The Mustang has been one of the top automotive icons from Detroit since the end of World War II. A lot of Camaro owners would disagree, but of them we ask, “So where’s your Camaro now, sport?”
Requiescat in pace, that’s where. Now, as the Mustang moves nearer to its first floor-to-ceiling makeover since 1979, it does so as the descendant of a family (Pony carus americanus) established by its great-great-grandfather back in the mists of the mid-20th century – April 17, 1964, to be exact. The competitors it inspired have all succumbed, leaving the species progenitor alone at center stage.
And as far as the Ford Motor Company is concerned, center stage is no exaggeration. Philip, V-P of Blue Oval Vehicle Programs (Ford’s product engineering and development group), calls this new Mustang “the critical linchpin in bringing Ford back into the public eye on the car side of the business.
“What we need now on the car side is some buzz. It’s going to bring people back into Ford showrooms.” This is a survival story to rival Robinson Crusoe’s. Ford wasn’t known for its quality or continuity during the long reign of Henry II, and on at least two occasions the corporate sachems laid plans that seemed conceived to consign the Mustang to history. Imagine Dr. Moreau turned loose in the product planning department, and you’ve got the essential flavor.
The first of these episodes led to the 1974-78 Mustang II, essentially a Pinto in wolf’s clothing, a particularly graceless and slow wolf at that.
A new platform and new sheetmetal restored respectability in ’79, but by the mid-80s the product planners were contemplating infanticide once again: an all-new Mustang on a front-drive platform. With no V-8 engine. This heresy stopped only when then-president Donald E. Petersen was deluged with outraged mail from Mustang faithful, much of it, according to the folklore, using the same salutation: “Dear Asshole.” Petersen was moved to rescue the Mustang from impending oblivion, and the front-driver went on to become the Ford Probe, since deceased.
So as we contemplate a long-waited Mustang renewal, we find ourselves wondering whether the keepers of the faith are going to keep the faith. So far, it looks like a definite maybe.
Big question: Will the production car look like these concepts? Richard Hutting, head of the concept design team, will say only that “the concepts have had an impact on the production vehicles.”
Hutting is chief of Ford’s design facility in Valencia, California, and his team also created the Forty-Nine concepts, head turners of the ’01 and ’02 shows. It’s clear at a glance that the Mustang concepts also reach into the past, a trend in recent Ford creations that design chief J Mays calls “retro futurism.” In this case, Hutting and his team drew their inspiration from the late ’60s.
“We went back to the beginning, 1964 to ’69,” he says. “We stripped that early vehicle down to its bare essentials – long hood, short deck, front wheels far forward. It all combined to give the vehicle a sense of motion and direction.”
Perhaps the strongest tie with those early Mustangs, particularly the ’67-to-’69 cars, is the forward-leaning grille shell, accentuating the classic profile.
“I like to think of it as having the leading edge of the hood becoming the most powerful element of the vehicle. It pulls the rest of the car along.Everything else sweeps off that leading edge, creating a motion trail,” says Hutting.
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