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Concept Car of the Week: Ford Mustang I (1962)

Fri, 07 Jun 2013 00:00:00 -0700

Influenced by science fiction and Space exploration in the early sixties, Ford Motor Corporation developed a series of research vehicles to test innovative layouts, experimental technologies and futuristic styling on such radical concepts as the X2000, Levacar Mach 1 and the Gyron that still captivate the imagination. In parallel, Ford's advanced styling studio was also working on a more rational project that could influence production models to compete with GM Corvair Monza. Stylists and engineers came up with a high-performance 2-seater vehicle with the engine placed in front of the rear axle for better aerodynamics and improved weight distribution.

The aluminum body was based on a welded tubular steel space frame. A pointy nose with retractable headlamps assured a smooth and slippery body. Although the Mustang I was intended as a road vehicle, it featured a racing type windscreen and an integral roll bar. Side air intakes were strategically placed in a high-pressure zone behind the doors for ram effect. The flanks still remain remarkably pure and uncluttered. At the back, the horizontal tail lamps were embossed in the rear panel and surrounded by ventilating grills that allow hot air to leave the engine compartment. The body was painted white with a blue stripe running along the center line like a true American racecar.

The Mustang I has two fathers: lead designer John Najjar and Phil Clark who also came up with the legendary name. He also created the logo especially for this concept featuring a running horse. When it was presented to Ford execs they unanimously loved it. When asked "how do we know this is an American horse?", Phil Clark got up and with a red and blue marker colored the lines behind the horse. The same logo is still in use today and it has barely changed since its creation fifty years ago.

Inside the seats were part of the body structure and covered by thin lightweight seat cushions. The driver can adjust his position by shifting the pedals and the steering wheel. He was faced with five circular gages: speedometer, tachometer, and temperature for air water and oil. The V4 1,500cc engine came from the European Taunus 12M, improved with a new high-speed cam, distributors, valve springs and carburetor.

Ford used this concept as a marketing tool to demonstrate the skills of its stylists and engineers. After its first public appearance at the United States Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October 1962, the Mustang I toured colleges to wave the FoMoCo flag in front of potential future customers as well as to test their reactions. As you would expect, a car without any luggage space would have limited appeal to the general public.

The following year, the Mustang II was presented with a much more conventional design, very close to the production variant that would appear in 1964. Apart from fake side louvers on the rear fenders that suggested a sportier ancestor, very few genes were transmitted from the Mustang I concept to its production sibling. However, the knowledge and experience gained by developing the mid-engined concept matured until 1966 with the creation of the mighty GT-40, another irreplaceable icon in Ford's history.

Designer John Najjar, Phil Clark
Length 3,919mm
Width 1,549mm
Wheelbase 2,286mm
Engine 1,500cc, V4, 4-speed manual, mid-mounted

Your author, Flavien Dachet, is a UK-based, French-born car designer. You may know him as the purveyor of KarzNshit, a photo blog that if isn't already in your bookmarks, certainly should be.

By Flavien Dachet