Interview with John Clinard, January 2014

John ClinardMustang from day one has been exciting, within the company and to the outside world. Ford knew they had something special from the outset – and that was evident when I first walked in the door in 1972. I’ve been very fortunate to be associated with Mustang – soon to be the 6th generation of the car. I’ve seen people come and go over the years – people are good – then a new group comes in and they’re just as good. It continues and that reflects in the car.

When I first walked in – a kid just out of school – it was really inspirational to be surrounded by people who had taken the Mustang to the next level. I did meet Mr. Iacocca and Mr Ford which was inspirational for a kid out of college. I think they knew Mustang was something special. You just don’t mess with some things – F150 trucks – you don’t change the formula. Mustang is another one. So recognized, so special. Doesn’t even have the Ford oval. It’s not needed. People know it’s a Mustang. It’s a Ford. It’s its own brand. Own identity.


These passionate people who understood the mission – a way to turn fantasy into reality. You can go to Italy and buy a Ferrari for money that most people don’t have or get a Mustang that does the same thing and is affordable and that’s the magic of Mustang from the very beginning – to put the unreachable into someone’s reach. And that’s what made it a huge success and that formula has been adhered to right along, combining the art and science to provide the fulfillment of fantasy Keeping the price to an affordable level so it’s real. And that’s been the formula for the car’s success all along and people have understood that within the company. No surprise it’s gone on for fifty years and it will go another fifty.

1966 Mustang

My exposure to Lee Iacocca was I was in a group of 40 watching him do a design review of a car – several meetings – he would be very outspoken and meddling in the minds of the designers. With the Mustang he was much more cautious about that. He knew this car could speak its own language and you don’t mess with the Mustang. So right from the top of the house it had that reverence and that understanding that was a crucial part of the car’s success.


Henry Ford II's MustangHenry Ford was a very pragmatic man. He would say show me the numbers and if the numbers supported the story he would say yes. Lee Iacocca and Hal Sperlich put together the whole product story – the demographics – BBs set the tone for hula hoops and portable radios and you name it – well this car was part of that resurgence of youth culture in America. People were coming of age in massive numbers and they could afford a car like this. And that demographic story was the main issue in selling Mustang and it was clearly the right decision – through the ups and downs of the economy. New people coming in – the Mustang thrives through it all because Mustang has this magic formula of value and fun.

When I arrived in 1972 the car had grown larger than it was in 1964 and '65. Demographics and listening to owners saying I’d like to have a little more space. Also the old idea of change for the sake of change – let’s do something to keep it fresh. Each generation has these changes – or the cues or new regulations – economy, emissions, crash requirements, safety, larger bumpers – Ford rode that wave through each generation.


With the Fox Mustang in '79 – we got our mojo back. We were able to handle emissions and safety requirements much more efficiently. The fox body was seen as just right. The right wheel base, dimensions – so the platform was developed based on wheel base. Then the car was built upon that. With the fox body Mustang it was a return to more of the original formula. Put more power in, and still meet emissions. As the car has matured we have also evolved the suspension design, interior design, refined the car. It's always had style, and we designed elements that looked the part.


Carroll Shelby was hugely important. He created an all-new genre of Mustangs. Prior to Shelby we had a winner – no question about it, the standard Mustang was a smash success. Just about unprecedented in the industry.

Lee Iacocca thought this car is great but we can do more with it. And along came Carroll Shelby. First with the Cobra sports car – has made his mark, solid reputation, embraced by Ford management and the dealers – he was our guy and our answer to the Chevy Corvette. So we could have Shelby do something with that car, too. And Carroll took the challenge very enthusiastically. He got his group together and they quickly developed the Shelby Mustang. Went into the parts bin and took the parts that were not on the Mustang and incorporated them. Engine Hipo 271 – already on Mustang GT – intake carburetor - GT = different exhausts, manifold – took it from 271 to 307. He took weight out and fulfilled the promise of being a competitor for Ferrari but still low priced. It was a tremendous success – led to another facet of the Shelby phenomenon – Shelby was a tremendous asset to the Ford Motor Car company.

He had a ball doing it – he was loved by all – an irascible fellow but at the same time motivated people by being one of them. He created a team that was inseparable. So focused, they could do anything. And they did.

The first time I met Carroll Shelby was in 1967. I was a college student in North Carolina. Next door to me was John Holman of Holman-Moody. He said to me would you like to go to the Sebring race next month? Sure! So five guys got in the car and drove to Florida. Through his connections with Holman-Moody he had all the credentials – pit passes, everything. Soon after we arrived we walked into a big hanger where the Ford cars were being prepared. This race was won my Shelby with a Mach 1 and Ford McClarre. We walked in and there was Carroll Shelby. So John walked up to Shelby and said, "Hi, this is John Clinard." And I was so impressed. He’s managing this massive effort – people all over the place – he stopped everything and we had a little conversation. I told him about a Shelby Mustang that a friend had and that I had driven. I’m nobody, and he’s focusing on me. That won me right away.

He ended up going to Le Mans with a Ford GT and winning – and that was as much to do with Carroll’s leadership than anyone who was involved in that great era. You can’t sing his praises too strongly – he was a great enthusiast who had a practical mind and put it all into metal and on the pavement.

