Eight years ago, I found myself in Lebanon, Tenn., wandering about with 100,000 Ford Mustang fanatics all gathered to celebrate the car’s 40th anniversary. At the time, a slightly frail, white-haired Joe Oros, the original Mustang’s chief designer, described the design brief for what no one expected to become an iconic pony car.
“I said from the beginning it was to be designed so it would go to the ladies first. Keep the ladies in mind because they decide what the men buy,” he said. “Two, I said let’s design a front end that has a feel of a Ferrari. Three, let’s use a European bumper. And let’s have a three-light design at the taillights.”
Don Frey, the engineer tapped by Henry Ford II himself to oversee the project, then added, “He said, ‘Sell it or your ass is out of here.’”
Frey told me that at the time, this being the early 1960s, Ford was still reeling from the failure of the Edsel, which prompted Ford’s finance department to go over the product plan with a fine-tooth comb. Funding for the Mustang was vetoed four times before Henry Ford II approved it in a fifth meeting.
Frey told me all this and also insisted on giving then-Ford division chief Lee Iacocca credit for championing the Mustang. He loved the idea of taking the low-cost, high-quality chassis of a Falcon and turning it into what soon came to be known at Ford as the “Sporty Car” – until the name Mustang was finally settled upon, said Frey.
And by the time Ford introduced the Mustang on April 17, 1964, at the World’s Fair in Flushing Meadows, N.Y., the company’s marketing whizzes had been hard at work creating a buzz. Mustang commercials aired on the major American television networks and Henry Ford II joined Walt Disney on a convertible Mustang trip down Disney’s Magic Skyway creation at the Fair’s Ford Pavilion.
Ford sold nearly 22,000 the first day the Mustang went on sale. In the first 12 months, Ford sold more than 400,000 models. And, in the first two years, Ford sold more than a million.
That was quite an achievement for a car based on the modest and inexpensive Ford Falcon.