Mustang GT- Ford's next Pony
They Live! Breathtaking Mustang concepts prove the pony car is still sexy
MUSTANG GT CONCEPT
PRODUCTION / ON SALE DATE: Fall 2004
POWERTRAIN: 4.6-liter, 400-hp, 390-lb-ft V8; rwd, six-speed manual (coupe), five-speed automatic (convertible)
By BOB GRITZINGER
With the possible exception of the Model T, no Ford Motor Co. car during the past 100 years has meant as much to the automaker’s pride and image as the Mustang. With the company’s centennial under way and Mustang’s 40th anniversary just around the bend, Ford has a lot riding on getting the Mustang right—with its past, and for its future.
We all know the story: Introduced in the early 1960s as a distinctly American answer to the growing number of imported sports cars on the highways and racetracks, the first Mustangs delivered in 1964 were credited with creating America’s passion for pony cars, a segment named after the car’s logo.
After a heady run through the ’60s that saw the crafting of the best of the breed, by 1974 the Mustang had been turned into little more than a Pinto with wings in its fuel crisis-induced 1974-78 Mustang II guise. It wasn’t until 1979 that the car reemerg--ed with Euro-influenced styling riding on the then all-new Fox platform. Little did anyone realize that, despite the addition of Special Vehicle Team high-performance models in 1993 and a major overhaul in 1994, the Mustang would remain saddled with that same chassis to this very day. There was even an interlude when it was thought Mustang was dead, about to be replaced by the Probe — a circumstance avoided only by dint of a global-scale hissy fit by Mustang lovers.
That brings us to the present, where the General Motors competition has suffered cancellation. If Ford’s designers and engineers have done their job, the passion for Mustang is about to be reignited with two concepts on this year’s auto show circuit — a rakish silver fastback that premiered amid a shower of fireworks at the Detroit auto show (and won AutoWeek’s Most Significant vehicle award), and a stunning red convertible that debuted a few days earlier in Los Angeles.
In these two-seat concept versions of the iconic American pony car, we get design cues from the best Mustangs of the ’60s, updated to the present and combined with some of the best automotive technology of the 21st century. And by all indications, we’re told we can view the concepts as little more than thinly veiled representations of the next-generation Mustang, due to debut in 2004 as an ’05 model. More on that later.
When it comes to putting a modern face on a classic look it’s hard to argue with the track record of Ford design vice president J Mays. Well before his arrival in Dearborn five years ago, his revival of the venerable Volkswagen Beetle was already winning rave reviews (as does, still today, his Audi Avus concept car of 1992).
At Ford, his resurrection of the GT40 (“We didn’t design it,” Mays said at the Design Forum, “we just reissued it,” like you’d reissue a TAG Heuer Monaco watch or a pair of Chuck Taylor All-Stars) is seen as nothing short of divine. But even Mays admits tackling an American icon like the next Mustang is a greater challenge.
“I think it would be a death penalty for me if I didn’t get it right,” says Mays. But other than wistful what-ifs (“I’d have probably given it another 75 horsepower,” he says), Mays thinks he and his design team have nailed the next pony in the stable.
“Mustang is a ‘Living Legend,’” says Mays, referring to Ford’s Dearborn-based specialty design studio. “We’re not afraid to allow those vehicles to look back, to take people to a place where they haven’t been in a long time or have never had an occasion to go. I’m extremely happy with the way the car’s turned out.”
Ford Design California chief Richard Hutting, who worked on major Mustang overhauls for 1979 and 1994, as well as the extensive redesign for the 1999 model, also feels the weight of the Mustang project.
“Mustang enthusiasts judge each new Mustang by the original and the early versions,” says Hutting. “As designers, we tried to capture that emotional link.”
If you like ’60s Mustangs, chances are you’ll find something to like about the Mustang concepts. Hutting and his small cadre of designers in Valencia drew on the 19641/2 to 1972 era—and specifically the ’641/2 to ’68 models—for inspiration. But Hutting says the real starting point for his team was the two-seat, mid-engined 1962 Mustang 1 concept car, considered the “original” Mustang, and the car that led to Ford’s decision to build a production car.
With its trademark pony-and-bars logo, targa roll bar (carried into the L.A. convertible concept), the hood and side scoops, the spare-tire tie-down (incorporated in the coupe concept) and exhaust ported through the rear fascia, the Mustang 1 is responsible for many of the design cues found in every Mustang since.
