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The Going Thing: A Peek Inside Mustang Marketing in the 1960s on Display at MCACN 2017
When Wes Eisenschenk from CarTech, Inc. approached me to write a book on how different automakers marketed high performance in the 1960s, I felt there was an opportunity to produce something different from the same old same old. When I finished writing Selling the American Muscle Car: Marketing Detroit Iron in the 60s and 70s, my whole paradigm on the cars from the era had changed. Now I could see something beyond styling and horsepower.
We cannot talk about the era without mentioning the 1965 Mustang, a concept that began with marketing in mind. As told by Robert A. Fria in Mustang Genesis: The Creation of the Pony Car, a Ford PR specialist made two observations in 1960: two-car families were increasing in popularity, and Baby Boomers would create huge marketing opportunities once they scored their licenses. Subsequently, Lee Iacocca organized an exploratory committee to look into developing a product that would embrace the demographic of people 18-36 years olds.
The committee discovered this demographic would command 50 percent of sales by the end of the 1960s, with strong demand for four-speed transmissions and bucket seats. Observed Iacocca, "All the things youngsters want in a car are available on the market today — but not in the right combinations. They wanted the appeal of the Thunderbird, the sporty look of the Ferrari, and the economy of the Volkswagen. But you cannot buy a T-Bird for $2,500, get exceptional gas mileage in a Ferrari, or get whistled at in a VW. What they wanted, really, was a contradiction in terms."
So Ford now had confirmation there was a group big enough to create a sporty car with youth appeal, but how to reconcile this "contradiction in terms"? The committee created four profiles: (1) two-car families with money to spend; (2) young drivers with little to spend; (3) women interested in something stylish yet economical; and (4) enthusiasts looking for a new toy.
This research manifested itself with the Mustang's April 17, 1964, introduction at the New York World's Fair. The new model succeeded in its mission as an affordable sporty coupe featuring long hood/short deck styling; practicality with economical, proven Falcon underpinnings; an option list longer than a Liverpudlian's mane; and a price point attractive to plenty. True, the Plymouth Barracuda beat the Mustang to market by several weeks, but the foal had solid marketing behind it, which was why it became a phenomenon while the Barracuda floundered.
Throughout the decade, Ford offered plenty of national, regional, and local promotions for the Mustang. The 1968 California Special and 1970 Twister Special are perhaps the most familiar, but The Going Thing is a bit more enigmatic. If that name sounds familiar, it's because The Going Thing was Ford's national advertising campaign for the 1969-1970 model year. Ford's advertising agency even commissioned a "Sunshine Pop" group (naturally christened "The Going Thing" and organized by the same team that later handled The Partridge Family) as support for the campaign, which included three LP releases.
A batch of The Going Thing Mustang and Fairlane Cobra SportsRoofs was collectively special-ordered by several Cleveland-area dealers for the Ford Total Performance Show at Thompson Drag Raceway in Chardon, Ohio. The May 3, 1969, event featured Ford Drag Team members Hubert Platt and Randy Payne plus a traveling "supercar clinic" that included competitive drag runs, a specialty car display, and an exhibition of hi-po equipment. The Going Thing Mustangs were available in special-order Petty Blue (remember, the King was with Ford in 1969) or white, all built with both pedestrian and performance Ford engines; they also featured an unusual stripe that resembled the Boss 302's yet included "THE GOING THING" stenciled at the bottom of the stripe, plus a huge Ford decal on the trunk lid.
I was only peripherally familiar with The Going Thing promotion thanks to a Mustang Monthly article, but catching a glimpse of John Morris' Mustang at MCACN 2017 demonstrated it was a fine example of "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" marketing. The Marydel, Delaware, resident had been scoping out 427 parts when pal Buddy McGuinness led him to William Beechum in Tennessee. Buddy pointed out a Cobra Jet Mustang fastback that was "so odd there is something unique about it." John bought the restorable, 24,000-mile fastback for $6,500 in March 2001, but didn't bother researching the car until 2004, when he approached Marti Auto Works for information on his 1966 Fairlane GT 427 test mule. Marti told him invoice records started for the 1967 model year, so John obtained the Mustang's invoice, which showed it was built as a special order ("paint and tire promotion"). John restored the steed with Jimmy MacFarland of Frederica, Delaware, rebuilding the CJ and John Pearson of Dover, Delaware, handling the paint.
But not until 2008 was John clued in on how special his Mustang truly was, when a spectator at Carlisle proclaimed, "I know a car just like that!" This led to connecting with Charlie Crouch, the original owner of a similar vehicle. Now equipped with the Mustang's actual history, John commissioned Grizzly Graphics in Pennsylvania to correctly replicate the stripes and complete the restoration.