The Ford Mustang Could Have Looked Extremely Weird

Ford ultimately chose a simple, timeless Mustang design that became an automotive icon. But that was not the only option.

The Ford Mustang may be America’s greatest automotive achievement, and it all stems from that first-generation model that debuted back in 1964. In the heart of the Sixties, when the market craved youth and reinvention, Ford built a vibrant, cool-looking sports coupe for young people (or people who wanted to feel young) and deliberately sold it at a price point the average American could afford. (The original base model sold for the modern equivalent of about $20,000, 40 percent cheaper than the Corvette.)

Given that early models were, if not underpowered, hardly worthy of the still-unknown “muscle car” moniker, the Mustang’s appearance was essential to its appeal. It had a simple, compact, and muscular look that made it inveterately cool. That remains the car’s hallmark more than 50 years later. If the Mustang had looked different, the formula might not have worked.

Given a chance to glimpse at some of the original design options for the first-gen Mustang, that easily could have happened.

Early in May, Ted Ryan, the head of Ford Motor Company’s archives, tweeted out photos of sevedral design mock-ups Ford ordered for what became the Mustang. Ford commissioned eight models from its Advanced Studio, Lincoln-Mercury Studio and Ford Studio. It was the Ford Studio’s one submission that ultimately won out, thankfully.

While it may be hard to imagine a world without a cool Mustang, nothing was preordained. Small decisions can have immense consequences. It’s easy to imagine an alternate history where Lee Iacocca opts for a bit more flair, ends up with a flop — and the futures of Ford, the American automotive industry and American culture as a whole are dramatically altered.

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