Fifty years ago this week, the first Ford Mustang went on sale. While Lee Iacocca is considered by many to be the father of the Mustang, the simple reality is that without the approval of Henry Ford II, the chief executive at Ford, the Mustang would never have happened. That took some doing. After American Motors had shown the viability of compact cars, in 1960, Ford introduced the Falcon, Chevrolet introduced the Corvair, and Pontiac brought out the original, compact, Tempest. When GM introduced the sportier Monza versions of the Corvair, Iacocca, who by then was a Ford corporate VP and general manager of the Ford division, wanted something to compete with it. Henry Ford II, aka “Hank the Deuce”, had to be convinced to spend money on the project, just a few short years after FoMoCo took a serious financial hit when the Edsel brand did not have a successful launch. Iacocca, one of the great salesmen, not only sold his boss on the concept of the Mustang, the Deuce came to love the pony car so much he had a very special one made just for himself.
Multiple accounts from other participants in the story affirm that HFII was reluctant to give the Mustang program a green light. By early 1962, Iacocca had already been turned down at least twice, with Ford shouting “No! No!” when Ford’s division boss asked for $75 million to go after the youth market with a reskinned Falcon. Iacocca’s unofficial “Fairlane Committee”, an advanced product planning group that met every couple of weeks at the Fairlane Motel, away from prying eyes and ears at the Glass House, Ford’s World headquarters, had been working on the Mustang idea, but the team despaired of getting HFII’s approval.
In an interview on the Mustang’s genesis, Iacocca explained his challenge:
Henry Ford II had just dealt with one of the biggest losses in Ford history with the Edsel. It was dumped just one year earlier at a loss of $250 million. Henry was not receptive to launching a new, unproven line of cars which would present further risk to the company.
I made a number of trips to his office before I gained approval to build. He told me if it wasn’t a success, it would be my ass, and I might be looking for a new job elsewhere.
Surprisingly, Iacocca got word that Ford would let him pitch the as yet unnamed sporty car one more time. With the meeting scheduled for the next morning, Iacocca convened an emergency meeting of his secret committee. Things had to be secret because in the wake of the Edsel debacle, Ford’s corporate culture had become very cautious.
According to Ford head of public relations and Iacocca’s speechwriter Walter T. Murphy, who was at the meeting, the group included: Don Frey, Ford’s chief product planner; John Bowers, advertising manager; Frank Zimmerman, Ford division head of marketing; Robert Eggert, the company’s chief market research authority; Hal Sperlich, who wore many hats as Iacocca’s right hand man (and would follow him to Chrysler): and William Laurie, senior officer of Ford’s advertising agency, J. Walter Thompson.
In a 1989 account that he wrote for Ward’s Auto, Murphy described the scene:
“What I need are some fresh grabbers for my meeting tomorrow morning with Henry at the Glass House,” Mr. Iacocca told his committee (Note: we always called him Henry at meetings when Mr. Ford was not present), Bob Eggert, the researcher, was first at bat: “Lee, let’s lead off with the name of the car we’ve decided on.”
The feeling was that Henry didn’t know we were picking the Mustang name and he’d be entranced. Mr. Frey supported Mr. Eggert. “That’s a good way to go, but emphasize that this stylish pony car will kick GM’s Monza square in the balls.” Henry should love that! “I’ve got it,” Mr. Iacocca responded as he snapped shut the little car research binder that Mr. Eggert had slipped in front of him. “Murphy, put together some notes for me by early tomorrow morning. Thank you. The meeting is adjourned.”
The following morning Mr. Ford stretched out in his leather chair, fingers clasped atop his expanding belly. Mr. Iacocca stood holding a few index cards. He was not smoking or fingering a cigar, as he usually did. Mr. Ford asked “What have you got, Lee?”
Lee launched into his pitch on the market for the youthful low-cost cars that Ford once dominated but had surrendered to GM along with a bushel of profit/penetration points. “Now this new little pony car, the Mustang, would give an orgasm to anyone under 30,” he said. Henry sat upright as if he had been jabbed with a needle. “What was that you said, Lee?” asked Mr. Ford.
Lee began to repeat his orgasm line but Mr. Ford interrupted. “No not that crap, what did you call the car?” “It’s the Mustang, Mr. Ford, a name that will sell like hell.” “Sounds good; have Frey take it to the product planning committee and get it approved. And as of now, you’ve got $75 million to fund your Mustang.”
In the end, Henry Ford II’s approval of the Mustang came down to the name. I’ll note that Walker’s recollection is slightly different than that of Iacocca, who says that Ford initially committed just $45 million for the project.
The Mustang team first developed the four cylinder midengine Mustang (now known as Mustang I) concept for the 1962 show circuit, gauging interest in a sporty car targeted at young people. Because of cost concerns, they were likely to never build such a car (the Edsel failure guaranteed that the car would have to be based on an existing Ford car), but the reaction was positive, leading to the Falcon based Mustang II concept (not to be confused with the 1974 Mustang II production car). The Mustang II was based on a very early preproduction Mustang body shell, first used for a styling study with stretched front end (with “Cougar” badging – the name that convinced HFII was chosen very late in the process) and then taken out on the ’63 auto show circuit to drum up interest in the new car. The Mustang II is owned by the Detroit Historical Museum and it would be hard to put a dollar value on such a rare and historically significant Mustang.
Before the official start of Mustang production on March 9, 1964, in February Ford started to build actual preproduction prototypes of the Mustang, about 180 of them in all. The bodies-in-white were pilot plant units built off of body bucks by Ford Body & Assembly in Allen Park, which explains the leaded seams. The bodies were then trucked to the nearby Dearborn assembly plant where they were assembled as part of the validation process.
