Hoping to portray itself as a young and desirable brand, in late 1961 Ford launched a marketing effort it called “Total Performance,” fueled in part by the paranoia over Chevrolet’s innovative Corvair. Ford styling head Gene Bordinat was tasked with developing a concept car that personified this Total Performance image, which would be a daunting task even with unlimited resources. Bordinat didn’t have unlimited resources, so he did the best he could with what was at hand, and with a team of designers that included John Najjar, Jim Sipple and Phil Clark, created a two-seat roadster with an aerodynamic body built upon a reversed Ford Taunus platform in roughly 100 days.
The Mustang Experimental Sports Car (which would later become known as the Mustang I) debuted at the 1962 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen. The venue was significant for Ford, as it had received word that Chevrolet would debut the 1963 Corvair at the race, and Ford didn’t want to be left out. The Corvair made an appearance, but only in static form; the Mustang I, on the other hand, was driven around the circuit by Dan Gurney to the delight of the crowd. Later, on the show circuit, the Mustang I generated an enormous response from consumers, the bulk of whom wrote to Ford saying, “build this.”
That presented a problem for Ford, as a second project was well under way at the automaker to build a four-seat sports car, coincidentally also named the Mustang. If the public loved the Mustang I roadster with its wedge-shaped front end and two-seat impracticality, would they also warm to a car that used the same name but carried over very few design elements?
Built from a pre-production Mustang, the Mustang II’s use of design elements seen on both cars served as a bridge between the intentionally impractical Mustang I and the production-based Mustang. Like the first concept, the Mustang II proved to be a hit at its introduction, timed for the 1963 U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen, and public reaction to the car gave Ford the confidence that its production Mustang would indeed be a hit when it reached dealer showrooms.
Visitors to The Henry Ford can see the Mustang I concept and serial number 100001, but the Mustang II concept is part of the Detroit Historical Society’s collection. This year’s The Henry Ford Motor Muster will give Mustang fans their only chance to see the Mustang I concept, Mustang II concept and the production Mustang bearing serial number 100001 together at a single venue in 2014, which may be reason enough to attend the event.
The Henry Ford Motor Muster is scheduled for June 14-15 at The Henry Ford in Dearborn, Michigan. For additional details, visit TheHenryFord.org.
Article courtesy of Hemmings Daily, written by Kurt Ernst.