1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes


The biggest automotive success of the 1960s was actually some 20 years in the making. Since World War II, Americans had shown growing enthusiasm for British and European sports cars with their rakish looks, handy size, tight handling, and intriguing "foreign" features like tachometer, floorshift, and individual "bucket" seats. Sports cars attracted few sales but tons of attention.

Ford Mustang Image Gallery

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That's why Detroit paraded yearly fleets of sporty two-seat "dream cars" in the Fifties and offered sporty versions of some existing models. Struggling independent manufacturers Nash and Kaiser-Frazer actually built credible sports cars as "a difference to sell." But among the Big Three, only General Motors offered anything like a genuine sports car. Even then, the Chevrolet Corvette met a poor reception on its 1953 debut and was almost killed after two years for lack of sales.

Ford achieved far more success with the 1955-57 Thunderbird, a "personal" two-seat convertible with the V-8 power, boulevard ride, and convenience features Americans craved. But Ford Division chief Robert S. McNamara figured a four-seat model would sell even better. The replacement 1958 T-Bird proved him right. At the same time, however, Americans were fast turning from Detroit's gaudy, gas-guzzling giants to small European cars and thrifty new domestic compacts like the Studebaker Lark. The Big Three responded for 1960 with the compact Ford Falcon, Chevy Corvair, and Chrysler Valiant. Though the affordable, orthodox Falcon was soon way outselling its rivals, the unconventional Corvair scored a surprise hit in mid-1960 with the snazzy Monza coupe featuring vinyl bucket seats, floorshift, and snazzy trim. Ford fired back the next year with a similar Falcon Futura.It was in 1961 that an astute new Ford Division chief broached the idea of a more distinctive sporty Ford. A self-professed car-crazy and nobody's fool, Lee Iacocca had worked in the rental-car business as a high-schooler, attended Lehigh University, and earned a master's in mechanical engineering at Princeton on a scholarship. After joining the Ford sales force in Pennsylvania, he devised a novel and successful sales scheme that McNamara used nationwide. By age 35, Iacocca was a Ford vice-president. A year later, in 1960, he was promoted to head Ford Division.The new chief moved quickly to rejuvenate Ford's profitable but stodgy lineup. He rushed out the Futura, added more "Lively Ones" for mid-1962 and again for "1963 1/2," and put fastback rooflines on several models. He also launched an all-out racing program under the same "Total Performance" banner. By mid-decade, Ford was a consistent winner on racetracks and road courses the world over, which boosted sales and the division's bottom line.But Iacocca wanted something more, suspecting there was a market looking for a new kind of car. He took his hunch to a 1961 meeting of the Fairlane Group, an informal planning committee composed of top company execs and Ford advertising people.

The initial sketches impressed Ford execs enough that they ordered upa realistic full-size mockup.

Iacocca pointed out that America's huge "baby boom" generation was coming of age, would have money to spend, and would probably go big for a smaller car with high style, a low price, sporty features, and enough space for two adults and two children. The committee agreed, and Iacocca tapped engineer and product-planning manager Donald N. Frey to head up a new project dubbed T-5. The Mustang was on its way.

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.

The Mustang I Two-Seat Concept Car

A fully operable model was built in 1961 for publicity and to test public reaction.

Just as chairman Lee Iacocca got Ford rolling on an effort for a sporty, affordable car, other Ford hands were finishing up a very different think-young car, the Mustang I. Petite and curvy, this open two-seater borrowed a front-wheel-drive powertrain from Ford Germany's mainstream Cardinal/Taunus sedan but put it behind the cockpit. Lead designer John Najjar suggested this mechanical format, then becoming de rigueur for racing cars. He also came up with the horsey name.

Though simply a what-if exercise at first, the Mustang I impressed design vice-president Eugene Bordinat. As it happened, Bordinat wanted a newsworthy "bell-ringer" for Ford's autumn-1961 new-model press preview and ordered that Mustang I be transformed from clay-model dream to drivable reality.

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Engineers Herb Misch and Roy Lunn were called in and rushed to meet a tight 60-day deadline, working closely with Najjar's staff and interior designers led by Damon Woods. Construction was assigned to Southern California race-car fabricator Troutman-Barnes.

Riding a trim 90-inch wheelbase, the Mustang I measured 154.3 inches long and barely three feet tall at its highest point, a racy built-in rollover bar. Curb weight was a feathery 1500 pounds, so although the small, 1.5-liter German V-4 engine was tuned for only 90 horsepower, the car could do 0-60 mph in a brisk 10 seconds while squeezing out up to 30 mpg. Predictably, Mustang I was polo-pony agile, thanks to the low weight, a ground-hugging stance, and sophisticated European-style all-independent suspension.

