Ford Designer John Najjar on the 1962 Mustang I Concept

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Failure is an orphan but success has many fathers. One of the fathers of the Ford Mustang was stylist John Najjar. In a 1984 interview with the Edison Institute (now the Benson Ford Research Center), transcribed for the Automobile in American Life project of the University of Michigan Dearborn, Najjar discusses the first car that Ford called Mustang, the Mustang I concept of 1962.

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Najjar gives a great deal of credit to Phil Clark, a young designer who would tragically die at the age of 32 of kidney failure. Clark not only did a number of sketches of the Mustang I, drawing on concepts he’d been doodling for years, but he was the person who designed the galloping mustang pony mascot and most likely originated the name Mustang as well. You can see Clark work on the car and on the mascot in this Ford promotional film.

John Najjar: I had come up with this idea of a mid-ship drive on a Mustang I. We had done two or three vehicles, and they had brought in Dan Gurney to take a look at it. He had indicated that they were too heavy, too trucky, too boxy….

Q:      You’re leading up to the famous episode where Gurney saw your…?

A:      That’s right.

Q:      Can you develop that?

A:      What happened was that Maguire and I sat down and talked about these vehicles. Working for me was a man by the name of Jimmy Darden, who had a history of heart problems, and I couldn’t press him too much, but he was assigned to me. I had a fellow by the name of Phil Clark in the studio who was a good designer and who later died within a few years of kidney failure. And I had a wonderful [engineer] working for me by the name of Ray Smith. This was a task, and there were two other designers on it. We figured we had to do something. We were working on a heavy clay model in the studio, getting it done. There was a clay modeler in the studio by the name of Joe Siebold, who had been regaling me about midget racing [with] his daughter. I said, “Joe, that’s great.” I remembered back to the Cardinal program, front-wheel drive engine. Joe Siebold’s kids were driving these little, midget racers. I had read in a European book about engines from race cars being placed ahead of the rear axle. It hit me! So I called Joe Siebold over and I said, “Joe, you know about these vehicles.” I said, “Would you help me? We’ve got a front-wheel drive car. Can I take the front-wheel drive and fix up the…?” “Oh yeah, that’s no problem, that’s no problem.” I said, “Could I put that this way?” So I started to do a sketch of it. I said, “Now, what would I put in front?” He said, “Well, you could put an oil cooler up in front to support the nose.” I wasn’t all that dumb, but I was looking for some rational support. I did the famous full-size drawing of it…side view.

* Editor’s Note: Engel had accepted the Vice-Presidency for Design at Chrysler.

Q:      This is on brown paper?

A:      No, this was on tracing paper. Lines are marked off on it, and I had called…I wasn’t sure, it wasn’t Roy Lunn, it was another guy, a German guy that worked for Roy Lunn. It wasn’t Theylig, it was Hans Gretzel. I asked him if he could get me this engine drawing. He had to get permission to get me the drawing. So I put it on this tape drawing, this line drawing. I showed it to Maguire, and he liked it. He called Bordinat in, and Bordinat liked it, liked the thought of it. And it just so happened that Dan Gurney was around as we were showing the clay model. The comment, again, was that it’s still blocky, this type of thing. Bordinat and Maguire showed Gurney this line drawing and a little sketch. There were some sketches above it, and he made the comment, “That’s more like it.”

Q:      Gurney thought this was really something.

A:      Yeah, he thought it was more like it. Noncommittal, I guess. So, Maguire came back. We were siting outside, off on one side behind other stuff. I don’t think I was privy to that particular meeting. Maguire says, “We got a green light, so go ahead, start.”

Q:      In other words, Bordinat was impressed by Gurney’s…?

A:      Reaction to it. He, Bordinat, liked it himself. Sure.

I turned to Ray Smith. Ray Smith had a fertile mind, and many people had stolen the ideas that he germinated in Room 138, such as the swing steering wheel, such as moving [adjusting] pedals instead of people. He was just always inventing crazy, little things. He was a frustrated camper designer. He was always going to leave Ford Motor Company and design campers and never made it.

We started on this clay model, Darden, Ray Smith and I got the arma­ture going, into and out of the shop, started throwing clay. We started to have a series of presentations to Bordinat and Maguire as it went on. Maguire was a great one for listening to names. We gotta have names on this, and he loved musical names, etude and…I have them all written down some place. I can’t remember half of them, and so I got off on this. I had the booklet with me. I’d been reading about the Mustang fighter plane. I was a nut for fighter planes–the P-51. I started to look at the name Mustang and wrote it down a couple of times, looked in the dictionary, and I said, “Geez, that’s got to be it!” I showed it to Maguire, and he says, “Yeah, that’s good.” I turned it over to Phil Clark. I said, “Phil, draw some horses,” an he drew the horses. It’s an American horse, so that’s where the red, white and blue came from. And it just seemed to jell.

Q:      So, Phil Clark did the original Mustang drawing?

