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Building an Icon

Donald Frey put some pizzazz into Ford’s bland car lineup.

Don Frey signs autographs at the 40th Anniversary celebration in Nashville, Tenn.
 Most of us will never have a chance to create an icon. And most of those who do don’t set out with “icon” in mind. Ford’s Sporty Car program was created in late 1961, early 1962 by Donald Frey, vice president and chief engineer at Ford Motor Company. The goal of the engineering team was to create a car that wasn’t bland.

You see, Frey was sitting around the dinner table with his teenage kids who were close to getting their driver’s licenses. He asked them what kind of Ford cars they might want to drive.

“One of them said, Dad, your cars are dullsville,” Frey says, “and they were right.

The program had to be done on the cheap and under the radar of Ford executives. Ford had just written off the Edsel debt and wasn’t in a hurry to spend money on frivolous projects.

“Laughably,” says Frey, “the first thing we did was take the old Thunderbird, because it was available, and update it. And it looked just like what it was, an updated old Thunderbird.”
“To save money on tooling costs and design time,” he continues, “we decided to see if we could make it out of the Falcon.”

Frey chuckles as he remembers what a cheap car the Falcon was. The Falcon instrument panel was carried over to the Mustang to save money. “The turn signal lever at that time, only had one light on the dash to indicate turning both left and right. When the car really started selling well,” Frey says, “the dealers started calling me and asking when the Mustang would get the second light.”

The cars were selling over list and the dealers were afraid that the public might perceive them as being cheap. By the fall of 1964 a second turn indicator light was put in.

The uni-body Falcon was a good choice because of its lightweight structure and low manufacturing cost. The basic Falcon floor pan and powertrain arrangement were used. Width was retained, though the platform was stretched slightly to incorporate the Mustangs long nose and short deck. A new interior had to be designed to accommodate bucket seats and a floor console.

“It was not an expensive deal,” Frey says. “Most of it was bootleg anyway. I had just come out of engineering, so I knew where all of the bodies were buried.”

Tooling for the new Mustang was done for $40 million dollars. And while Frey says that may seem like a lot of money. He compares it to the 1965 Ford Galaxie program which cost Ford 10 times that much.

“We did the Mustang on a shoestring,” says Frey, “because that’s all we could get.”

Another $8 million dollars was spent to tool up to extra assembly plants (San Jose, Calif. and Maowa, N.J.) to keep up with the demand for the vehicle.

Was Frey surprised with the initial success of the Mustang? “Of course,” Frey says. “We knew we had a winner, but not by that much. It was overwhelming.” Frey says that it wasn’t until the U.S. postage stamp came out in 1989 that he realized that he had created an icon.

“The Mustang was designed as a volume, nice, quiet car for ordinary people,” Frey says.
Ordinary people who want to drive an icon.

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Thu. July 18th, 2024

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