There was a time when you would hear the word “Mustang” and the first thing that would be summoned to mind would be the elegant American horses roaming the western frontiers – almost the embodiment of the country’s spirit and future – but that all changed when Ford introduced their Mustang model.
Based on the Ford Falcon’s platform, the first glimpse the public had of the Mustang was in 1962 under the name “Ford Mustang I” – a two-seater concept car that would lead to an updated four-seater model by the following year – this one, unsurprisingly, called the “Ford Mustang II”.
Now – where did the Mustang get its name? Those who know about the Ford company are likely aware of the contributions made by-then executive stylist John Najjar, who was said to bring his inspiration, interestingly enough not from the horses that share the name but from the World War II P-51 Mustang fighter plan. Najjar’s 40 years at Ford was primarily spent on futuristic automotive design and development – features that would eventually come to be included across the Ford, Lincoln, and Mercury brands as well as Continentals. Beyond vehicles specifically associated with Ford, Najjar’s concepts went on the fuel the vision between the Batmobile present in the 1966 television series. He acted as co-designer on the prototype while working alongside Philip T. Clark whose name also likely rings a bell – and whose design of the Mustang’s “running horse” emblem has made it one of the more iconic vehicles in the world.
Now, it wouldn’t be fair to ignore the other possibility as presented by Robert J. Eggert, a market research manager part of the Ford Division who has also received some credit for the name – specifically because he was a breeder of quarterhorses and received a book from his wife that same year entitled “The Mustangs”. He suggests that the book title was what inspired the name for the new concept car. This all came in at a time when Henry Ford II suggested using the T-bird II as a name, but during a tested focus group Eggbert is known to have added Mustang to the list and it was the one chosen, by a large margin.
Lee Iacocca enters the picture at this point, or more specifically his assistant general manager and acting chief engineer Donald N. Frey. Working on what was referred to as the T-5 Project (a name that the Mustang sold under in Germany because of a conflict with a pre-existing truck that went by the same name) supervising the development of the car over an 18 month period.
Iacocca himself ensured that the vehicle’s creation went smoothly – including an assurance that the price for the Mustang would be US$2,368, and for which many of the same parts were used from existing vehicles on the Ford fleet. Initial sales expectations had the Mustang at under 100,000 units in its inaugural year – a number that was accomplished just 3 months in – leading to another 318,000 sold by the end of the model year – a record at the time.
Upgrades came into the second year as well as numerous model iterations leading up to the second generation in 1974 through to 1978. What the modern driver owes to the Mustang happens to start with the introduction of an entirely new segment of automobiles – specifically the launch of what are now regarded as “pony cars”. The Mustang, uniquely, holding its sales steady for 5 decades of development and revisions.