Who Invented The Mustang?Last Updated November 18, 2016
Who Is Lee Iacocca?
Once an aspiring young engineer who joined the Ford Motor Company at the age of 22, Lee Iacocca quickly rose through the ranks at the automotive giant, and eventually changed the business forever. After assuming a position of power following some of the costliest years for Ford, Iacocca promptly helped the company turn things around. The Allentown, Pennsylvania native spearheaded the release of a one-of-a-kind sports car that has stood the test of time; the Ford Mustang.
Iacocca’s Early Years
After growing up in the heart of Rustbelt Country and spending the first four decades of his life around cars, Iacocca made arguably the most significant contribution of his career in 1964.5. Among a host of additional “founding fathers”, Iacocca helped spearhead the launch of the Ford Mustang, which remains one of Ford’s most popular cars after over a half-century.
The son of an Italian immigrant family, Iacocca was hired at Ford as an engineer at the age of 22 in 1946. Though Iacocca graduated from Lehigh with a degree in industrial engineering and had an excellent grasp of the inner workings of Ford automobiles, the Allentown, Pennsylvania native quickly found a new home in Ford’s sales and marketing department.
Iacocca Through The Ranks At Ford
Similar to the way he earned his keep while working for engineering, Iacocca rapidly turned heads in the sales division, and began to ascend to the top of the totem pole. Following a number of successful marketing campaigns, including the loan program of 1956, Iacocca found his true calling in the product development department. Having already developed a well-respected reputation for his previous initiatives in both engineering and sales, Iacocca would make the transition to product development in time for the 1960s; arguably the most innovative decade for Ford automotive.
As the newly-minted general manager of Ford’s product development division, Iacocca championed a number of new car designs all throughout the 1960s. While Iacocca would later amass notoriety for the development of the Ford Pinto, the advance of the Ford Mustang in 1964.5 is arguably the Pennsylvania native’s greatest achievement.
The Birth Of The Ford Mustang
Following a difficult stretch in the late-1950s with the failed Edsel project, Iacocca believed that a stylish pony car could help Ford bounce back. Upon being promoted to his new position of power, Iacocca’s goal was to establish a sporty, yet affordable car to help take Ford to the next level. With the launch of the Chevrolet Monza in the early 1960s, Iacocca knew that his company needed to not only jump into the arms race, but to manufacture a sports car that would set itself apart from the pack.
After scouring many concept car designs and bouncing ideas off his team, Iacocca initiated a worldwide competition to find the ideal model for what would eventually become the Ford Mustang. In the midst of the heated contest, Iacocca stumbled upon a sketch by Ford’s own Gale Halderman, and the design for the Ford Mustang was born. With the goal in mind of creating a “youth car” that would appeal to the baby boomer generation, Iacocca and his team of like-minded individuals took several unconditional steps to further brainstorm the design of the Ford Mustang over the next several years.
The Mustang Debut
Despite having an unprecedented budget of less than 50 million dollars, Iacocca rolled up his sleeves and helped push the production of what he believed to be a revolutionary vehicle design. After much deliberation between Iacocca and his team, the group came to the conclusion that Mustang would seat four passengers, unlike the two-seater test cars that were trotted out in 1962. In addition to the interior, Iacocca’s team determined that the car must feature both a long hood and a short rear deck area to imply a powerful engine, combined with top speed. A salesman at heart, Iacocca devised a plan to release the Ford Mustang at a time where he would not have to share the spotlight with any other car manufacturer and at a location where he could maximize the media coverage. Finally, after many long days on the assembly line, and even longer ones in the office bouncing ideas off of his team, Iacocca, along with company founder Henry Ford, officially introduced the Mustang at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964.
Iacocca’s dream of an affordable muscle car quickly became a reality, and grew into a bigger phenomenon than he, Halderman, and anyone else at Ford ever imagined. The newly-established Ford Mustang swept through newspapers and television stations all throughout the United States. Already a known commodity in the automotive industry, Iacocca became a household name in the rest of corporate America, by gracing the cover of both Newsweek and Time Magazine. As Iacocca’s star grew brighter, the sales of the Ford Mustang only went up. Following an initial surge from the World’s Fair introduction, Ford sold over 415,000 Mustangs in less than one year’s time.
Iacocca’s Road To Stardom
While Iacocca’s Ford Mustang became a fixture in garages and driveways all across America inside of one year, the pony car quickly found its way to the silver screen. In September of 1964, just five months after the event at the World’s Fair, film director Guy Hamilton displayed a first generation Ford Mustang convertible in the popular James Bond film, Goldfinger. Several years later, actor Steve McQueen, driving a 1967 Mustang Fastback with a ferocious 390 c.i. V8 under the hood, accelerated down the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt, which is perhaps the most famous chase scene in cinema history.
Though Iacocca and Ford eventually parted ways in the late 1970s, the legacy of the Ford Mustang and all of his hard work lives on to this day. After six generations and over five decades worth of technological and performance advances, the Mustang is as popular as ever, and we have Iacocca’s dedication and determination to thank for it!
Image Sources: Automotive News, Motor Authority, Ford Media, The Famous People
The automotive industry is loaded with stories of people with humble beginnings that slowly climbed the ranks, and eventually changed the landscape of the business forever. Though Ford is filled with influential men and women throughout its 100-plus-year history, Lee Iacocca stands out amongst the crowd.
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