Motorbooks International – St. Paul, Minn.
Release Date: Summer 2010
(From the book’s Introduction)
Four major factors led to the creation of Ford Motor Co.’s phenomenally successful Mustang in 1964 – having the right guy in charge of product planning, the influence of sporty foreign cars, the repeal of an industry-wide racing ban, and sophisticated research into buyer demographics.
Lee Iacocca joined Ford Motor Co. in 1946 as an industrial engineer but soon found his outgoing personality was better suited for the sales department. His creativity with such programs as the “56 for ’56” campaign (which featured $56 monthly payments for 1956 Fords) earned him the position of vice president of the company’s car-and-truck group by 1960.
During his early years in the business, Iacocca had observed post-WWII soldiers coming home with an appreciation for small, athletic MGs, Fiats, and Jaguars they had seen and driven in Europe. He also saw firsthand how the public fell in love with Ford’s 1955-57 two-seat Thunderbird, which was the American interpretation of a low, good-handling roadster. In 1957, to prevent Congress from imposing safety restrictions on the industry, Ford, GM, and Chrysler (under the umbrella of the Automobile Manufacturers’ Association) agreed to suspend factory support of motorsports and de-emphasize speed in their marketing and development of new models. Although Ford stuck to the spirit and letter of the law, Chevrolet and Pontiac flouted the ban and quickly dominated the major forms of racing through the “backdoor support” of their engineering departments.
Suffering defeat in the high-profile motorsports community made Ford products unexciting, and that was bad news for sales to young people. Research showed that the first wave of the post-war population boom was hitting the beach, so to speak. Millions of voting, educated, affluent Americans would want sporty, sexy cars by 1965, yet, in 1960, Ford was still promoting its stodgy models as safe and reliable. The compact Falcon was Ford’s only car aimed at the youth market, and it was a rather plain-looking economy car. General Motors had its rear-engine Chevy Corvair – an innovative but unusually styled car that sold well, although traditional buyers were leery of its advanced engineering. Chrysler’s volume model was the sturdy-but-dull Dodge Dart.
Iacocca recognized that the American auto industry had a serious “youth problem” on its hands, and that the first person to serve that young audience would win all the marbles.