John Najjar: Designer of the Ford Mustang I Concept Car

John Najjar rose to design fame after telling Henry Ford himself of his desire to draw cars. See pictures of Ford Mustangs.

Of the many cars and trucks shaped by John Najjar over his 43 years with Ford Motor Company, none is more famous than the experimental midengine Mustang I of 1961.

Najjar has also long been credited with coming up with the horsey name and contributing to the running-horse logo that survived to the production Mustang. His work on the production-car interior is less widely known.

Recruited by Ford out of high school in 1936, Najjar was a machinist trainee when Henry Ford himself happened by and asked if he was happy with the job. When Najjar said he'd rather be drawing cars, he was assigned to the fledgling design department to work with pioneer Ford stylist E.T. "Bob" Gregorie and Henry's son, Edsel Ford. Najjar rose to become Lincoln chief stylist in the mid-1950s and held a number of other high-level design jobs for Ford until he retired in 1979.

Here is Najjar's own recollection of his early days on the Mustang project:

By early '62, Gene Bordinat had replaced George Walker as Ford's design vice-president, and I was in Advanced Vehicles under Bob Maguire. Bordinat had given out a directive that each studio was to take a crack at a small, sporty car.

Ford Mustang Image Gallery

We had one clay model that somehow looked globby and bulky. A modeler who worked for me, Joe Siebold, was interested in midget cars, and I had been reading about engines in race cars being placed ahead of the rear axle. Then it hit me! A small midship-engine passenger car. I started talking to Joe, and he started to draw.

I remembered the power package from the little German Ford Cardinal from when I worked on that. "Why not take the front-engine drive and move it aft to drive the rear wheels?" So we did. Finally we showed our drawing to Maguire. He said, "That's pretty good, but keep it on the side 'til we see how it goes" -- meaning the executives' reactions to the other designs.

Bordinat brought Iacocca around to all the studios, but Iacocca didn't like any of the cars. Then came news that race driver Dan Gurney was coming in to see if we had anything. So in comes Gurney, and Maguire said, "Turn the blackboard around, John." This is after he'd looked at all the other models. And Gurney said, "Now there's a nice little car." So that's how the Mustang I started.

For the inside story on the debut of the Mustang I, go to 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.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • 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.