Fifty years ago today, Lee Iacocca was just a 40-year-old man who wore skinny ties. He was also great at making his boss angry; very angry indeed. Henry Ford II ran things in Detroit back then. It was his name on the building, end of story. But back in those days, Ford wasn’t doing so well. They were kind of a laughing-stock because in the late 1950’s, Ford was the company that gave us the Edsel. The Edsel was widely regarded as the biggest automotive styling blunder in history, until the Pontiac Aztec came along about 40 years later.
Detroit was still laughing behind Mr. Ford’s back in the 1960’s because of the Edsel and the old man was not in the mood to take chances. Mr. Iacocca was only in charge of the cars at Ford, but he was also really good at market research. He knew there was a very large and untapped market of younger people who needed cars. These “Baby Boomers” wanted a cool car that they could call their own. So, Iacocca went against his boss, let’s call him “Hank The Deuce,” and put his entire career and probably his very life on the line trying to give the people what they wanted. Hank The Deuce was not thrilled with the Mustang project and he didn’t seem to care much what these whippersnappers wanted. He threatened Iacocca in no uncertain terms that this better work… or else. Iacocca oversaw the entire Mustang project. He made top-secret prototypes, showed them to focus groups and tweaked the designs before the top-secret team came up with the iconic 1964 1/2 Mustang.
April 17th, 1964 was fifty years ago and I would have loved to have been alive to see one of the most anticipated unveilings in the history of the United States of America. The cover came off of the Mustang right in the middle of the 1964 New York World’s Fair in front of thousands of people and everyone was blown away. There stood a plain little two-door coupe, a convertible and a fastback. The Mustang was revolutionary. It was small, sporty and could be ordered with an almost unlimited number of options. It made the perfect “secretaries car.” It also made the perfect car for a college kid, young professional or someone who wanted something speedy but didn’t have Corvette money. The coupe sold brand new for $2,368 and everyone wanted one. Ford sold millions and millions of them in the first couple of years alone. Lee Iacocca may have saved his own neck, but even with the staggering success of his Mustang, he never rose to the very top of the food chain at Ford because Hank The Deuce just didn’t like him. He did go on to save Chrysler in the 1980’s… but that’s another story.
I’m no Baby Boomer, but I’ve owned eight Mustangs and I’ve loved every one of them. I would like to thank Mr. Iacocca for giving America and the world the most iconic car since the Model T. The Mustang has had a few missteps over the years. The compact 1974-78 Mustang II was really nothing more than a Pinto with different body work. Vanilla Ice decided to roll in a “five point 0h, with the ragtop down so his hair could blow,” but they came back in the 80’s and 90’s with a really good car for the time. That car has since evolved into the newly redesigned 2015 Mustang.
Back in the black and white days, at the World’s Fair unveiling, someone thought it would be cool to chop up a brand new ’64 Mustang in to pieces, throw it in the elevator and re-assemble it on the observation deck of the Empire State Building… so they could take a picture. It made for a really cool picture. So naturally, Ford just did the same thing to this brand new yellow one .
There will always be a special place in my heart for the car that took me through high school, college and brought my daughter home from the hospital after she was born.
Long live America’s true Pony Car!
Erica Habedank/ CW44 Tampa Bay