Shelby GT350


The GT350H was for Hertz Rent-A-Car. Don’t know who in marketing came up with the ideas – maybe initiated by Hertz themselves. This car is great and we can have some fun and enhance our business offering Hertz versions of the Shelbys. Auto transmission but otherwise it’s a pure car – very high performance car. And it was successful. There are legends about people tasking the car and racing on the weekend – lore goes that some people swapped engines with their regular Mustang – and brought the Hertz car back without the Shelby engines. To the point where they cabled the engine to the frame and made sure that cable hadn’t been clipped. It was a fun time. Hertz made money. It lasted for quite a long time. It was repeated a few years ago with a Shelby Mustang. Became part of the great Shelby story that is Americana.

Ford had a 271 HP hipo 289 cubic engine that was offered in the Mustang GT. Shelby took that engine and further modified it with an exhaust manifold, intake manifold, carburetor and raised the HP from 271 to 306 – open exhaust Added a lot to the personality of this car – Shelby took it to the next step and made it a more visceral and exciting car.

Coincidentally, I took a job with Ford starting in 1972. Through the years I worked a lot with Carroll Shelby and he was that way with everybody and I think that was a lot of his success because he made everybody important. Great characteristic – few have it like Carroll Shelby. He treated all his employees that way and all his drivers that way. So that created a tremendous loyalty – "I’ll stay up all night!" – "I’ll do anything for this man!" – that was the team spirit around Shelby.

It had a lot to do with motivating his people to win at all costs – his magnetism. And he was such a people person. So that was my first experience with Carroll.

In 1967 a neighbor bought a new GT350 Shelby Mustang. He took it to Holman/Moody and they put a 411 rear end on it and it was an amazing car. Then he went to Europe for three months on a biz trip and asked would I take care of his car when I’m gone. I’m a college kid. I had the keys. I drove it every day. I took very good care of it. It was amazing.

I had the great fortune to have experience with a great Mustang from the beginning. Such a fantastic car – not like anything on the road.

These experiences had a lot to do with my joining Ford. I wrote a letter to Ford when I was in high school saying I love your cars and I’d like to work for Ford. He wrote back and said go to college, study, and talk to us some day. Ended up going with Ford in 1972 and I have loved every minute. Ford is the greatest company – it’s a family. And the people like Carroll Shelby and the Ford family – you don’t find that in most industries – so I’ve been very fortunate.


The European influence on Mustang, and I was to play a big part in that, you think from the very beginning when the Mustang was created it had the long hood and the FB design – lot of the visual appeal of Ferrari and Aston Martin. That was no coincidence – the designers were looking around the world – "Okay, what can we put in this car that fulfills the fantasy? When they buy a car they are buying dreams – how do we fulfill those dreams with this car?

In 1981 Walter Hayes, a high executive and confidant of Henry Ford II, went to Mr. Ford and said, "Henry we have to put more excitement – we’ve been working with government standards. It's time to get some excitement. I want to create a group to do that."


Brought them over and created special vehicle operations – and I was brought in their as marketing manager. We sat around the room – and to put excitement - what do we have to work with and what do we do? Decided to create a more European Mustang than presently existed and see if we can get some conquest sales from European car owners. I got on a plane and went to California. I hung out in a shopping center parking lot and for three days anyone who drove up in a BMW I would say, "I’m from Ford Motor Company and I’d like to talk to you about your car."

I talked with 82 people, nobody ever turned me down, and I asked the same questions. What do you like about your BMW? If Ford made a Mustang with these characteristics would you consider it? All 82 people had the same answer: it’s economical – a small engine producing a lot of power vs. a big engine producing a lot of power. Handling, suspension, steering – I love the car and yes, I certainly would buy a Mustang. I’d like to buy American but nothing here does what this car does.

Bought the responses back and it was comforting to us. Yes, that is what we’re going to do. Got the engineers together and created the Mustang SVO with a turbocharged 4-cylinder engine. At the time tires, shocks, re-did the interiors with very supportive seats – made the kind of car that would compete with BMW. We sold the car in 1984, '85, and '86 – sold about 9,000 cars. It was expensive – cost more than the 5 liter GT. The Fox body was going away so the car ran its generation.

4th Generation Mustang


What it did was present to Ford management – yes we can produce such a car and there is a market for such a car. Fast Forward now to the new generation we are just about to introduce – 2015 Mustangs. It’s going to now be marketed in Europe for the first time – we’ve gone from looking European to being European. It has a 4-cylinder turbocharged engine, independent rear suspension, tight steering – all the formulas that applied to the Mustang SVO is now in the new Mustang.


That to me is very exciting and confirmed to me that the Ford company over the years – they’ve known what the target is - they’ve been very careful to keep the car affordable – realistic and practical – over 9 million being sold – there’s a dream people have in buying this car – let’s fulfill that dream as fully as we can – and now with that new car coming out – this is a very exciting time for Mustang - took 50 years to get there but it’s been a rewarding 50 years - same mission with every generation of the car – each one better and better - imagine what it’s going to be at 100 years – so Mustang here to stay. It’s just a great story.


One word: magic. To me, Mustang is magic. There is magic about Mustang however you want to interpret it – Mustang is magical.

2015 Mustang GT



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