From Mustang 1 and the early cars, Hutting’s team identified these cues as crucial to the next Mustang: a long hood with its leading edge pulling the car dramatically forward, a forward-leaning grille, recessed headlights, twin hood scoops, hockey-stick body side scallops, five-spoke wheels, the short rear decklid atop full-width triple-block taillights, and a center rear badge reminiscent of the ’60s-era fuel-filler cap.
“We stripped it down to its cues and we got to the form of the vehicle—to its essence,” says Hutting, whose own black- on-black ’66 GT fastback and another design team member’s red ’65 GT fastback also helped provide daily reference points during the first few months of 2002 as the team worked to identify the key lines that define the car’s image. “This vehicle has that sense of motion, even when it’s standing still. It captures your eye from 50 feet away—it’s instantly recognizable as a Mustang.”
While the production model will retain the traditional 2+2 seating, most of what we see in the concepts we’ll see in production, including several versions of the same rear-wheel-drive platform that underpins the Lincoln LS, Ford Thunderbird and Jaguar S-Type. Power for the concept vehicles comes from a supercharged 4.6-liter V8 producing 400 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque, linked to a six-speed manual transmission (coupe) and five-speed automatic (convertible), which we’ll likely see in some form in production as well.
How much of the concept styling will end up on the production model? Quite a bit, judging by the close communication maintained between the concept team and production designers and engineers.
“We have had this ongoing dialogue with the production team and information has been exchanged in both directions,” said Hutting. “Everybody is on the same page.”
The guy leading the charge on the production end is Hau Thai-Tang, who as a youngster in South Vietnam wondered if he’d ever get a chance to actually own a car someday — let alone build one. But by age 10, Thai-Tang was living in New York City, going to school and learning about life in America. He eventually joined Ford in 1988, serving in a variety of capacities including stints with Ford Racing as an engineer for the Newman-Haas CART team during the 1993 season. He was respon-sible for development of race cars for Nigel Mansell and Mario Andretti, where he picked up valuable experience that has translated well into the world of car development.
“Deadlines don’t move,” says Thai-Tang. “The Indy 500 starts Sunday at 11. If you’re not there, they start without you.”
Thai-Tang also worked with Ford product development chief Richard Parry-Jones on the 2000 Lincoln LS program and oversaw engineering of the 2001 Mustang GT, V6, Cobra and Bullitt models. But Thai-Tang admits getting the Mustang right is a task of almost astronomical proportion.
“My aspiration as a kid in Vietnam was to own a car — obviously working on the Mustang far exceeds that expectation,” he says. “This will be the highlight of my career.”
While cagey on the specifics of what we’ll get in the production car, Thai-Tang assures the next-gen Mustang will exceed the “fast, fun and afford- able” quotient of the 8 million Mustangs sold before it.
Thai-Tang’s team started on the Mustang in 2002, drawing on the parts bin where practical, but building from scratch when necessary. From interior improvements to chassis refinement, the team kept the “fast, fun and affordable” mantra before them at all times.
“We looked at some of the things you or I would do if we were building a race car from the ground up—keeping it fun, nimble and agile, with higher horsepower and lower weight,” says Thai-Tang. “When you’re working from a 25-year-old platform, all you can do is add on. But when you’re starting from a clean sheet of paper, you can optimize design for strength and weight. Weight is something we’re managing ounce by ounce, day by day.”
Starting with the suspension, the new Mustang draws heavily on the DEW platform underpinning the LS, et al., but with modifications unique to the Mustang that stretch in both directions—to a more affordable version for those V6-powered base models up to an expensive suspension for high-end SVT jobs. Put another way, just like today’s crop of Mustangs, you’ll still see solid rear-axle suspension in some less expensive models and fully independent rigs for the all-out performance cars.
Next up, the team took advantage of Ford’s commitment to tripling its investment in interiors to get rid of Mustang’s tired-looking and overly plastic-dependent twin-cockpit design in favor of a clean, undivided dashboard with twin gauge brows peeking from behind the steering wheel.
“One area where people will be delighted and surprised will be in the interior,” says Thai-Tang. Engines will likely include a 200-plus-hp version of the LS 3.0-liter V6, three- and four-valve-per-cylinder 4.6-liter V8s, and a supercharged 400-hp-plus dohc 4.6-liter V8 in SVT models.
Is that enough?
“What we have to tell our customers is that we hear them, we know why Mustang is successful and our job is to deliver on that promise and exceed their expectations,” says Thai-Tang. “Our promise to our customers is that the car will certainly deliver.”
Or, as design chief Mays said amid the auto show hoopla in Detroit: “It’s tough, it’s sexy and it’s cool. Anybody can build a sporty car. Only Ford can build a Mustang.”
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....