J Mays: 2005 Mustang Styling Director

J Mays directed the styling of the Ford Mustang after a distinguished career in design.

Rare is the automotive stylist who breaks out of the studio and into the mainstream, but when you're the driving force behind such high-profile designs as the Volkswagen New Beetle, Audi TT, and the Ford GT and Thunderbird, notoriety finds you. It generates articles in Time and USA Today and scores of other publications, awards from such auspicious heights as the Harvard Design School, even a retrospective at the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art. Such is the star power of Ford design chief J Mays. Born in Oklahoma in 1954, he graduated from California's Art Center College of Design and climbed the career ladder in the studios of VW, Audi, and BMW. Mays joined Ford Motor Company in 1997, and in 2003 was named the corporation's Group Vice President, Design, responsible for shaping the design direction of its entire portfolio of brands. That role expanded in 2005 to include the title of  "Chief Creative Officer." Mays directed the styling of the 2005 Mustang, an experience presented here, in his own words.  

Well, you never want to have anyone say that you've loused up an icon. I've done quite a few icons now in the last 10 years, for this company and other ones. And my biggest nightmare, the thing that made me wake up at night in a cold sweat, was you don't want to be known as the guy that screwed up the Mustang. You'd like to be known as the guy who resurrected everything that was great about it and the fantastic things that we remember about it.

I'm sleeping pretty well...

This is a bit of a cultural game we play. If you look at how this country operates, it operates on a bandwidth that runs from rural to suburban to what we're seeing as an emerging trend -- not just with hip-hop artists, but with the entire culture -- and that is urban.

Mays sees Mustang as more of a gritty, hardscrabble urban icon than other Ford vehicles.

Under urban, there are offshoots: urbane and metropolitan. We have, on the rural side, our F-150 trucks. Very successful. And that's how they're positioned culturally and in the mind of our customers. On the suburban end of the spectrum, we have clean, contemporary, modern designs like the Five Hundred and Freestyle [now the Taurus and Taurus X, respectively] that we think fit into the suburban lifestyle. And there's nothing wrong with that. That's the way the majority of us live. And these are contemporary, modern-designed vehicles that happen to fit into that.

Still, Mays sees the country as growing increasingly urban. On the next page he describes how Mustang was designed to fit in that world.

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.
  • After 40 years, the newest Mustang since its inception showed that it had learned a thing or two from its heritage. Read about all the nods to the past in the 2005 Ford Mustang.
  • 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 Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

Taking Mustang to the Streets

J Mays says the Mustang was designed to fit in an edgy and sometimes dangerous urban world.

As a renowned designer on the national stage, J Mays is in tune with national trends and icons. In his own words, he continues his description of where Mustang fits on that scale.

But then there's the urban aspect of our culture we wanted to address as well. And I think Mustang, just as it did when it was so successful in the late '60s, fits into that bad-boy image pretty successfully.

What we consider to be on the periphery of our culture, urban, is actually not on the periphery. It's increasingly mainstream. I think over the next five years you'll see it integrated more into mainstream culture and be accepted by all ethnicities and all different cultures.

And as that happens, yes, our cars will become more edgy.

Hip-hop and, I think, urban culture, has always thrown back to the rest of our culture what they see happening out there. There's a lot of danger and there are a lot of people very unsure of themselves because of the threatening environment in the world today.

And I think hip-hop's just a reaction to that. It's holding up a mirror and saying, "This is what we see the world looking like right now." It's overt and it's in your face and it's a little scary and a little dangerous and it can be at times even a little vulgar. But I think that's sort of the world we live in, for better or worse, right now.

And so we know how we want to position this car in the marketplace. This is a "Give-me-a-balls-out muscle car." That's really the only way to say it. And that's what our customer base expects us to deliver. This is not only the most popular muscle car in America, this happens to be the most popular nameplate in America.

The Mustang has transcended the automotive world, becoming a quintessential piece of Americana.

I keep saying this car is not a car at all. It's a cultural icon up there with the Marlboro man, the Beach Boys. Things that, if you ask a European, you'll very often get a very clear answer on what's American. Well, Mustang fits into that category. I think the thing's transcended being an automobile and now is such a part of the American cultural fabric that it has a lot to do with patriotism and everything that's right with this country.

...[W]e had the design within the first week. Then we spent about a year refining it. That car is lovingly surfaced, and I'm extremely proud of the team that did it because it's surfaced like a premium German automobile, yet has all these American design cues on it. When I arrived here, we had an inverted process. We would spend about seven-eighths of our time designing and being creative. And then someone would say, "Oh s---, we're out of time." So we'd rush to get the thing into production. And I literally just turned the entire thing on its head. I said, "Look, I'm interested in contemporary, distinctive design. But I'm far more interested in getting the quality right and the execution right." With this car, we've done that.

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.
  • After 40 years, the newest Mustang since its inception showed that it had learned a thing or two from its heritage. Read about all the nods to the past in the 2005 Ford Mustang.
  • 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 Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.