A:      That’s right. And I have one of the original little metal models of the ornament. There was a Mustang I drawing that Phil Clark did of the ornament. There was a Mustang I drawing that Phil Clark did for us at the time, and it ended up in our employee personnel office. I saw it a few years ago before I left. One guy was visiting Jay Dulls’ office, and he was from World Headquarters, and he said, “Gee, I like that drawing.” Jay said, “Well, you know, it’s our policy to move it from office to office.” So, he gave it to the guy at World Headquarters to put in his office. I tried to track it down. Seems like the guy at World Headquarters, whose name Jay can’t remember, which I’m surprised at, has it in his home.

So, there were were, we had the clay models. Either Bordinat at lunch or John Breeden heard from Cog Briggs that we really had nothing to show at the 1962 Fall automotive introduction. There was no “bell ringer,” and [he] thought they would [be] interested in looking at this. So Misch comes over, and Bordinat starts chatting back and forth.

Q:      This was Herbert Misch, Vice President of Engineering?

A:      Herb Misch, that’s right, and Cog Briggs and Breeden, and we talked about it and talked about it and said, “Can it be made?” “Yeah, we can do a fiberglass model.” “Well, we’ll need more than that,” and Herb and Gene decided it should go hell bent for election. Well, Misch decided to put Roy Lunn on it because Roy had been a previous racing car designer, chief designer. When Maguire heard about it, he said, “Geez, I don’t want that little Englishman. I can’t stand him.” Evidently, we had, and I can’t remember the connection, worked with Roy before on stuff. I said, “Well, Bob, you’ll like him, he’s a musician. He plays the flute.” Bob was a musician himself. And, I said, “He’s smart.” As it worked out, he turned out to be a good guy.

He was the guy assigned the engineering task. He came over and sat down with Darden, Ray Smith and me, and we talked about how things could be done. Here was an engineer that could do things. It wasn’t what I’d experienced [in the past] where there was resistance. Here was a guy that put it together. He was used to putting things under shapes and putting–designing for the flow of the thing, the outside surface. He was our mentor all along. So it was a real close effort. Damon Woods was in charge of interiors, and he had Jim Sipple working for him. Jim Sipple was my level as Executive Stylist and did the interior while I did the exterior. Our plans went further than the final Mustang I–we had a back light [rear window] in it. We had removable roof panels on the thing, but it never got up to that stage. In the meantime, Roy Lunn was casting around for a company to produce this vehicle–that could make it. We made the finished clay model, the fiberglass casts of it, marked it all off and shipped it out to the West Coast for it to be made in metal.

Q:      Is this the Mustang I?

A:      Mustang I. Roy Lunn designed all the tubular structure, the suspen­sion, the engines. He got all that equipment built and shipped out to the West Coast. It was all put together, we finished our clay model in something like eight weeks’ time, and, I guess, Roy had something like sixty days to build an operable vehicle. To see that thing go from an idea to finished product was an exciting time. It was designed in the Design Center under the command of Eugene Bordinat who joined forces with Herbert Misch, who was Vice President of Engineering. The objective that the two had agreed to was to take our Mustang I clay model concept and make it into an operable vehicle. They needed this operable vehicle for the Fall press conference to [highlight] the introduction of the 1962 Ford Motor Company products. What they wanted to do was add a little spice to it and to invite a few of the press people in to look at this new little vehicle. To bring the vehicle to life, a man by the name of Roy Lunn, in engineering, was assigned to doing that task. He elected to use Troutman-Barnes, a racing car fabricator out in California . The Design Center finished a fiberglass cast of the surface contours of the vehicle and shipped it out to Troutman-Barnes. Roy Lunn’s engineering staff, with Hans Gretzel, worked feverishly to take the Cardinal ponypack engine, [and] redesign the wheel components. They designed the tube work for the frame, front wheel suspension, steering mechanism, all the component operating parts and shipped those parts and drawings out to Troutman-Barnes. Troutman-Barnes put that vehicle together and returned it to the Design Center by late August/early September, and it was driven around the test track by a race car driver named Dan Jones, who applauded its handling. It had no test time on it. It was shown to the press people. Certain press people were allowed to ride in it, and it became the topic for the day, giving our 1962 program a much needed lift. Needless to say, the fellows in the Design Center were all agog at this hot little car. Later on, just to trace the history of what the Mustang I did for the company, a movie was made of Mustang I, along with a 1/10 scale model of the Mustang I which was carried around in a nice mahogany wood case with mirrors. The model was built by the Design Center metal shop. The movie and the model would go to different college campuses, and talks would be given about Ford being the wave of the future, having youth in mind. Wherever possible the drivable Mustang I was driven onto the campus and shown there. It did give the marketing people a chance to get the feelings of the marketplace. Indeed, the Mustang I was a viable marketable car, but Mr. Iacocca had a higher volume goal for it and decided it should be a two plus two. Mustang I just had two people in the front, and the two plus two concept provided for little children space in the aft seating compartment. It did kick off Iacocca’s dream of a sporty, youthful car that could be produced in huge volume.

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