Former second-generation Mustang designer Dick Nesbitt talks about the development of the "forgotten pony."
article and photographs by Dick Nesbitt
In 1971, I was hired by Ford Motor Company as an automotive designer and relocated from Los Angeles, California, to begin work at Ford's design center in Dearborn, Michigan. At that time, I thought Ford's automotive product line for model years 1971 and 1972 was one of their best ever. Each car line, for the most part, was handsome, with a strong, well developed visual image from Ford, Mercury and Lincoln's Continental..
The 1971 and 1972 full-sized Fords and Mercurys were especially well done, representing, in my opinion, the best efforts yet seen for both car lines in many years. An underrated but appealing car in particular from this period was the 1971-1972 Mustang convertible. The original Pinto, prior to 1974, was well designed, too, other problems notwithstanding.
Therefore, when I started work at the design center in 1971, I wasn't prepared for the shock of seeing the 1973 cars completed and approved for production with their government-mandated 5-mph impact front bumpers and 2½ mph rear bumpers. These massive "chrome-plated railroad ties" were absolute visual disasters.
I was positive 1973 would be a disastrous sales year, but the opposite came to pass, as 1973 was one of Detroit's best collective sales years ever. My first assignment as a new-hire designer began in the Lincoln-Mercury production exterior design studio for the Cougar, Montego and Comet car lines. Shortly thereafter, an unusual program for this studio was released.
We were to participate in presenting a proposal for the all-new and considerably downsized Mustang II project. Several other studios were submitting proposals as well. The Roman numeral "II" after the Mustang title was significant. This effort would represent an all-out effort to redefine the Mustang concept more along the lines of the original first series model. Ironically, a car Ford had been closely looking at around this time was Toyota's Celica - within itself and oriental response to the original Mustang concept.
Mustang creator Lee Iacocca felt the inflated size and weight of the Mustang, accumulated over the previous several years, was on of the worst marketing errors ever made in the history of the domestic automotive industry. From the most successful new model introduction ever in 1964, the Mustang's image had grown out of focus by 1971.