The Mustang was officially shown to the world for the first time on April 17, 1964. It's kind of a big deal that the original pony car is turning 51 years old, so to celebrate its half century on earth we flew to Detroit in search of the holy grail: The Mustang Archives.
While they weren't in a vault at the end of an Indiana Jones-style labyrinth like we hoped, they were meticulously maintained, and incredibly high res. As we dug through the infinite image library, something became apparent: there was an awful lot that even we didn't know about Mustang, and so the concept for this story was born.
Below are our findings, we hope you enjoy them as much as we enjoyed digging them up.
The guys who designed the first mustang looked, smoked, and acted like Don Draper.
Really, how would you like to be the guy remodeling the clay while a bunch of chain smoking suits watch over you? The pressure must have been immense, especially since the car's main purpose for existence was to draw attention to the company.
Shown: The Mustang I, being sculpted as a bunch of designers and managers look on.
And when it was done, it was almost as fast as an F1 car.
The original target was to beat Chevrolet’s rear-engined Corvair. Instead, when Dan Gurney hopped in the working prototype and drove it around the Grand Prix circuit at Watkins Glen in upstate New York, he was only a couple seconds off of the Formula 1 cars of the day, which is incomprehensible by today’s standards.
Shown: The Mustang Mach I being scrutinized prior to being built as a car.
Madison Avenue understood the sex appeal of the first 'Stang.
Imagine trying to run this ad today? You'd be thrown in jail. "Surgeon General's Warning: Owning a Mustang will get you extremely laid."
Shown: A guy reaches over the Mustang I to light a woman's cigarette in this 1962 Ford ad.
The second Mustang design was basically done by George Jetson.
Look at the way it gleams! It's the future! It's 1963! My clothes smell like cigarettes! Really, though, the Mustang II was built on a 1964.5 Mustang chassis as a way to transition the design from the wild Mustang I concept, and as sketched would have been a pretty far out way to whip around town.
Shown: This sketch shows how much of the Mustang I concept was carried over to production.
Well, at least until Ford got the hint and quit going down that road.
Shown: This model from 1964 would've been a very strange looking update.
Allegedly though, that styling was inspired by this Alfa Romeo.
It was a one-off 1900 CSS built by design firm Ghia, after being commissioned by a San Francisco-area restauranteur who wanted a back seat area for his Great Dane:
"Although championed by Lee Iacocca, the Mustang's design team of Joesep Oros, L. David Ash, Gale Halderman and John Foster made no secret that this particular Alfa Romeo was the main basis of the Mustang design," said Bill Noon of Symbolic Motorcars.
Little surprise that Ford later bought Ghia...
Shown: The Alfa Romeo 1900 CSS.
Fact #6 Cont.
Can you spot the resemblance?
Depending on who you ask, though, you'll get a different answer to the urban legend's veracity. This sketch from 1963 does seem to support it, however. Just look at that 3/4 panel and those gills!
Shown: The lines on this pre-production sketchdo bear an awfully strong resemblance to that Alfa.
For a long time, that Mustang was going to be a Cougar.
Other names it almost took included Panther and Torino. Rather unsurprisingly, they conducted extensive market research to reach their decision. Can you imagine a world without that shiny silver horse? Neither can we.
Shown: These early sketches show the Mustang as a Cougar.
No, seriously: it was really gonna be called Cougar.
They even had a whole slate of badges and emblems ready to go. At least they got to use modified variants of them when the Mustang's Mercury sister debuted as the Cougar.
Shown: Cougar badges and emblems from 1963.
The decision to stick with Mustang has nothing to do with SMU.
The SMU Mustangs fought hard against the Michigan Wolverines on September 28, 1963. They lost, 27-16, but the father of the Mustang, Lee Iacocca, walked into the SMU locker room after the game and told them they fought so tough, Ford was going to name their new sports car after them. Legendary coach Hayden Fry also claims Iacocca gave him the first one off the line for a buck.
Shown: The famous Mustang Pony, as a carving, before ever being placed on a car.
Fact #8 Cont.
Here's the proof.
As this picture shows, however, the name was decided earlier. The real story is far less glorious, involving tons of market research and A/B testing. This picture is of a Mustang, as a Mustang, the day before the game even took place. In all likelihood, Iacocca really did walk into the locker room, but as a showman, not a wish granter.
Shown: Mustang had its name and iconic pony emblem on or before September 27, 1963.
There are different stories of the first Mustang sold.
The Mustang produced with the lowest serial number to be sold to the public went to this guy, a Canadian airline pilot, Captain Stanley Tucker. However, a few days prior, a woman named Gail Wise managed to snag one from a dealership, with no clue as to how important it was. She still owns it to this day. Then, of course, there's Hayden Fry's claim of the $1 'Stang.
