A Man and His Mustang Stand the Test of Time
By: Brad Nevin | Ford Communications Network
The Mustang I concept car was the spark that lit the Mustang fire for Ford designer Joseph Errante in 1961. A few years after, he bought his own Mustang and has, before his eyes, watched it go from an everyday driver to a classic.
DEARBORN, Mich. -- Few people can say they've experienced the life and times of the Ford Mustang like Joseph Errante. As a designer in Ford's Scientific Research Lab in 1961, he was one of a few people in the world to get a close look at the precursor to the 1964 Mustang production car, the Mustang I.
"The Mustang I was assembled in our building," said Errante. "I've always had a liking for cars and always wanted a sports car. But being newly married and raising a family, it just didn't fit in the picture. A couple of years later when they came out with the production Mustang, my wife and I talked it over and we decided to buy a Mustang and take good care of it. We didn't know at the time it was going to become a classic."
Though simply a design exercise at first, Mustang I caught the eye of then Ford Motor Company design vice president Eugene Bordinat who wanted something exciting for Ford's new-model press preview in 1961. After seeing Mustang I, he ordered it transformed from clay-model dream to drivable reality. The original Mustang I was a two-seat sports car riding on a short 90-inch wheelbase with an open top. It weighted only 1500 pounds and had a low, ground-hugging stance. Sports car purists and automotive journalists loved it, but Ford executives decided it was too costly and impractical to produce.
In October, 1963, Ford unveiled Mustang II to journalists at Watkins Glen race track in New York. Mustang II was still sporty, but this version had seating for four and a removable hardtop. With this car, a practical, factory-ready Mustang was close.
The final, production-ready Mustang made a splash when it debuted in April, 1964 at the World's Fair in New York. Over 150 journalists came to the unveiling. Newsweek and Time had Mustang on the cover. Ford bought the 9 pm time slot to introduce Mustang to 29 million viewers on ABC, CBS and NBC. Mustang was born.
A little over a year later, Errante finally bought his own for $2900 delivered.
"We bought the car rather than a two-seater because we had four children at the time," said Errante. "It was kind of a family project. Over time, everybody worked hard to keep the car looking nice."
One of Errante's fondest memories of the car was when he and his wife would get ice cream with their children during the summer.
"On a typical Sunday evening, it was always 10 degrees cooler at the riverfront in Southfield," said Errante. "So what we would do, early in the evening, was bathe the four children, they'd all get into their pajamas, and we'd drive down to Southfield. We'd get out and mother would buy them an ice cream. When they were all done eating, she'd take a wet washcloth out of her bag and wash their hands. We'd all get back in the car and drive home. By that time it was bedtime."
As a member of the Ford Motorsports Enthusiasts club, Errante also raced his Mustang. He and other Ford employees would set up pylons and hold club events at Ford lots around Dearborn while competing against the clock.
"The car was not babied," said Errante. "Never abused, but not babied, either."
Errante still owns his Mustang and drives it around Dearborn. Before his eyes, he has seen Mustang transform from an everyday car used to fetch groceries and ice cream into a highly desirable, classic car that's loved by millions.
There are over 250 Mustang enthusiast clubs across the world. There are Mustang clubs in Canada, England, France, Netherlands, Germany, New Zealand, Australia, Mexico, South Africa and many other countries. There's even a Yellow Mustang Registry that caters to the more than 3,000 Mustangs wearing factory yellow exterior paint.
Part of the reason Errante thinks Mustang has remained so popular is the amount of car you get for the money you pay for it.
"Mustang was always an affordable car for most people, and it offers a lot," he said. "You could get a reasonable family runabout and a sports car all in one."
That idea is true today, too, as the V8-powered 2005 Mustang GT is the most affordable 300 horsepower car you can buy for around $25,000.
Ken Gross recently wrote a column on Edmunds.com that cements this point.
"The Mustang's a kick to drive and its price is so reasonable -- try (around) $25 grand for a 300-hp, V8-powered GT -- that more buyers than anticipated are opting for the V8s vs. V6s," wrote Gross. "Ford is cranking up production; it initially expected to sell 100,000 units; now it'll produce at least 192,000 in Year One. And it'll sell 'em all."
Errante says another reason why Mustangs from 1964 and on have remained popular is the fact that you can find original parts for them, which makes restoring old models fairly easy. Lots of Mustang parts are also being reproduced. You can almost build a new Mustang from the ground up with all the parts available today.
But more important than that, Errante said that carrying one model line for so long says a lot for a company's reputation; not many car companies come out with a model that lasts over 40 years. Mustang's iconic status can be attributed to several factors, including its lasting hallmarks of good looks and performance combined with affordability. Mustang created a new class of car that attracted a loyal following of men and women, and that fun-loving spirit carried over to the rest of the Ford line through the years.
Other rear-wheel drive performance cars have come and gone, but the fact that the 1964 Mustang was a smash hit and 2005 Mustang models are prancing off dealer lots says a lot. It's not a stretch to say that no other vehicle has or will be so endearing, or have such a lasting impact on the rest of a company's vehicle line.
"The whole idea of an affordable sporty car with good looks and a great spirit still is viable today, and this car holds a special place in the hearts of many baby boomers," wrote G. Chambers Williams III in the San Antonio Express-News. "It perhaps was the biggest automotive symbol of our coming-of-age years."
Edsel B. Ford II has had a close relationship with Mustang, too. His father, Henry Ford II, bought him a pearl white 1964 ½ fastback for his 16th birthday. During the summer of 1968, he worked for Carroll Shelby and helped work on the Mustang GT350 and Shelby Cobra. When he was 21, he bought a Mustang Boss 351.
"Mustang has played a special role in my life, as I suspect it has in yours," wrote Ford in the forward to the book Ford Mustang: Forty Years of Fun. "For most of us, Mustang wasn't just a car ? it was a piece of our lives, a part of who we really are. What the Model T did for working families, the Mustang did for the youth culture of the '60s, and for every generation of young, and young-at-heart, since."