Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes

The 1965 Ford Mustang Prototype
The design for the production Mustang can be traced, mostly untouched, to the Ford Studio model.

What would become the epochal 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang can be traced directly to the Ford Studio model that was "validated" for production on September 10, 1962, less than a month after a courtyard showdown of competing design concepts.

Except for changes typically made for mass production -- suitable bumpers, round headlights, less windshield rake -- the design was essentially untouched. And most Ford people didn't want it touched anyway. That included engineers, who bent a good many in-house rules to keep the styling intact.

The task of "productionizing" the Mustang fell to executive engineer Jack Predergast and development engineer C. N. Reuter. It was mainly a body engineering job, because the basic chassis, suspension, and driveline were, by design, shared with the Falcon and the related "intermediate" Fairlane, new for '62.

Overall length ended up at 181.6 inches, a bit over the specified limit but identical to that of the reskinned 1964 Falcon. Wheelbase was set at 108 inches, 1.5 inches shorter than Falcon's, but enough to accommodate four passengers. Though Falcon relied mainly on six-cylinder engines, designer Joe Oros' team had left plenty of underhood space for Ford's light and lively new "Challenger" V-8, which arrived with the Fairlane and became a new option for top-line '63 Falcons.

Designer Joe Oros felt a fastback coupe would give Mustang a truly sporty image and got it approved.

Though Mustang development focused mainly on a hardtop coupe, the effort more or less assumed that a convertible would also be offered despite its inevitably higher price and lower sales. But with racy fastbacks starting to make a comeback in the market, designers felt a sloped-roof coupe was essential to give Mustang a credible performance image with American youth. Planners okayed the fastback, and it was all but wrapped up by mid-October 1963. However, it wouldn't start sale until some six months after its stablemates.

Why the delay? One reason was that the Mustang was a new idea and thus not a guaranteed success, however promising it seemed. While many Ford people thought it would be quite popular, there were a few -- including chairman Henry Ford II -- who feared a replay of the recent Edsel fiasco. They needn't have worried. Indeed, market research conducted during the program's final months strongly indicated that Ford had a winner on its hands. But the Edsel's outlook had been just as rosy, hence a certain amount of hand-wringing in late 1963.

Names and Icons

By that point, Ford had settled on the Mustang name after months of search and debate. Cougar had emerged as the early favorite, one reason the Oros team model wore Cougar nameplates and a big stylized cat within its grille. But countless other names were considered along the way, including Torino, Turino, and even T-5. Chairman Ford liked "Thunderbird II" and "T-Bird II." Ford Division chief Lee Iacocca, engineer Donald N. Frey, and others argued for Mustang, though other horses were in the running for a time, including Colt, Bronco, Maverick -- and Pinto.

In any case, the name wasn't finally decided until late in the game. Indeed, some early Mustang press photos showed production prototypes with another big cat in the grille. But a galloping horse soon took its place. This icon was cast from a mahogany carving by sculptor Waino Kangas working from sketches by John Najjar and Phil Clark for the Mustang I. Equine name aside, the only other legacy from the little midships roadster was a small tri-color logo designed by Najjar, which appeared on the production model's dashboard and lower front fenders.

Many newspapers and magazines previewed Ford's new sporty car with early PR photos of a "Mustang" wearing a Cougar grille emblem.

In many ways, Mustang was a perfect name for the sporty new Ford, evoking romantic images of free-spirited cowboys astride powerful steeds. Just as important, it was easy to spell and easy to remember. As one Ford ad man said, Mustang "had the excitement of the wide-open spaces, and it was American as all hell."

But it wasn't yet a household name, and Ford publicists wanted to build on the buzz created by the Mustang I. The result was a new showpiece, a convertible logically named Mustang II. Though billed as another "experiment," this was really an exaggerated preview of the showroom models, built after tooling was ordered with mostly production-line parts.

Differences included a five-inch longer hood, a more pointed front, a bulkier tail, a cut-down windshield, matching liftoff hardtop, no bumpers, and an elaborately trimmed custom interior. Ford returned to Watkins Glen in October 1963 to unveil the Mustang II. Response was enthusiastic, which must have lessened some anxiety in Dearborn. Reporters, noting the car looked factory-ready, now knew what they'd suspected for months: Ford was up to something potentially very big.

Unveiled in October 1963, the "experimental" Mustang II was actually a fully engineered production Mustang with a custom liftoff hardtop.

The Mustang II kicked off a six-month publicity buildup to announcement day. The next major step came on January 21, 1964, when invited reporters went to Dearborn for a "Mustang Technical Press Conference." Iacocca, who conceived the Mustang idea, played host, beaming like a proud new papa. "Frankly, we can hardly wait for you to get behind the wheel of a Mustang," he gushed. "We think you're in for a driving experience such as you've never had before."

A revolution was about to begin and the American automotive landscape would be forever changed. It's not too far a stretch to say Mustang helped alter America itself in some ways. Find out how in the next section.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • Mustang thundered onto America's automotive landscape like no car in history. 1965, 1966 Ford Mustang tells how the initial models captivated the nation to capture more than a million sales.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • For a full report on the 2007 Ford Mustang, check out Consumer Guide New Car Reviews.  Here you'll find road test results, photos, specifications, and prices for hundreds of cars, trucks, minivans, and SUVs.