Jack Telnack: Chief Designer of the 1979 Ford Mustang

Telnack Sells the 1979 Ford Mustang Styling

Telnack's 1979 Mustang seemed very European at the time -- it broke away from the more boxy American styling that had become common.

Longtime Ford stylist Jack Telnack was convinced some European flavor was essential to the design generation that would begin with the 1979 Ford Mustang. Here, in Telnack's own words, is how the Ford design family came around to his thinking.

I can remember showing the first European Granada slantback front end to Henry Ford in London. He said he was a little uncomfortable with it. And I said, "Well, Mr. Ford, if you would just think about it, but we'll do some variations." We did, and on his next visit to England he said, "Boy, I've got to tell you, it really works. Let's go with this."

The '79 Mustang seemed extremely European at the time to most people around here, including Gene Bordinat. We had other designs in competition with that car. The next preferred model was very, very American, very boxy. I just thank God we didn't go that way. I don't think it would have lived as long. We would have been into some fairly major sheet metal rip-ups.

But the car we did had a lot of support from management, and, fortunately, made it through market research and just squeaked ahead of this very traditional American Mustang being proposed at the same time. And I mean squeaked ahead in terms of general acceptance, overall image. But today it's normal design. I like to think of it as normal good design, but you don't hear anybody refer to it as "European" anymore.

When I first came back from Europe, people seemed to be afraid to express themselves.... But I really wanted our designers to tell me what they thought about various ideas, good or bad. Once they knew that and really came around...they began coming up with these new ideas. They weren't afraid to express themselves. And the '79 Mustang is a direct result of it. Because I said, "You guys are putting this stuff in sketches. You must think that way, so why aren't you doing it in full-size?" They asked me, "Are you serious? Does he really want to break out of the boxy mold?" I said, "Yeah, I really do." I had to convince them. I think that was a significant breakthrough, because the talent was there. And we used it.

That car would have been very acceptable in Europe. So we knew there was some risk involved, but it was a calculated risk. We knew it may have a bit of a warm-up period with some people, but it would have longevity, and that's important because the Japanese competition in that segment were changing about every two or three years. And yet the Mustang is still hanging in there and that's a real credit to these designers.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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 began a second revolution with the handsome, sophisticated "New Breed." In 1979-1981 Ford Mustang, learn how it scored big in the showroom and in fans' hearts.
  • 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.