Named after a World War II fighter plane, the Mustang served as America's first pony car. Ford sold almost 400,000 within its first year of production. In fact, if you extend the model year, the number grows to 680,989. A Texas buyer reportedly even slept in a Ford showroom waiting for his check to clear so he could drive the new car home.
It's no question that the workman's Thunderbird was wildly successful and continues to be today. It's also no question that 1960 was a momentous year for making American history. Eisenhower announced he would take whatever steps necessary to defend Cuba. Both Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable finished filming their last movie, The Misfits. John F. Kennedy barely beat Nixon for the presidency. And Lee Iacocca was named VP and GM of Ford.
Without Iacocca, the Mustang wouldn't exist. But, even with him, Mustangs barely made it to the showroom.
The Legend of Lee Iacocca
Lee Iacocca was named the vice president and general manager of Ford Motor Company's Ford Division in 1960. Iacocca started working for Ford in 1946, moved up the leadership ladder, and assisted with the launch of the Falcon, the first compact car.
After receiving his promotion, Iacocca wanted to focus on a more energetic and youthful vehicle. Iacocca felt that the Ford company hit the 60's with a dull image despite electing a new youthful leader. With the election of JFK, the country was on a trend of youthful appeal. Iacocca noticed the demand for the young style not being met.
After introducing the Falcon in 1960, Ford threw around the idea of making a sportier version, but it just didn't fit the mold. Product Planner Dick Place agreed that the Falcon couldn't be turned into a sporty car. Doing so would be like "putting falsies on grandma."
The Fairlane Committee
Iacocca began to set up offsite meetings at the Fairlane Inn, which became known as the "Fairlane Committee." They strategized key elements they wanted for the car that would also apply to many different tastes of people. No more than 180 inches at around 2500 pounds, they settled on a short-deck low profile and a T Bird-style long hood while offering six-cylinder and V-8 engines.
While the Fairlane Committee continued meeting, Chevrolet boosted the sporty appeal with the Corvair Monza. Iacocca knew then that he wanted this next car to be everything opposite the Monza.
Three Strikes, You're In
Ford styling chief Eugene (Gene) Bordinat began giving proposals to Henry Ford, which were soundly rejected, one after another. Finally, after half a dozen models and a two-week deadline, Iacocca picked two more designs; the sleek "Stiletto" and the "Cougar." With the "Stiletto" turning out too expensive to develop, Iacocca chose the "Cougar" model by David Ash.
More finalized proposals were sent over to Henry Ford yet were rejected still. Iacocca ended up having to meet with Ford to get him to look at the proposals more thoroughly. After a tentative approval from Ford, Iacocca still had to jump through corporate hoops.
With three strikes against him, it seemed like the Mustang would never see the light of day:
- Iacocca had to convince fiscally conservative leadership to invest in a much younger market.
- Said leadership was still reeling after the embarrassing failure of the Edsel.
- They had already set aside $250 million for the regular 1965 Ford line.
Yet somehow, on September 10, 1962, Iacocca walked out of the meeting with a modest blessing of $40 million to design and engineer the sports car.
The rest is history
They scheduled to manufacture the first Mustang at the Dearborn plant on March 9, 1964. With 303,408 units built, Mustang would set all-time industry records in 1964, followed by two straight years of almost 600,000 units each.
Lee Iacocca built his legacy on the monumental success of the Mustang. But, even with a long distinguished career of success and failure, he is forever remembered for producing America's most popular classic car.
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