Shown: Captain Stanley, with both his car and his (airline's) plane.
Early Mustang ads positioned it as the perfect car for your secretary.
Clearly, every secretary in the 1960s played guitar, wore short skirts, and smiled a lot. They also had no issue slamming a four on the floor V8 around town with your rolodex on the dash. The sixties were friggin' amazing.
Shown: The Mustang in an early advertisement aimed at secretaries.
There was almost a Mustang 'Aspen' station wagon.
As you can see from this clay model that was shot on October 28, 1966, the idea of making a Mustang into a station wagon happened kinda early on. Allegedly two of these actually were made. Once in a very blue moon, an aftermarket Mustang wagon will pop up at a Caffeine and Cars event and everyone collectively loses their minds over what they're seeing.
Shown: This Mustang 'Aspen' station wagon never got past the clay model stage.
The Mustang logo supposedly runs right to left because of Manifest Destiny.
Most people alive can’t remember, and those that do aren’t commenting, but the theory is that it looks like east to west on a map, and unconsciously reminds people of the freedom of the Old West.
Shown: A pre-Mustang Mustang, with its emblem running from right to left.
And it almost had oval headlights.
Until August of 1962, the emblem was running eastward and the headlights were straight up ovals. Mercifully this was corrected.
Shown: A pre-Mustang Mustang, whose emblem runs left to right. Note the oval headlights as well.
The Mach II prototype looked like a european supercar.
The deep up front and the smooth lines made it look distinctly European (GT40 meets Miura?). It’s a shame this one didn’t get developed further, as it was the mid-rear engined spiritual successor to the Mustang I and, built using a modified Mustang chassis, was legitimately plausible from a production standpoint.
Shown: The Mach II was a sleek, plausible sports car.
They thought about some pretty radical engine bay designs.
Without a doubt, this hood is one of the coolest features they never produced on a Mustang. This sketch eventually became the Mach I prototype, and while it sadly never saw production, it did influence the design of the 1969 model's Sportsroof.
Shown: This sketch was part of a series that was so well thought-out, Ford went ahead and built the trial model.
The original Mach I had a pivot seat.
We’re not sure how safe that would’ve been, and evidently, neither were the engineers. It was still pretty cool, though. There are so many awesome features on the car they never produced that there's almost definitely a market for them if Ford decided to build a few of them today. *cough* hint *cough* hint *cough*
Shown: The original Mach I prototype's interior.
The really awesome-looking fog lights on early Shelby Mustangs caused overheating.
They took up too much room on the grille in front of the radiator, so in some conditions, they didn't allow enough air to cool everything down.
Shown: A Shelby prototype, from 1967.
Fact #17 Cont.
So they spaced them out.
The look might not have been as sexy, but it was still better than sitting on the side of the road.
Shown: Later Shelby fog lights that are spaced out for better cooling.
The Mustang Milano concept was basically part Shelby GT500, part Torino.
As you can see by the fact that it actually has an interior, it came pretty close to fruition, too. The Mustang Milano was a full seven inches lower than a regular Mustang, and the tail lights went from green, to yellow, to red, depending on if you were accelerating, coasting, or braking.
Shown: The Mustang Milano, in all its glory.
The Mustang IMSA is the most hardcore track Mustang Ford never produced.
Shown: The Mustang IMSA, with its huge fender flares.
Fact #19 Cont.
It was slated to have Recaro seats, proper racing harnesses, fluorescent lighting in the dash so you could see the gauges even if the sun was in your eyes, all sorts of Top Gun switches in the steering wheel for lights, wipers, etc., and warning lights built into the friggin' hood.
Shown: The Mustang IMSA's fully kitted-out interior.
Ford bought iconic Italian design firm Ghia, and stuff like this happened.
This Italian-designed Mustang is called the RSX. It was basically a concept rally car, with essentially the same 2.3l turbo four cylinder that later wound up in the SVO. The wheelbase was shortened by nearly six inches to make it better over rough terrain. It was a pretty cool concept car, to be sure, but even more cool are the stories surrounding this photo shoot. We were sworn to secrecy though. Really.
Shown: A girl in gold. An Italian-designed rally-ready Mustang. What's not to like?
Shown: A 'Full Bleed' advertisement for the McLaren partnership.
Legendary designer Giorgetto Giugiaro did a mustang with Lambo Doors.
The man has designed everything from Nikons to Berettas, with stops at Lamborghini, Lotus, Maserati, Ferrari, DeLorean, and Bugatti along the way, among many others. In a word: Legend.
Shown: Guigiaro's concept Mustang, complete with Lambo doors.
Lee Iacocca, father of the Mustang, is still alive.
And frankly, he's a little insulted that you thought he wasn't. Pop by his eponymous website to get your leadership skills on. Maybe try dropping him a letter asking him if he's still got that badass T-Square.