Simanaitis Says

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THE RECENT PASSING OF Lee Iacocca, age 94, reminded me of his Ford Fairlane Group’s first Mustang. I’m not thinking of the Falcon-based four-seater introduced in ’64 1/2 and destined to sire the pony-car breed. No, the Mustang I, devised by Iacocca’s group and introduced two years earlier, was quite a different story.

The Fairlane Group was charged with generating new product ideas and, in the summer of 1962, it came up with a mid-engine two-seat sports car replete with innovations.

Mustang I, the name selected because of familiarity with the North American P-51 Mustang fighter. This and other images from Classic Car Profiles 1-24.

Here are Mustang I tidbits gleaned from William S. Stone’s “The Ford Mustang,” Profile No. 24 of Classic Cars in Profile, Vol. 1: Profiles Nos. 1 – 24. and from my usual Internet sleuthing.

Too Advanced to Produce. The Mustang I’s design sophistication made it unlikely for mass production: Its tubular space frame, for example, was anything but assembly-line friendly. Also, akin to race cars, its aluminum bodywork was a stressed member riveted to the space frame.

The Mustang I featured independent suspension front and rear; this, in an era when live rear axles were the norm. Its front brakes were discs when most cars made do with drums all around. The car’s four-speed transmission was fully synchronized at a time when double-clutching into first was still an art for some.

Image by William “Bill” Zuk.

Even the car’s cockpit had innovative design: Its two seats were fixed to the space frame; to accommodate drivers of different stature, the steering column telescoped in and out, the pedal cluster moved four inches fore and aft. The Mustang I had an integrated roll bar.

FWD Swapped F to R. The Mustang I’s mid-engine layout displayed a German Ford Cardinal/Taunus front-wheel-drive powertrain rotated 180 degrees. The Fairlane Group envisioned this 1500-cc V-4 in two stages of tune: A single-carb version produced 89 hp; a twin-carb version, 109 hp, both at 6500 rpm. The engine, clutch, and gearbox resided in a shared housing.

Rack-and-pinion steering, fully independent suspension, front and rear, and front disc brakes were part of the Mustang I’s mechanicals.

The mid-engine’s cooling was handled by twin radiators nestled in its rear flanks. Electric fans enhanced the air flow.

The Mustang I’s Purpose in Life. Only two Mustang I concept cars were ever built: one, a fiberglass mockup; the other, fully functioning.

Troutman and Barnes, the famed California race shop, completed the car in time for the 1962 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. The Mustang I made its debut on October 7, 1962, with Dan Gurney piloting it in several demonstration laps of the circuit. According to Wikipedia, “He reportedly drove the car ‘to 120… causing the automotive rumor mill [to begin] churning even faster’… which was exactly the publicity stunt Lee Iacocca was hoping to achieve.”

For several years, both the mockup and the runner were seen at car shows and other automotive events. Ford toured colleges with them as a marketing tool.

Production of the Mustang I was never a plan. Indeed, Ford had already tried its hand with the two-seat Thunderbird introduced in 1954. By 1958, the T-bird had added two more seats to its “personal car” status and never looked back. Until 2002, that is; and then only through July 1, 2005.

Unveiled in the autumn of 1963 was Mustang II. This four-seater (not to be confused with Ford’s second-gen Mustang, 1973-1978) was devised by Iacocca’s Fairlane Group. And it also made its debut at the Glen, this time at the 1963 U.S. Grand Prix.

Noted William S. Stone in his Profile, “ ‘Mustang II,’ a rather exact preview of the final car, was powered by a 289 V-8. It was unveiled in the fall of 1963.”

“Although trained as an engineer,” Stone observed, “Iacocca is no Porsche or Issogonis. Thoroughly sales-oriented, Iacocca played an important role in the success of the Falcon, Ford’s massively successful compact car.”

Based on the Falcon, the ’64 1/2 Mustang proved to be “not a car of unusual design,” Stone wrote, “but rather one of unusual public appeal.”

Mustang I now resides at the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. Image by Bzuk at English Wikipedia.

For unusual design, we always have the Mustang I. ds

© Dennis Simanaitis,, 2019


  1. Larry Crane
    July 25, 2019

    Hi Dr. Dennis. I am curious why you did not include Roy Lunn who designed and engineered the original Mustand AND designed the GT40 AND the Ford Taunus, from which he pulled the front-drive package for the Mustang. Gurney, reportedly, was making laps of Watkins Glen nearing the laps of the 1.5 liter F1 cars.

  2. simanaitissays
    July 26, 2019

    Hi, Larry,
    As mentioned in the lead, it was Iacocca’s passing that kindled the Mustang I memory. Agreed, there were lots of talented people at Ford at the time. Wikipedia mentions Iacocca, Roy Lunn, Eugene Bordinat, Philip Clark, and John Najjar. And, of course, fame was to come at Le Mans before long.

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