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)