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1971 1972 1973 Ford Mustang

Planning the 1971 Ford Mustang

A convertible mockup from 1969 is very close to the '71 ragtop in showrooms, but the crosshair grille was rejected.

Just as important as the late-Sixties zeitgeist in shaping the 1971 Ford Mustang were the personalities of short-time Ford president Bunkie Knudsen and designer Larry Shinoda, the GM guys who shocked the industry by jumping ship in 1968. Both loved hot cars, but while the expansive fourth-generation certainly reflected that, it was also something of an ego trip.

Knudsen went to Ford after being passed over as GM president, a key reason he accepted the Dearborn job from chairman Henry Ford II. It's therefore reasonable to assume that Knudsen was determined to show by his labors at Ford that GM had made the wrong choice. Also, like his new Dearborn rival, Lee Iacocca, Knudsen knew a thing or two about automobiles and how to sell them. He was arguably even more a "car guy" than the jilted Iacocca, though Shinoda shaded them both.



In any case, Knudsen wasted little time in looking over Ford's near-term product plans, especially those involving icon models like Mustang. The key thing is, he did so with full knowledge of what General Motors was planning for those same future years. Knudsen's management skills were beyond doubt -- after all, he'd come to Ford after doing a bang-up job as general manager at Chevrolet -- but his insider knowledge of GM's plans gave Ford a golden opportunity to outdo its crosstown foe.

The taillamps from the 1969 mockup were also rejected for the 1971 production model, but the wheel design would be preserved for optional wheel covers.

Indeed, one suspects this loomed large for HFII in offering the president's post to Bunkie instead of Iacocca. As a result, Knudsen wielded unusually heavy influence for an outsider. Sure, he had his own opinions, but they were informed by what the competition was planning, so Ford listened when Bunkie talked. We can also be pretty sure that Ford (and GM as well) had a good idea of what Chrysler would be doing around the turn of the decade. (When it comes to spies, the CIA has nothing on Detroit.)

Marketer Machinations

A final factor in shaping the '71 Mustang was Ford's vaunted marketing department, ever a powerful influence on company decision-makers.

After analyzing sales trends, customer comments, intelligence reports, and other piles of data, product planners concluded the next Mustang, to use Mustang historian Gary Witzenburg's words, "would have to be bigger…longer wheebase, wider treads, beefier chassis, suspension, driveline, and brakes, and larger wheel openings to take the bigger tires. At the same time, it would have to be quieter, roomier, more comfortable, [softer-riding], and more luxurious to satisfy the other end of the market. Of the so-called 'three faces of Mustang,' the profits were clearly generated by the luxury face as much as the macho face, and the expectations of small luxo-car buyers were also increasing every year."

The 1971 models, including the Mach 1 fastback shown here in prototype form, were informed by insider knowledge of GM's product line.

All perfectly logical, but how to pull it off? Witzenburg quotes Ford design chief Eugene Bordinat on that very topic:

"You [always] run into the problem…of how to make the car all things to all people, and I think that over time, the greatest fights we had with the Mustang were to keep the compromise package. The product planner's idea of how to increase the sales volume of a car is to make it accommodate more people and to add creature comforts. But the minute you begin to fool with compromises in that sort of package, guess what? You end up with a two-door sedan. And then they wouldn't understand why it didn't look quite the same, and you have to explain that you...can't make [one car] serve two masters."

Through it all, there were plenty of false starts on the design of the next model. Check out some of the misses on the next page.

For even more on the Ford Mustang, check out the following links.

  • 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 had it all for 1969 -- except buyers. Sales were lower still in 1970. In 1969-1970 Ford Mustang, you'll find out how a new president infused the brand with more performance.
  • With Lee Iacocca back in the saddle, Ford's ponycar revsited its roots. 1974-1978 Ford Mustang tells the story of the Mustang II with its smaller, lighter design and return to rationality.
  • The 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351 was Ford's final high-performance Mustang of the classic muscle car era. Here's a profile, photos, and specifications.