The Forgotten Story of the Wild Concept Car That Led to the Very First Mustang

1962 Ford Mustang I Concept 13 photos
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept1962 Ford Mustang I Concept
This month, we’re celebrating one of the most famous nameplates in automotive history, the iconic Mustang. Throughout a series of articles dedicated to the legendary car, we’ll take an in-depth look at how the first generation evolved through the years. Before we examine the production models, let’s begin by remembering the spectacular concept car that introduced the Mustang to the world.
It all begins in the summer of 1962 when a committee of Ford managers called the Fairlane Group was assembled to analyze market trends and suggest new products.

That year, the Blue Oval’s car lineup included the family-oriented 4d Station Wagon, the compact Falcon, the intermediate Fairlane, the full-size Galaxie, and the luxurious Thunderbird. All of them were great vehicles but younger buyers wanted something faster, and more fun to drive.

With this in mind, the group led by vice-president and general manager Lee Iacocca commissioned the development of a radical concept car that would test the feasibility of a sportier car.

1962 Ford Mustang I Concept
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
A team of designers that included Philip T. Clark, John Najjar, and Eugene Bordinat created a spectacular clay model in about three weeks. It had a 90-inch (2,286.0 mm) wheelbase while measuring 48 inches (1,219 mm) at the front and 49 inches (1,245 mm) at the rear.

Meanwhile, another team of engineers highlighted by Roy Lunn and Herb Misch brought the concept to life. They created a detailed, but non-functional fiberglass mock-up, and a fully functional car by the end of the summer.

The result was a stunning roadster with an aluminum body created by racecar builders Troutman-Barnes of Culver City, California. It featured an integrated roll bar, a low, race car-inspired plastic windshield a telescoping steering wheel, and adjustable foot pedals.

1962 Ford Mustang I Concept
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
The space frame chassis was built to accommodate a fully independent suspension system, rack and pinion steering, and front disc brakes. Power came from a mid-mounted 91 cu. in. (1.5-liter) V4 engine produced by Ford Germany for the European Taunus. The unit was cooled using two separate radiators fitted on both sides of the car and was linked to a 4-speed manual.

Ford lead designer and aviation enthusiast John Najjar proposed the name “Mustang” because certain design cues of the show car reminded him of a P-51 Mustang fighter plane. Ford executives liked the suggestion and the name stuck.

It debuted on the Watkins Glen racetrack in New York on October 7, 1962, with Formula One driver Dan Gurney at the wheel. He drove it for a non-competitive demonstration lap, reportedly reaching speeds that exceeded 120 mph (193 kph) much to the delight of everyone in attendance.

1962 Ford Mustang I Concept
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
The automotive press was in awe, writing that Ford was preparing to launch a rival for the Corvette and soon the Mustang was the main talking point among all car enthusiasts.

The Mustang concept was heavily promoted in the following months, appearing at many car shows and automotive events. Ford even took it on a tour of U.S. colleges to get feedback from younger generations.

Although everybody loved it, it was deemed too complex and extravagant to become a successful series production vehicle, but it confirmed that the company needed a small sports car in its lineup. This eventually led to the birth of the first-generation Mustang which we’ll cover at length in the upcoming articles dedicated to the legendary nameplate.
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About the author: Vlad Radu
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Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
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