The Ford Mustang is one of the all-American icons. Let loose on the market in 1964, in design it was both a symbol of the nation’s industrial power and a promise of freedom. A whole generation of baby-boomers were hitting adulthood, looking to throw off the shackles of the 1950s and escape the buttoned-down conformity of their parents, and with the Mustang, Ford managed to capture the spirit of the time in one sleek yet muscular package.
The Mustang has historically been a lesser-spotted beast on the roads of Europe, only seen sporadically in imported form. The car seems tailor-made for chewing up and spitting out the miles on the plains of the USA, where gas is relatively cheap and there aren’t many corners, but the general consensus was they were impractical for this side of the Atlantic, lacking the sophisticated engineering and economy needed for the market. Ford is determined to bridge the transatlantic gap though, and just before Christmas 2013 Executive Chairman Bill Ford gave European Mustang fans a welcome present with the announcement of a new Mustang – the first to be sold on the continent since its birth 50 years ago.
The news warranted further investigation, so we headed off to the North American International Auto Show (NAIAS) in Detroit, home of the American car industry, and took up Ford’s invitation to visit their design studios to see for ourselves what kind of Mustang Ford had waiting for us here in the UK in 2015.
Ford Mustang, first generation concept. V4-powered mid-engine two-seater, inspired by the 1960s’ baby boomers.
Production Mustang shown for the first time on the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, b September of the same year would see the burgeoning icon feature in Goldfinger.
But first, a bit of history. We’ve already touched on the origins of the Mustang – determined to be different, the extravagant fins of the 1950s barges were out, and in came a much more compact body shape and that famous grille. The car debuted at the New York World’s Fair in April ’64, but when people think “Mustang”, most will be thinking of the quintessential model, the one Steve McQueen hammered up and down the hills of San Francisco in as the titular detective Bullitt. Well done if you knew it was a 1968 Fastback, a little worrying if you knew the colour was Highland Green.
For many, the ’68 Fastback has never been bettered, although another iconic model, the ’73 Fastback as seen in the original film version of Gone in 60 Seconds (1974) has plenty of fans. More recently, a stripped down Cobra R version launched in 2000 sold out, and that didn’t even have air-con… or back seats! The popularity of the Mustang endures, but it remains to be seen whether the rampaging stallion will have as much legs on this side of the pond.
There has certainly been no time or effort spared at Ford design HQ to make sure the 2015 Mustang will be a winner. As with all long-running car models, there is always a balance to be struck between maintaining and celebrating the brand heritage, while moving things forward in terms of looks, performance and technology. The process, which began four years ago, starts with some concept artwork – the “ideas born on a napkin”. This always tends to be far more outlandish than the end product, but acts as a useful springboard and throws up some ideas that can be refined as the process advances.
Computer drawings are then handed over to the skilled sculptors who translate them into clay models, and the painstaking work of master craftsmen Larry Pelowski and Stephen Bosc shows there is no shortage of attention to detail on the forthcoming ‘Stang. One area that American cars have traditionally fallen short in is their interiors – having a pretty car is all well and good, but 90% of an owner’s interaction with their car is from the inside, so if the interior is ill-conceived or cheaply finished, it’s goodnight.
But when all is said and done, first impressions count, and the 2015 Mustang will live or die by its forecourt pulling power. Ford has recognised that previous incarnations of the Mustang were a bit over-the-top for the European market – too many edges, sills and intakes – and the new model has been reined in. It’s certainly more refined than previous models, although still unmistakeably Mustang, but of course the proof of the pudding will be in the driving, and we won’t be able to do that for a while yet. Still, visually this is a strong entry into the European field, and with the weight of history and all the might of Ford behind the Mustang, you wouldn’t bet against it.
Icon status achieved. The 1968 Mustang appears in Bullitt, driven by Steve McQueen.
1973, Mustang sales reach almost 135,000, a yellow 1973 Mustang Fastback appears in film Gone in 60 Seconds the following year.
2000. Ford sell more than 200,000 Mustangs, a limited run of 300 “Cobra R” models are produced – powered by a 5.4-litre, iron-block version of the DOHC, 32-valve engine.
Words: Rob Wilkes / John Wilson