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1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes

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.


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.