A Faster Horse
“If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” – Henry Ford
On a sunny Texas afternoon one fall, a question was posed to a gathered few in the elementary schoolyard. “When you can drive, what kind of car are you going to get?” After a few moments of deliberation, the group came to a consensus. My friends and I, just old enough to see over a steering wheel, didn’t dream about practical sedans with above average gas mileage, our mother’s minivans or even a frisky foreign luxury vehicle. We dreamed of the car that, since it’s conception, has been the epitome of American cool, the Ford Mustang. But decades before the Mustang was the dream of America’s youth, it was the vision of Lee Iacocca, Ford’s general manager in 1964.
Henry Ford is famously quoted as saying “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.” Ford may not have asked, but in 1964, Ford Motor Company gave drivers just that, a Mustang, the likes of which the world had never seen.
Iacocca, anticipating a huge surge in young drivers, advocated for the addition of a sporty car with a bit of European flair to the Ford fleet. Hatched from Ford’s existing Falcon model, the 1964 Mustang featured the same chassis, suspension, long sweeping hood and many of the same mechanical parts. Tweaks to the body, fenders and interior gave the original Mustang a certain finesse that was lacking from its capable, albeit less exciting, older brother. From the stamping of the metal to the badge in the center of the grill, style was of the essence. Nothing was taken for granted, not even the name.
It begs the question: would a Mustang by another name be as iconic? Several names were tossed out and evaluated by Ford’s Fairlane Committee, including “Cougar” and “Torino,” both of which were eventually used by Ford. Originally inspired by the World War II fighter plane, the P-51 Mustang, the moniker continued to lead the pack. As one research account executive put it, “The name Mustang rose to the top because it had the excitement of wide open spaces and was American as all hell.”
After coming to an agreement on the name of the vehicle, design began on the pony badge that continues to grace the grills of today’s Mustang models. Rumor has it that Ford designers originally had the horse running to the right, but Iacocca objected saying, “The Mustang is a wild horse, not a domesticated racer.”
And true to its namesake, the latest Ford creation galloped onto the automotive scene in unbridled fashion.
Prior to it’s official unveiling, Buhlie Ford, a nephew of Henry Ford II, took an early Mustang convertible out for a spin around Detroit before parking it for the viewing pleasure of The Detroit Free Press who scooped the vehicle before its official unveiling, a major story during a time when showroom windows were papered to keep the inquisitive public from sneaking a peek.
The rest of America got their first look the day before it was scheduled to make its first official appearance in Flushing Meadows, New York, at the World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. Ford advertised on all three major networks, putting the Mustang before millions of primetime viewers across the country.