Most of us are familiar with the old proverb, “Success has many fathers, but failure is an orphan.” The saying is closely associated with American President John F. Kennedy, but is actually Italian in origin. The original is said to have been, “Victory has a hundred fathers and defeat is an orphan (la victoria trova cento padri, a nessuno vuole riconoscere l'insuccesso),” and was first uttered by Italian diplomat, and son-in-law of Mussolini, Count Galeazzo Ciano in 1942.
The automotive embodiment of this old maxim is the Ford Mustang, one of the most successful cars in history. Over the years a great number of people have claimed credit for the original concept, design, engineering and even its name.
Part of the problem is the extraordinary number of well-developed prototypes that Ford produced trying to get to the magic formula in terms of packaging, styling and engineering. Many ideas from these various prototypes trickled down into the final production car, thus creating a design that did actually have many fathers.
It is now generally accepted that the concept was developed by Lee Iacocca (who never hesitated to claim credit) and Hal Sperlich, with principal design by John Najjar, Joe Oros, Gale Halderman, and Phil Clark, plus engineering teams led by Roy Lunn and Donald Frey. There are a number of good books on the development of the Mustang (see here and here) that outline both the design process and the principals involved – and, no, the books don’t agree on who gets all the credit. Everyone wanted to get in on the action.
Along with the Ford personnel involved, an unlikely influencer in the design (and engineering) of the Mustang was the Corvair Monza. The Corvair was Chevrolet’s radical rear-engined compact car, first introduced as a 1960 model. A sporty variant, the Monza, had tuned suspension, a special interior and instrumentation packages, and a 150-horsepower turbocharged engine.
Chevrolet advertised this car as a sort of ‘junior Corvette’, and it was extremely well-received by enthusiasts and the press. Even worse for the competition, Bill Mitchell and his team kept designing jaw-dropping Corvair concept cars, some of which were also named Monza. Ford’s compact Falcon had no sporty alternative (even if it did have a V8 option), and was as plain as could be.
But it sold very well, and Ford was reluctant to alter its very strong image as affordable, economical transportation. Enter the Mustang idea.
Ford had already been working on a sub-Falcon small car with front wheel drive . The manager of this project was Roy Lunn, an English engineer who had worked with AC and Aston Martin before being hired by Ford to head their new British research and advanced vehicle department, called Birmingham Research. Lunn enjoyed his work at Ford UK, but thought projects in Detroit presented more opportunity and asked to be transferred there.
Lee Iacocca soon found him plenty of work to do with a new small car project called Cardinal. However, the Cardinal project would eventually be cancelled, at least for the American market. Instead, the whole project was transferred to Ford of Germany where it became the third-generation Taunus.
Meanwhile, Iacocca still saw some merit in some kind of small sports car – Corvair Monza-like, but with two seats. He asked Lunn to investigate the possibilities. Decades later, Lunn would recall the project to Hemmings Classic Car:
“I set to work in conjunction with the Styling Department and we came up with the Mustang I, a two-seat, mid-engined sportster. I’d taken the whole front-drive powertrain from the Cardinal and placed it amidships in the Mustang. We went from concept to running prototype in 100 days!
“It was a nice package. We took it up to Watkins Glen and demonstrated it to the public. It had a very interesting reception; there were a lot of people who said they wanted a sports car – but when you looked at the market, two-seaters didn’t sell well. It was one of those things where people said they wanted them but didn’t actually buy them. So we decided that what they would buy was a sporting car with four seats, and that’s how the production Mustang became reality.”
The final Mustang production car was very different from the Mustang I prototype. Based on the second generation Ford Falcon, the Mustang duplicated a lot of the parts, many of the interior components, and shared the Falcon’s six- and eight-cylinder engines.
The success of the car was the stuff of legend and every marketer’s dream. Ford had hoped to sell 100,000 in the first year. The Blue Oval sold that many in three months. The millionth Mustang rolled off the assembly line in only 18 months.
