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1974 1975 1976 1977 1978 Ford Mustang

The 1974 Ford Mustang: The Winning Design

The September 1971 fastback that would become Mustang II wasn't Ghia's, but it showed the Italian coachbuilder's influence.

Ford President Lee Iacocca, looking to recapture the vibe of the first Ford Mustang for Mustang II, reinstituted the in-house design competition that produced the '65 model.

Once again, rival teams worked from an idea clearly defined by Iacocca: "The new Mustang must be small, with a wheelbase between 96 and 100 inches. It must be a sporty notchback and/or fastback coupe; the convertible is dead and can be forgotten. [He'd later think otherwise at Chrysler.] It must come as standard with a four-speed manual gearbox and a four-cylinder or small six-cylinder engine. Most important, it must be luxurious -- upholstered in quality materials and carefully built." At one point, Iacocca declared "the 1974 Mustang will have to be…a little jewel."


According to Ben Bidwell, then chief program product planner (he became Ford Division general manager in 1973 and was later Chrysler president under Iacocca), high quality was a must for Ford's president: "He will be out there in the showroom and he'll run his finger around the molding, and if it so much as scrapes him, some poor son of a gun will get it."

Of course, Iacocca also took a keen interest in Mustang II styling. As corporate planning chief Hal Sperlich recalled: "He was planning an entirely new kind of domestic car for a different kind of customer, so naturally he wanted it to look different from other cars on the market; different from the Mustangs of 1971, 1972, and 1973; different from the Pinto and different from the Capri, too."

All this ultimately came down to a late-November management review of five full-size clay models, one notchback and four fastbacks. The easy winner was a fastback from the Lincoln-Mercury group under Al Mueller. Like Joe Oros before him, he painted his clay -- in an eye-catching persimmon, not white -- so it would stand out and improve his team's chances.

As Mueller recalled for author Gary Witzenburg: "Mr. Iacocca's procedure at these showings usually is the same. He walks around the cars a few times and listens to the comments of others. Then he says exactly what he thinks -- either pro or con. He really flipped over our fastback. His cigar must have rolled around three times."

Lee Iacocca enthusiastically declared that Mustang II would "turn the small-car market on its ear".

But though surprisingly little altered for production, the design got mixed press reviews, and some critics felt that the notchback derived from it was a hodge-podge. The fastback was considered more handsome, though it wasn't a "classic" shape like the '65 Mustang. It was, however, more practical by dint of its European-style lift-up rear "door," a first for a Mustang and another boost for the popularity of hatchback body styles in America.

First-Class Cabin

Interior design was less debated, though no less involved. Forsaking usual design practice, studio chief Dave Ash decided to make his "seating buck" unusually realistic to convey a sense of being in a real automobile. He even attached exterior sheetmetal and four wheels.

"It was a time-consuming thing to build," he said later, "but it served its purpose very well. We didn't have to go through an elaborate series of meetings to determine everything. It was all approved right here. We were on a crash basis to get it done, and it was very enthusiastically received."

Ash later confessed that his team was partly inspired by the likes of Jaguar, Rolls-Royce, and Mercedes. "We put everything in that we could conceive of that connotes restrained elegance, plus the get-up-and-go that says Mustang -- something of a fire breather.... It's a kind of a mini T-Bird."

The posh Ghia interior, with its wood-tone dash accents and luxury carpeting, fit with Iacocca's vision of Mustang II as "a little jewel".

Unlike the massive, heavily sculptured twin-cowl instrument panels of 1969-73, the Mustang II panel was dominated by a simple large oblong directly ahead of the driver. This put all controls close at hand, yet still had room for all necessary warning lights and instruments. Surprisingly, the latter included a standard tachometer, temperature gauge, and ammeter.

Seats were initially covered in pleated cloth, vinyl, or optional leather -- unusually plush for a small car. They had no rake adjustment, cited as a literal sore point by some road-testers, but were definitely more comfortable than previous Mustang seats.

Rear legroom was limited, but the new car was seen as being used primarily by one or two adults who would sit in the front. Back-seat room would be sufficient only for a couple of small children or for an adult passenger to be comfortable for a short time. Another echo of Ford's first pony car.

The winning design was a fastback, but two body styles would be offered. On the next page, learn how a notchback also found its way into the 1974 Mustang lineup.

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.
  • A bigger, brawnier Mustang galloped in for 1971, just as buyers were moving away from the pony car market. In 1971-1972-1973 Ford Mustang, learn how the car still offered high style.
  • Mustang began a second revolution with the handsome, sophisticated "New Breed". 1979-1980-1981 Ford Mustang tells how hit scored big in the showroom, and in fans' hearts.
  • Ford muscle cars were among the top performers of the muscle car era. Check out profiles, photos, and specifications of some tough Ford muscle cars.