OPINION: Before the car we know and love, another Mustang almost reached production, writes Dave Moore.
Most Ford fans realise that the Mustang as we know it was launched in mid-1964, but few know that in 1962 another car already had the famous pony badge and name; a car of vastly differing format, with a mid-rear engine and body that could have come from a science-fiction movie.
The Mustang 1 was a design exercise that at one time, because of competition from General Motors, could well have reached Ford showrooms.
Just two examples of the aluminium-bodied cars were made. Those who were fortunate enough to drive the car said it was quite a performer, despite having an engine measuring a third of the capacity and possessing half the cylinders of a full-sized Mustang, when that eventually arrived two years later.
The car was the brainchild of a committee of backroom boys known as the Fairlane Group, led by Lee Iacocca.
The group was set up as a think tank designed to work on Ford's new product requirements and, in the northern summer of 1962, Iacocca's team found themselves working on a new sports coupe project for the blue oval. This was to compete with the Monza Coupe version of Chevrolet's rear-engined Corvair six, which at the time was showing decent sales. This was years before safety campaigner Ralph Nader's book Unsafe at any Speed, started the doubts about the heavily rearward-biased Corvair's skittish chassis that finally killed the model.
For all its radical, mid-engined, aluminium-bodied originality, the Mustang 1, as it would be called, was not a complicated car and it used many bits and pieces from the greater Ford empire's worldwide parts bin.
Roy Lunn was put in charge of creating the concept, bringing modern, engineering race car design experience to the project.
An English-born engineer who had experience with AC Cars, Aston Martin and Jowett, Lunn had been with Ford of Britain since the early 50s, before being put in charge of the Ford Advanced Vehicles centre in Detroit in 1958.
Later, in the mid-60s, he would be involved in Ford's work to create the GT40 Le Mans car from the Lola GT.
But for the Mustang 1, it was his experience creating Ford's first front-drive car, the German Taunus 15-M, that would prove most useful.
That's because Ford's new car would use the V4 engine and four-speed gearbox from the Taunus, (known as the "Cardinal" in Ford company speak) by mounting the motor and transmission ahead of the rear axle in classic mid-engined style. The V4 was especially suited to such placement, because the engine would be shorter and more compact than an in-line four.
The Mustang 1's design chief, John Najjar, favoured the mid-engined layout, because it would create a clean, uncluttered nose treatment, and the little V4 power unit could be cooled by radiators sited on each side of the car.
The vice-president of Ford Design, Gene Bordinat, had the idea of a contest competition among his designers and after two weeks of nonstop sculpting clay designs, a car created by Joe Oros was selected as the winner and made into a prototype. Oros' design used a strikingly modern built-in roll bar and a racing windscreen that would later be seen as the standard style on Can Am cars.
Najjar and designer and stylist Phil Clark have, over the years, been given equal responsibility for the use of the Mustang name. This was not because they liked the horse from whence the name was taken, but because, as aeroplane buffs, they had been impressed with the simplicity, elegance and lightweight engineering used for the P51 that bore the same name.
They saw similarities in the kind of work they would be doing on the equally sleek car project.
While the Mustang horse was depicted on the concept cars, its shape was different to that used by the eventual Mustang production car; being a little more upright and not in full flight, as on the mid-60s pony cars' badges.
Phil Clark is perhaps most remembered for designing the Mustang's final running horse badge, which would be linked with the car forever.
Clark never saw the success of the Mustang proper, dying at just 32 from an ulcer.
Race car fabricators Troutman-Barnes built the Mustang prototypes from the original Ford clays. Working with the original designers and Lunn's engineers, Troutman-Barnes created the two prototypes in just three months in time for testing at Ford's headquarters at Dearborn, Michigan.
The Mustang 1 measured an extremely compact 3919 millimetres long and 1549mm wide and sat on a 2286mm wheelbase with 1219mm track width at the front and a 1245mm track at the rear.
The car's one-piece aluminium skin was riveted to a space frame, which created an almost tub-like design. It was further stiffened by making the seat bases and backs a part of the body. To make up for lack of seat adjustment the driver could adjust the steering column and clutch, brake and throttle pedals.
One of the advantages of the Cardinal's power train was that the engine had two output options; the standard V4 engine put out 66kW, while a mildly warmed-over version managed 81kW and could be used for racing.
The Mustang 1 made a dramatic public debut, at the hands of American Grand Prix driver and future race car builder, Dan Gurney, at the US Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, New York state, on October 7, 1962.
Both prototypes toured motor shows around the US and Europe. Ford also started a habit with the Mustang 1 that it would continue for many years, by taking the cars to engineering and design colleges where they would not only act as a marketing tool, but as a way of attracting talent to the company. Ford of Britain did the same thing and this writer can remember sitting in the world's first GT70 rally car at university, months before a motor show ever saw one.
Sadly for the audacious Mustang 1, it was soon plain to see that such a radical design might be well regarded among purists, but a mom and pop or Chuck and Jane car it wasn't. What was needed was a mass appeal car, a little sporty and able to be fashioned from existing engines and platforms.
So Ford ordered a new concept car to be called the Mustang 2 based on the then-current Falcon, which would eventually end up as the Mustang we know and love today. It appeared for the first time in 1963, went into production in early 1964, reaching showrooms in April that year.
The Mustang 1 prototypes were almost forgotten, and after years spent in storage, with occasional forays to car museums and on loan to collections, one was restored and donated to The Henry Ford Museum in 1982.
* Thanks to The Henry Ford Museum for information and pictures.
- © Fairfax NZ News