"Let's revert to the slab stern and high luggage compartment, the nearly vertical rear window, the leather strap and 'chunk of road machinery' feeling." That's from a multipage document describing the need for an American four-passenger sports car, a text leading to one of the most successful product launches Detroit ever enjoyed, Ford's April 1964 Mustang. Written in 1956, it was presented to -- and furiously rejected by -- Harley J. Earl, General Motors' styling chief. Its author, Barney Clark, wrote Corvette advertising copy at the time. A few years later, working for J. Walter Thompson on the Ford account, he talked with product planner Don Frey about it. Lee Iacocca may be the "father of the Mustang," but he got the notion via Frey and Clark, and thus indirectly from GM. Even the final 108-inch wheelbase was first determined by GM's Anatole Lapine, who subsequently became Porsche's design leader. Nothing's simple in the car-design business.
The Mustang came along at the right time, when the first of the baby boomers were coming into young adulthood and their forty-ish parents, about to be free of their offspring, could think about something other than four-door sedans and station wagons. So there were two generations that were ripe for buying something both financially accessible and sporty. The car was so perfectly attuned to the market that some 400,000 were snapped up in the first year of production, a record. The base price for a wheezing six-cylinder Falcon engine with a three-speed gearbox and drum brakes was $2368, but even when equipped with a high-performance V-8, the Mustang was a tremendous bargain.
Joe Oros led the winning design team, and quite a lot of the classic 1961 Lincoln Continental shows up in the car, especially the fender profile with the slight rear kickup. The front end, with the high rectangular center grille, is closely patterned on the 1950s Dual-Ghia, styled by Chrysler's Virgil Exner. Once again, nothing is simple in the car-design business. Don Kopka, who retired as Ford design VP in 1987, did the first Mustang restyling when he arrived from Chrysler. He told me he'd thought the Mustang was too flat and rectilinear, so he made the 1967 car rounder and fatter, but he eventually believed "the '641/2 was much better," a handsome admission from any designer.
When the project was first conceived at GM, Mustang was one of many "cowboy movie" names that were entertained, most of which have subsequently shown up on cars and trucks -- Bronco, Scout, Pony, Palomino, and Pinto come to mind -- but the now-iconic name didn't really matter. It could have been called Cayuse or Silver, two suggestions not yet used, because it was the concept and the look that mattered, as proven by the Mustang II deviation. To quote another bit from Barney Clark's document, "You could, in a sense, 'style it and forget it' -- there would be no necessity for yearly revisions or major face-lifts." Today's successful retro design just about proves that thesis.
Read gm's original 1956 four-seat sports car proposal at here.