
At the stockholder meetings, I’d have to listen to, “Why did you take a winning formula like the Mustang, call it the Boss, put in a 429 cubic-inch mill, and make it wider and lower. How could you be so dumb?” This was (president Bunkie) Knudsen doing it. I think he wrecked the Mustang by trying to make it a musclecar. But the Mustang was never supposed to be a musclecar.
I never got Motor Trend’s “Car of the Year” with the ’65 Mustang, but I got it with the ’74 Mustang II! (Mustang Monthly interview, May 2004)
Donald FreyFord Product Planning Manager
About 1961, it started with a few guys, including Hal Sperlich and Donald Petersen. We started watching registrations of the Corvair, which was a dog. I guess in desperation, they (Chevrolet) put bucket seats and a floor console in the thing, called it the Monza, and it started to sell. And we got the idea that there must be something to it, so we started talking about a new sporty car.
We found that tooling was still around for the original two-seat Thunderbird, and in early 1962, as I recall, I asked styling to try to rework the T-Bird tooling to try to make it modern. Iacocca had become my boss, and I told him about my project. He became interested, and added that we would get a lot bigger market if we made it a four passenger car. I agreed, and instructed styling to go to work on four-seaters.
We went through the bureaucratic phase of the company trying to get it approved. Lee, and sometime I, went to the executives probably five times. They were reluctant, to say the least, having written off $2 million or so on the Edsel a year or two before.
We introduced the car at the World’s Fair on April 13, 1964. I have a picture of myself, Iacocca, and Henry Ford II in the back seat of a convertible. We started taking orders and we sold out the first 60 days of production in two days!
I remember a hand-written letter from a guy in Texas. He had gotten a red Mustang, and wrote, “Thank you, thank you, thank you! I just got myself a little red pony. I’ve been after this 160-acre widow for years, and now she can’t leave me alone with my car!” (Mustang Monthly interview, May 1983)
Donald PetersenProduct Planner for the ’65 Mustang (and later president of Ford)
The four-passenger ’58 model was our first profitable Thunderbird. In 1960, we introduced the Falcon, which was also extremely successful but not very sporty. So we found ourselves with a very good-selling small car, the Falcon, and the very successful larger T-Bird, but we still did not have anything sporty in a small configuration. Donald Frey kept hounding me about a sports car.
One day Joe Oros came walking down the hall with a sketch under his arm. Lee Iacocca, Hal Sperlich, Donald Frey, Gene Bordinat, and myself were present. And when Joe showed us the sketch, it just clicked, and that was the car that became the Mustang.
In the beginning, the Ford code name was “Special Falcon.” But the naming itself was a long process, one of the toughest tasks for any automobile company. I honestly don’t remember who came up with “Mustang,” although I still have in my desk drawer an actual metal piece that looks like a production name-plate. It has a checkered flag and a green flag, and says “Torino.” That name was being pushed pretty hard. (Mustang Monthly interview, April-May 1984)
Joe OrosChief Stylist for the Mustang
I was at a management development conference, a one-week seminar. One day when I called the studio, I was told that we, along with the Lincoln-Mercury Studio, had been asked to come up with a proposal for a sporty car project. I finished up my required week at the conference, but I could barely keep my mind on the lectures because I was totally absorbed by the new sporty car assignment.
I asked Dave Ash to stop the sporty car (clay) model, cover it with a tarpaulin, and then meet with me in my office with the managers. I had a long discussion, beginning in my office and later extending the dialogue in the design building, requesting to see all the designers of the Ford Studio, along with the execs and managers. We spent that day talking about the design of this sporty car. We then started a new, unique effort from scratch.
I asked that we give consideration to three design elements. Number one was a Ferrari-type front end with a Maserati-type front-end casting detail. Number two was that we give serious thought to an air intake just forward of the rear axle that might direct air to the rear brakes. And three was to have consideration for a personal Thunderbird-like greenhouse in a sporty four-seater configuration.
On August 16, 1962, the various clay proposals – three from Advance Project’s studio, two from Lincoln-Mercury, and one with two sides from our Ford studio – were presented in the courtyard to Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca, and the viewing committee. The Ford Studio model was approved and selected as the Ford sporty car for continuing development.