One of of those preproduction prototypes was set aside for special treatment by Ford Design. Ten years later, it was just another old Mustang when Art Cairo spotted a classified ad in a Detroit newspaper that read, “1965 Mustang once owned by the Ford family.” The asking price was a very reasonable $1,000 so Cairo went to look at the car. He found what appeared to be a Hi-Po 289 hardtop in black. It had some unusual parts, though. The vinyl roof was leather, not vinyl, as was the interior upholstery and dashpad. The brightwork on the wheel arch lips was die-cast, not anodized aluminum as on production cars. Door jams and trunk openings had fully leaded seams, and there were features like GT foglights in the grille, exhaust tips and styled steel wheels that were not available on early production Mustangs. Under the hood, there was an alternator instead of a generator, which was what ran the electrical system of early Mustangs. The only Ford products that offered alternators in mid 1964 were Lincolns.
On the interior, in addition to leather seats there was real teakwood, molded leather door panels with pistol-grip door handles, and a factory reverb unit and rear speaker under the package shelf. Door strikers and latches were chrome plated. In addition to what appeared to be an authentic High Performance 289, the car had disc brakes up front, a “top loader” four speed manual transmission and a 9 inch rear end with a 3.50:1 final drive ratio.
When Art read the VIN, 5F07K100148, and realized that it was a genuine “K code” Mustang, an early production “1964 1/2″ model, with a real Hi-Po 289 and lots of oddball parts, he recognized that it was a special car and that he needed to buy it (it would turn out later that Cairo’s Mustang was the very first K-code Mustang built). In the glovebox he found an owner’s manual for a ’65 Mustang written with the name “Edsel B. Ford II” and a Grosse Pointe address. The VIN in the manual, however, was for a fastback and didn’t match the one in the car.
Edsel, Henry Ford II’s son, would have been in high school when the car was new so Cairo figured it was an authentic Ford family car and bought it, assuming it was the younger Ford’s personal car. In 1983, when Art was interviewing Edsel for the Mustang Monthly magazine, Edsel revealed to him that the hardtop was not his, but his father’s and that somehow the owner’s manual for his fastback ’65 ended up with his dad’s car. Since the car’s restoration, Edsel autographed the teakwood glovebox door.
It turns out that while the cars were built for Ford family members to use, they were not titled to the Ford’s but rather remained the possession of the Ford company. After Henry and Edsel were done with their Mustangs, they were returned to FoMoCo and sold. The story that Cairo had heard was that the Deuce gave his Mustang to his chauffeur, who then sold it to the person who sold it to Cairo.
In addition to the changes mentioned above, other modifications were discovered when the car was finally restored. The alternator meant that the car had a custom wiring harness. A steel scatter shield was welded into the transmission tunnel in case of a failure of the clutch or flywheel. The engine was a real Hi-Po 289, but it had experimental cylinder heads, and even the steering box was not a production unit. The original headliner was leather, to match the roof and upholstery and in addition to all the real wood and chrome plating, a custom AM radio with die-cast knobs and buttons was installed.
The fog lamps, exhaust trumpets and die-cast moldings were developmental parts planned to be introduced the following year, installed by Ford Design.
As mentioned, when Cairo bought the car, he knew it was special, being an early K-code car, but he didn’t take the Ford family provenance that seriously. He loaned the car to his brother, who beat on it pretty hard until something broke in the 289’s valvetrain. Art retrieved the keys, overhauled the heads and did a mild restoration and respray.
He didn’t drive it much because his job involving new vehicle launches at Ford kept him on the road a lot, moving from assembly plant to assembly plant. Though he drove 5F07K100148 sparingly, for the most part the car was unknown to the Mustang community.
In 2002, Cairo started getting worried about the long term effects of inactivity and humidity and a deep inspection found significant decay, rust and rodent damage. Rustbusters, a restoration shop in Redford, Michigan was entrusted with the car.
This was going to be a complicated job. Some parts, like the headliner and upholstery are so original they cannot be “restored”. How do you restore a one off with a replica?
The car was carefully taken apart, with copious notes and photographs taken. Once disassembled, they discovered that the rust had eaten through body panels, floors, frame-rails, wheelhouses, quarter-panels, inner fenders, doors, and the cowl vent. Had this been a run of the mill ’65 Mustang, most owners would have removed the VIN and bought a replacement body from Dynacorn.
Instead, with the help of reproduction company National Parts Depot, Rustbusters used a body jig custom designed for vintage Mustangs and repaired all of the sheet metal. A modern self-etching primer sealer was used as was polymer seam sealer, but Cairo was able to locate some vintage Ford Raven Black enamel, and after spraying, the Mustang was color sanded and hand rubbed old school style to replicate a 1964 era paint job. Unfortunately, the die-cast prototype wheel-lip moldings were too corroded to use.
Early production Mustangs came with an unimproved hood that had sharp edges, replaced in 1965 with a hood that had a rolled lip. Since all preproduction and Indy Pace Car Mustangs (Ford provided the pace car for the 1964 race) that have surfaced so far feature the later style hood, Art decided to go with the “1965” hood, which is how he found the car when he bought it.
The engine was rebuilt to factory specs, other than a .030 overbore, but inspections revealed that both the transmission and rear end just needed new seals and gaskets.
The car was finished just in time for Ford’s centennial in 2003 and Art was invited to display his car in front of Ford World Headquarters as part of the 100th anniversary celebration. This month it’s appropriately back in the lobby of the “Glass House”, whose official name is the Henry Ford II World Center, along with some other historic Mustangs, to celebrate the Mustang’s semicentennial.