Jim Smart
August 1, 2002
Photos By: The Mustang Monthly Archives

Back in 1990, Ford was looking at its future. Among the many things it addressed was the Dearborn, Michigan, assembly plant where the Mustang had been produced since 1964. The Dearborn assembly plant, one of Ford's oldest, needed a lot of updating, not to mention a union contract Ford and organized labor could live with. What's more, Ford needed an up-to-date Mustang that could be conceived, designed, and built without a huge infusion of corporate cash. There were false starts, with proposals that proved too costly.

Alex Trotman, who became Ford's chairman in 1993, provided the thrust needed to get the Mustang program off of dead center back in 1989. He did this with a skunk works program that was modest, simple, and committed. The skunk works program had to cast the Dearborn plant's future in stone, produce a better Mustang, and it had to make money.

Trotman's success was rooted in his passion for the Mustang. He understood that if he wasn't successful, the Mustang name would perish. Letting the name die a corporate boardroom death was unthinkable. Trotman went to work putting together a team of players with vision, people with passion unafraid to work nights and weekends. John Coletti became the team's leader. When Coletti assumed control of Team Mustang, he assembled an even larger team of committed people ready to save the name.

The team's first objective was to develop a striking design that would capture hearts and imaginations worldwide. This team also had to come up with a plan that made economic sense. Once Coletti and his team sold Ford management on the idea of developing a new Mustang, they had to come up with designs that would sell. Three basic designs were conceived: the Bruce Jenner, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and the Rambo. These names pretty much fit the way each design looked. The Bruce Jenner had a lean, yet soft faade-the handsome guy next door. Rambo, as you might expect, was extreme. The Arnold Schwarzenegger was a broad-shouldered, muscular aero body that ultimately became the '94 Mustang.

SN95 Mustang development had to be more than just a pretty face. It had to perform well in every area, including safety. The new Mustang needed modern safety features like side-impact protection, dual air bags, occupant-friendly interior amenities, and more. Professional race car driver Jackie Stewart was brought in to evaluate platforms and suspensions. The platform evolved into what is today the Fox-4. By the middle of 1990, the SN95 project was good to go.

The original SN95 skunk works team gave way to Team Mustang. Coletti put together a team of not only qualified people, but people enthusiastic about cars. This meant a group of people who didn't mind burning the midnight oil and working in conditions most Ford types weren't used to. Saving the Mustang meant huge personal sacrifices for everyone involved. Ultimately, it would take approximately 75 people to develop the new Mustang, and less than three years to do it. It was an industry first.

Not only did Team Mustang need committed people, it needed space. A diligent search for space Team Mustang didn't have to spend money on became an overwhelming task. Because Team Mustang needed at least 45,000 square feet of space, finding an appropriate building would not be easy. Through sheer luck and timing, they stumbled on a warehouse at the Danou Technical Center in Allen Park, just south of Dearborn along Southfield Road. Close by was Body and Assembly (pilot plant), the Dearborn Proving Grounds, and Ford's vast engineering complex. Team Mustang's building had to house every aspect of vehicle development including a design studio. It had never been done before.