The car seemed alive as it was being modeled with its long hood, short deck, and sophisticated greenhouse. I could tell that Iacocca was pleased by the sparkle in his eye and the way his cigar rolled around in his mouth. (Mustang Monthly interview, July 1987)
Gale HaldermanMustang designer
The Mustang was successful originally because it was right on target and met expectations. However, after 1968, the car lost its identity for a few years. The corporation was trying to do all things for all people and the public didn’t know what the car was.
It (standardized bumper height for the ’71-’73 Mustang) made the front-end static and stiff. Iacocca was very disappointed with the bumpers and their impact on styling during the ’71-’73 period. He originally said the drawings looked good, but when he saw the clay models, he said, “You’ve got to be kidding.” (Mustang Monthly interview)
Hal SperlichFord Product Planner
On the day Iacocca was made vice-president, he came over to Design. I heard about it and got myself invited. And here’s this super-young guy with a big cigar, like a Mafia don. Very impressive. Then I was working with him.
With all this youthful energy, we needed a car that we could sell to this new market. As the one-man Special Studies guy, I got that job. We spent six months trying to concept it, first making it off the original two-seat Thunderbird, which was a dumb idea that took three of four months to disprove.
We got all the Falcon drafts together and figured out how to stretch the front, chop the rear, still get a back seat, and keep as many of the inner sheetmetal panels as we could because Henry II was not going to spend any money. We did it for $75 million, a very inexpensive program because it was on the Falcon base. We put together the business plan and presented it to the Product Planning committee – about 20 executive vice-presidents and Henry Ford II. Nobody would raise their hand until they saw what Henry wanted to do, and he finally said “Okay.” When Henry came out of the meeting, he grabbed Iacocca and me and said,” You got your damn car. It better work!” (Motor Trend Classic interview, Spring 2012)
George ShumakerManager, Mustang/Falcon Studio (starting July 1964) for design of the ’67-’69 Mustangs
The ’67 had more money spent on it than the ’65, especially the interior. A good example is the individual taillights on the ’67; they cost more than in ’65 and looked it.
A bigger, stronger platform was needed for bigger engines, which was another very practical reason for the ’67 redesign. Many corporate people had harbored doubts about the ’65 Mustang, but when it did become a money-maker, it suddenly got viability. Everybody wanted on the bandwagon, then more money was allocated for a ‘”total” Mustang program. Therefore, a total redesign from a marketing point of view was necessary.
For ’67, they tried once again to cool the rear brakes (with functional side scoops), but it failed because there wasn’t room to install the ducting. Plus, the cost guys came in and claimed that it was going to add a lot of money to production. I remember Joe Oros, director of the Ford studio, getting in heated arguments with the body and assembly people as to why he couldn’t have his scoops. (Mustang Monthly interview, June 1983)
Larry ShinodaDesigner, ’69 Boss 302
There was going to be a performance Mustang. But they were going to call it the “SR-2,” which stood for Sports Racing or Sedan Racing Group II, which I thought was a dumb name. So I suggested they call it “Boss.” The 302 got the name first, then they relegated it to the 429. That was something (Bunkie) Knudsen wanted to do.
I drove one that was sort of a pseudo Boss Mustang. It had the stripes, sports slats, and the scoops were taken off the (rear) fenders. It had all the wrappings of a Boss Mustang but it was a 428. I sold it to a tailor in Birmingham, Michigan, then he sold it to someone else. I kind of wish I still had it.
Initially, they (Ford) were saying that any kind of bolt-on aerodynamic stuff was bull, that you didn’t need it. In fact, they fought the rear wing because they said (the Mustang SportsRoof) had a spoiler already. And the front air dam? They argued about that too. (Mustang Monthly interview, August 1981)
Richard NesbittDesigner, ’74 Mustang II hardtop
From the indications we had from product planning, it was actually pretty exciting that it (Mustang II) was going to be an American version of the Capri. 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 in the parking lot – Boss 351s and cars like that - and it was hard to believe that they were going to disappear.
Iacocca had come down with an edict that nobody over 30 years old was supposed to be working on the boards or submitting proposals. I was 25 at the time so I was good with that.
We put together hundreds of proposals, and Iacocca and design director Al Mueller came by to review the work. They selected a fastback design by one of our studio designers, Howard “Buck” Mook. At that point, Mook was directed to follow up with a clay model for presentation and competition with the other studios. I believe there were four or five clay proposals and they selected our design. (Mustang Monthly interview, February 2014)