Later in 1966, one of the many Mustang concepts, a fastback called Mach I, was presented. It would form the basis of the later Fastback models. The name ‘Mach I’ had originated in a forgettable hover-car concept called the Levacar Mach I back in 1958. A stubby little hovercraft-type car, the Levacar was a ‘Jetsons–before-the-Jetsons’ concept. The Mach I Mustang seemed a far better fit, as Ford was trying to promote Mustang’s speedy image in the expanding pony car marketplace.
Meanwhile, interest in a mid-engined Mustang continued. It was thought that this layout might be a good successor to the Shelby Cobra. Also, Chevrolet was experimenting with a mid-engined Corvette, so the investment in another similar car to the Mustang I seemed worth the effort and expense.
The basic architecture of the Mach II is pure pony car – the long hood and short rear deck of the Mustang. But the styling was much more curvaceous than the production Mustang, which looked boxy by comparison. There were bits of Corvette and Ferrari in the design, with its flowing lines and expressive wheel haunches. The front tapered to a point in profile, with hidden lights like the Corvette.
At the rear, the short, higher deck covered the engine and the spare wheel – a lot to wedge into such a tight space. The rear fascia was arguably the most recognisable to those accustomed to the production Mustang aesthetic, but the tail lights were round, not the three vertical bars that are now an established part of the iconic Mustang design language.
The engine was a 289 cubic inch V8 straight from the Mustang parts bin, as were many of the pieces of the drivetrain and chassis. Again, Roy Lunn was called in to engineer the car. The car was meant to be, like its direct ancestor the Mustang I, a drivable prototype, not just a pusher for the car show circuit. There was the burden of proof-of-concept, and that meant some real track work for the little pony.
The Mustang Mach II was introduced at the Chicago auto show in 1967 and was very well received. Ford then sent it out to the rest of the auto show circuit, where it proved very popular. To keep interest going in a possible mid-engined Mustang, and to send a message to GM, Ford exhibited the car for several years.
Alas, it was not to be. Although the car used largely standard parts, or modest modifications thereof, product planners and the accountants argued there was just not enough of a market for the Mach II, and that production in limited numbers just wouldn’t pencil out.
What ultimately killed the Mustang Mach II, however, was the lack of a rear seat. Over and over, Ford marketing research showed that people wanted a rear seat, even if it was seldom used. That is why the Thunderbird had gone to a four-seat format a decade earlier – which saw its sales skyrocket – and, as noted above, that is why the two-seater Mustang I had been shelved in favour of four-passenger alternatives.
An interesting postscript to the Mach II story is another Mach II, developed in 1969 by Semon ‘Bunkie’ Knudsen and Larry Shinoda of Corvette Stingray fame. Both had been lured from General Motors in 1968, and were promised opportunities that had eluded them over at GM.
This new Mach, christened the Mach II-C, was developed upon a mid-engined chassis that Ford had left over from testing. Longer and wider than the original Mach II, this concept was (again) a two-seater, with a 351ci V8 engine set immediately behind the occupants.
The long, swoopy styling and strong graphics reminded many of a Dodge Charger or Plymouth Roadrunner Superbird, with hints of all those Corvair and Corvette concepts Shinoda had designed for GM. But it was not exactly the image Ford was looking for.
The Mach II-C was shown internally, but never to the public. Knudsen and Shinoda were not a good fit with the Ford culture and departed after only 19 months. The project was shelved, although the chassis was kept as it came from a new Ford partner, one that would accomplish what Mustang could not – bring to market a mid-engined car with great performance and world-class Italian styling (by Tom Tjaarda).
It would be the culmination – and undoing – of an operatic relationship between an old-world bon viveur and an old-line American automobile manufacturer. That tale, with all its triumphs and tears, and fortunes won and lost, is best told another time.
But we can sum it up like this:
De Tomaso. Ford. Pantera.