The Ford Mustang I Prototype was a small, mid-engined (4-cylinder), open two-seater with aluminium body work.
That began life as a design exercise and eventually became the progenitor of the famed Ford Mustang.
Although it shared few design elements with the final production vehicle, it did lend its name to the line.
It was a refined, mid-engined sports racer, powered by a rather diminutive 1.5-litre V4 engine.
It was created at a time when Ford looked at ways to improve its performance credentials short of actually going racing.
Design and development
The original Ford Mustang was a product of the Fairlane Group, a committee of Ford managers led by Lee Iacocca. The Fairlane Group worked on new product needs and, in the summer of 1962, the Group laid out the framework of a new sports car to counter the success of GM's Corvair Monza sports coupe. Designer Eugene Bordinat envisioned a low-cost sports car that would combine roadability, performance, and appearance in a radical layout. A 90 in (2,286.0 mm) wheelbase, 48 in (1,219 mm) front and a 49 in (1,245 mm) rear track, width of 61 in (1,549 mm) with an overall length of 154.3 in (3,919 mm) were the working dimensions. The body skin was a one-piece unit that was riveted to a space frame. To increase rigidity, the seats were part of the body. The driver could adjust the steering column and clutch/brake/accelerator pedals.
Roy Lunn was put charge of building the car as he brought racing car design experience and together with his engineering really brought the concept to life. An "off-the shelf" GermanFord Cardinal 1,500 cc 60 degree V4 powered the Mustang I. It was mounted in a power pack of engine and 4-speed transmission in a common housing with an axle and conventional clutch. Lead designer John Najjar favored a mid-engined configuration, cooled through two separate radiators on the sides of the car. Najjar also proposed the name "Mustang" for the concept vehicle.As an aviation enthusiast, he was familiar with the North American P-51 Mustang fighter and saw some design similarities in the diminutive but sleek profile of the new sports car.
Phil Clark's role
Najjar credits Phil Clark's important design role in creating the mid-engine designs that later made it up to the executives and met their approval for Mustang I. Clark graduated with honors as a designer and stylist from Art School with a double major in Art Transportation and Design. Clark had been an engineer for Avco before he became ill with urological issues and decided that transportation design would be a better fit for his health.
Clark had been drawing the Mustang design in variation for years before the final car was produced. His drawing of the Mustang Coupe, or Fastback can be seen signed by him, in the Spring 1963 MotorBook Magazine.The Mustang name was kept under wraps with the code name "Allegro" assigned to the entire project. Allegro was a musical term and Clark and all of the designers he worked with were involved with various musical instruments. This gave the young group who originally were with GM a way to speak about the Mustang project in a code that no one to this day can decipher except for the original designers.
Clark suggested the Mustang name to the executives after traveling from his hometown in Nashville, Tennessee to The Art School of Design in Pasadena, California where he passed the wild mustangs in Nevada and was captivated by their beauty. After public relations and the legal department vetted the project name (they particularly liked the connection to the wild horse of the same name), the name continued onto the Mustang II show car and later was applied to the production version of the Ford Mustang.
Clark died at 32 from an ulcer, but to this day is best known for his design of the Mustang "running horse" emblem.
Although intended as a road vehicle, the prototype had a racing-type windshield and an integral roll bar. Two versions of the V4 engine were available, an 89 hp (66 kW) street and a 109 hp (81 kW) race engine. The manufacture of the Mustang I took place in the garage of famed racecar builders, Troutman-Barnes of Culver City, California. Using the Ford Styling clay and fiberglass body bucks to create a new aluminum body, the firm met a three-month deadline. Lunn and his team of engineers finished the prototypes in just 100 days. Final assembly and testing of two prototypes took place at the Ford Scientific Research Garage at Dearborn, Michigan.
The Mustang I made its formal debut at the United States Grand Prix in Watkins Glen, New York on October 7, 1962, where test driver and contemporary Formula One race driver Dan Gurney lapped the track in a demonstration using the second "race" prototype. His lap times were only slightly off the pace of the F1 race cars. Gurney was the second Race Car Driver to officially try this car.
For the next two years, both Mustang Is appeared at car shows and automotive events as a show car. One of the unusual uses for the cars was to tour colleges as a marketing tool for Ford. After reactions from potential customers and focus groups had demonstrated that the original concept of the Mustang I had limited appeal to the general public, a completely new concept car, the Mustang II, appeared in 1963. Both cars were from Eugene Bordinat's Advanced Design group, which developed 13 Mustang concepts. The original code name for this group of cars was also "Allegro". One of the cars from this design project actually became known as Allegro.
The four-seater Mustang was known beforehand to be the car that would actually be produced for sale using the first generation Ford Falcon platform. Based on a four-seater configuration and using a front-engined layout based on the Falcon, the Mustang II was much more conventional in design and concept and resembled closely the final production variant that would appear in 1964. Nearly the only design element that remained from the original Mustang I were the fake louvers that recreated the radiator scoops of the two-seater.
One Mustang I languished for years in storage although it appeared at times on displays and in museum loans including the Henry Ford Museum. In 1967, Ford executives Morris Carter and Frank Theyleg discovered the remains of the car in a basement and arranged for the Scientific Research Garage to restore the car. Donated to The Henry Ford Museum, it officially became part of the museum collection in 1982, where it still resides.