AutoMatters: Mustang at 50 – What a Concept!
By Jan Wagner
According to Lee Iacocca, over nine million Mustangs have been built. This includes the two that I special-ordered, one of which I still own (a 2011 Mustang GT – white, with a red leather interior).
This year the iconic Ford Mustang turns 50 years old, and it’s going stronger than ever with an exciting, all-new model on the horizon. Its story began with a concept and a risky, expensive dream of what might become the quintessential American sporty car.
Most of us are probably familiar with the styling of the 1964½ Mustang that was introduced at the New York World’s Fair, in new car showrooms all across America and beyond, but that was not the first Mustang. Before that car was a radically different concept car named the 1962 Ford Mustang I Roadster.
According to Merriam-Webster (www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary), a sports car is defined as “a low, small, usually 2-passenger automobile designed for quick response, easy maneuverability and high-speed driving.” The 1962 Ford Mustang I Roadster concept car fit that definition perfectly. It was a low, small, agile 2-seat roadster.
On April 17, 2014 – the 50th anniversary, to the day, of the first retail sale to the public of a Ford Mustang, I interviewed two historians (George Gunlock and Robert Coyle) from Dearborn, Michigan’s “the Henry Ford” (Henry Ford Museum, Greenfield Village, Ford Rouge Factory Tour and IMAX Theater) (www.thehenryford.org). They were accompanying the museum’s 1962 Mustang I Roadster concept, which was on a rare loan for the Mustang 50th Birthday Celebration at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. Here is what they told me about this historic automobile:
It is a 1962 Ford concept car that was never intended for production. It was intended for auto shows, a styling exercise and promotion of the Mustang name prior to the introduction of the real Mustang in 1964. It has been in our collection since 1974.
It is a mid-engined car. The engine is behind the seats but in front of the axle. It has independent suspension all around, with disc brakes in the front and drums in the back. The side air intakes are functional. There’s a radiator on either side.
The engine is a 60-degree V-4 from the Ford Taunus, which was a German-produced sedan. It produces 109 horsepower and weighs a little over 1,500 pounds. It’s pretty light.
This one never had a roof – never had any intention of having a roof. It does not have a heater. It just barely has street-legal equipment. There is only a tiny bit of luggage space, under the front bonnet. The windshield is Plexiglas.
The body is hand-formed aluminum. It has a monocoque tub in the middle, with a space frame sub in the front and the back. This was racecar-type construction in the day.
With regards to the car’s handling on the road, Dan Gurney smiled and said he didn’t remember there being any issues with it.
There were prototypes of the car that became the Mustang but there were no other concept cars like this.
It had the first appearance of the running horse logo and the first appearance of the Mustang name on a car. Between the seats and in front of the windshield, it says Mustang.
It is complete enough to run now but at the museum we don’t keep it in running condition. It used to run and the engine has been properly mothballed. The tires are actually old race tires. They are probably too old to drive the car on.
It is not restored. It’s original. It has had some touch-ups to the paint but nothing beyond that. The color is Wimbledon White, which originally showed up on the Mustang.
It is rarely taken out of the museum. The last time it was out was for the 45th anniversary.
That’s all for this installment of AutoMatters. If you would like to learn more about the birth of Ford’s Mustang, I recommend that you read the excellent hardcover book entitled “Mustang Genesis: The Creation of the Pony Car” (2010, published by McFarland) by Robert A. Fria, with a foreword by Lee Iacocca. Bob is an early Mustang historian and was a featured speaker at the Mustang’s recent 50th Birthday Celebration in Las Vegas. His book includes a chapter, with many archival photos, that thoroughly recounts the creation of the Mustang I Roadster prototype. I reviewed this book in AutoMatters #270.
As always, please write to AutoMatters@gmail.com with your comments and suggestions.
Copyright © 2014 by Jan Wagner – #332r1 AutoMatters
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