Original Concept - 1962

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From its very inception, the Mustang was foreseen as a sporty performance car. The realities of the day placed Ford’s pony car onto a Falcon chassis for production, but many of the original design concepts stayed with the car from its real beginning in 1962.

The very first Mustang was an experimental or concept car, intended to showcase new ideas and draw customers into Ford dealers’ showrooms. The company’s success with the Falcon sedan confirmed America’s new-found acceptance of smaller cars, competing with GM’s Corvair sedan, introduced in 1959. GM had brought out the Corvair to compete with the Volkswagen Beetle, which had been gaining sales momentum since the mid-1950s.

In 1962, GM released the Corvair Monza Spyder convertible, maintaining the VW-inspired rear engine design, but adding a turbocharger which raised the engine output to 150 hp. At 2675 pounds for the convertible, performance was more in line with a sporty image. The buying public agreed, and GM built over 300,000 Monza Spyders that year.

Pause for a moment to reflect on this series of connections and you could come to the conclusion that were it not for the VW Beetle, we might not have the Mustang as we know it today. A bit frightening, that.

Ford needed to respond to the Monza Spyder, so three key executives were involved in defining and building the original concept car. They were Gene Bordinat, vice president of styling, Herbert Misch, vice president of engineering and research, and Roy Lunn, manager of the Ford Advanced Vehicle center.

In just three weeks, they moved the car’s concepts off paper and onto a clay model. Lunn’s background at Ford Europe led the team to choose a rear-mounted, 60-degree V4 engine used in Europe. Much of the internals followed race car design practices of the time, with a load-bearing aluminum skin over a tubular steel chassis. Under that aluminum skin, you would also find a wishbone suspension using coil springs and shocks, a rack and pinion steering gear, front disc brakes with rear drum brakes and a four-speed transaxle.

The engine was cooled by two small radiators set at the sides of the car, just ahead the rear wheels. Those cooling inlets have remained a part of the Mustang’s styling DNA ever since. Two Mustang I cars were built by Troutman-Barnes of Culver City, California. One was fully functional, while the other was a fiberglass mockup for display purposes.

In October of 1962, the Mustang concept broke cover at the Formula 1 race in Watkins Glen, NY. Both Dan Gurney and Sterling Moss drove the Mustang for several demonstration laps around the race course. With 109 horsepower in a car weighing just 1544 pounds, the Mustang was capable of a 115 mph top speed. Designed both to FIA and SCCA requirements, the car was an immediate hit within the racing crowd.

That success, however, did not carry over to the general public. In point of fact, the Mustang I was not a particularly suitable design for a production car. That work would carry on in earnest over the next eighteen months, resulting in a second concept car that was much closer to the wildly successful design, introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair at Flushing Meadows in Queens, NY.

Today, the Mustang I concept car resides in the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, MI. Anybody can stop by and take a close look at Mustang history, instead of just reading about it. Currently parked beside the original #1 production Mustang, you will wonder at the small size of the car.

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  Since August 31, 2015