The Mustang I was not only Dearborn's first true sports car, it was very innovative and thus quite unexpected from tradition-bound Detroit. Jaded reporters pleaded for a ride at the new-model preview, then went home to write glowing stories. The public didn't get to see Mustang I in person until October 1962, when race driver Dan Gurney drove it around the Watkins Glen circuit in New York before the start of the U.S. Grand Prix.

Sports-car purists raved about the Mustang I, but Ford deemed the car too costly and impractical to produce.

For a time, there was talk that Ford would build Mustang I for sale, and Najjar's studio devised a larger windshield, door windows, and a lightweight removable hardtop with that possibility in mind. But as Iacocca later told the press, Mustang I never had a chance.

Where sports-car purists saw a dream come true, Ford's market-savvy chief saw a car that would be costly to produce. He also knew that a tight two-seater with hardly any luggage space would be tough to sell in sufficient numbers to return a sizable profit. "That's sure not the car we want to build, because it can't be a volume car," he declared. "It's too far out." Exit Mustang I.

As 1962 rolled on, such key points as the number of seats, the price target, and especially the car's name were still very much at issue. Learn on the next page where these early experiments into a sporty new car would lead Ford, and young America.

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.

Designing the 1965 Ford Mustang

The Allegro-X car shown in August 1963 was one of many ideas to come from the T-5 program, but it proved a literal red herring.

It was still more than two years before the original 1965 Ford Mustang would make its debut, and Ford was casting about for the right formula. Engineers, designers, and marketing men were in uncharted territory: No one had ever created the kind of car they were after.

Ford briefly considered another two-seat idea, the "XT-Bird," a revival of the 1957 Thunderbird proposed by the Budd Company, which had built the original bodies and still had tooling. Budd pitched a prototype using a Falcon chassis and a '57 T-Bird body with updated styling and a tiny rear seat added. But though claimed production costs were temptingly low, Ford couldn't see a two-seater of any kind drawing the sales and profits that Ford Division chief Lee Iacocca was after.

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Even so, two-seaters persisted for a while in T-5 work, which produced scores of sketches, renderings, and clay models. Major themes were refined through several groups of designs labeled Avventura, Allegro, Mina, Median, and Stilletto, to name a few.

The Allegro series alone comprised some 13 workouts differing in appearance, size, projected cost, and other key factors. One Allegro, a fastback coupe, was publicly shown as a "styling experimental car" in August 1963, but it was already a dead duck. Of the many sporty-car concepts churned out in 1961 and into '62, none satisfied Iacocca and other Ford execs.

To get things moving, an impatient Iacocca had the program restarted in August 1962. A new package was laid down, and the company's three design studios were assigned to come up with fitting proposals. Iacocca felt the in-house competition was bound to produce the car everyone was searching for.

The requirements were daunting: a $2500 target price, 2500-pound curb weight, 180-inch overall length, seating for four, standard floorshift, and maximum use of Falcon components. Styling was to be "sporty, personal, and tight." Marketers threw in the notion of an arm-long option list so buyers could equip the car for economy, luxury, performance, or any combination.

Lincoln-Mercury submitted a crisp notchback in Ford's in-house competition to design the original Mustang.

The contest pitted the Ford and Lincoln-Mercury divisional studios against a team from the Advanced Design section under Don DeLaRossa, all guided by design vice-president Eugene Bordinat. Each studio had just two weeks to come up with one or more full-size clay models.

Ultimately, seven candidates were wheeled into the Ford Design Center courtyard for an August 16 executive review. Each had its own character, some more formal than others, but most featured a long hood and a relatively short rear deck surmounted by a close-coupled "greenhouse." This look was at least partly inspired by the sporty yet elegant 1956-57 Continental Mark II, a design benchmark among recent Dearborn cars, but it was also the basic look of many genuine sports cars. Other shared traits included full rear-wheel openings and crisp body lines.

At Last, a Winner

Among the gathered seven, one design leaped out, a white notchback coupe. "It was the only one that seemed to be moving," Iacocca said.

A Ford Studio design was eventually chosen. Note the Cougar insignia indicative of an early proposal for the car's name.

Fittingly perhaps, it came from the Ford Studio headed by veteran designer Joe Oros, studio manager Gale Halderman and executive designer L. David Ash. Oros had his team paint their clay white so as to catch management eyes, which it obviously did. It looked much like the eventual showroom Mustang except for different side treatments left and right -- the former would be chosen for production -- plus rectangular headlamps, different trim, and nameplates (more of which shortly). Ironically, this mockup was a second-thought rush job, completed in only three days after the group spent its first week on a design that Oros immediately vetoed upon returning from an outside seminar.

Iacocca's baby now moved ahead with unusual speed. Find out how Ford settled upon its final form, look, and even the name, on the next page.

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.

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.

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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.