Interview with Robert Fria, December 2013

Robert FriaRobert Fria, a nationally recognized early Mustang historian, is the proud owner of the first pre-production Ford Mustang hardtop. Bob, a retired United Airlines Captain, talks about the car in the video and is the author of an excellent book on Mustang’s early years, Mustang Genesis.

MUSTANG 1 AND 2

Mustang 1 was a Concept car – 2 seats. Purpose was to pique interest in those people who might have an interest in a sporty car from Ford. Developed for Lee Iacocca. Unveiled at Watkins Raceway in October 1962. Wildly accepted and acclaimed on TV and in print. From that point it was taken on tour to college campuses, to Europe. Very popular but the M1 was never seriously considered for production. It was strictly a one-of-a-kind concept car that Lee Iacocca produced to test the waters for marketing a sporty car – never meant for mass production.

Mustang 2 was unveiled at Watkins Glen a year later. Same response. Lee said, “That’s when I knew he had a winner.” The M2 was a thinly disguised car that was designed from the Mustang body. A hardtop originally, they cut off the top to make a convertible. Then they used various fiberglass treatments on the grille – camouflaged its appearance to make people think it was the final production Mustang.

Mustang 2 concept

FIRST PRE-PRODUCTION HARDTOP

This is a very special historical car. First pre-production hardtop produced with a VIN number. Put together by hand in the pilot plant, which was in Alan Park. Used for various tests and procedures – we think was used to test new color – Caspian Blue. Then it was taken to the Dearborn Assembly Plant by truck – placed on assembly line on March 9, 1964 for completion of chassis. Issued VIN 5F07U100002. It is the first pre-production hardtop.

1964 Hardtop

50 YEARS

Mustang logoWe’ve had Mustangs for 50 years now. They tried to keep the original styling cues over the years. Original car was meant to be economical to own and fuel efficient – meant for baby boomer families – young folks who were starting families who were looking for something exciting with regards to performance plus styling in a new car. Mustang was created to appeal to those baby boomers, who were just starting families, and to fulfill a market that was looking for a car.

People were tired of the stodgy look of the cars in the late 50s and early 60s. They were behemoths cars that weighed a lot, burned a lot of gas, and were hard to park. Cumbersome. The philosophy of building a car like the Mustang was to be more appealing from a performance point-of-view. Good economy and something inexpensive. That’s why the Mustang came about and why it was so widely received.

Name today still holds magic. Several generations have grown-up knowing a Mustang without looking at the nameplate or badges. Mustangs are recognized on their own.

It’s Corvette’s 60th birthday. The two cars never competed with each other. Corvette was more of a performance car. Mustang was not intended to be a performance car, rather a 4-seat sporty car. Mustang is the longest continuous run, surviving nameplate.

The 1966 is my favorite. Tweaked a little, made a little nicer, bigger engine, lots more in terms of interior styling. That’s my favorite car.

Lots of people criticize the Mustang II made from '74-'78. Say it wasn’t a Mustang. Well, it was a Mustang. It continued the nameplate. Very different car and you have to accept it for what it was. At that time we were concerned about fuel economy. There was a fuel crisis and downsizing was the proper thing to do at that time. That first year – 1974 – the Mustang II sold very well.

BEST MUSTANG?

You have to establish parameters. Are you looking for styling or performance? I think the styling of the earliest cars was the best because all the later cars picked up styling Qs from the earliest cars.

PERFORMANCE

The Carroll Shelby Mustangs – very popular over the years – and they still are. So the later cars are more desirable to those who want performance, but most collectors prefer the first generation styling.

MUSTANG GENESIS

I decided to write the book to clear up all the misinformation that was out there. I spent nine years doing research. Only book you’ll find that covers the early years before the car was produced. Lee Iacocca said it was the most factual and correct Mustang book that he has read.

To get the history of the concept you have to start with WW2. Henry Ford took over and wanted new types of cars to replace the stodgy types that were being made right after the war. The soldiers saw European sport cars like the Austin Healy, MG, and Triumph and brought those ideas back with them. Import sales rose quickly.

So Ford answered with the T-bird. It captivated an audience across the nation. McNamara was the guy who changed it from a two-seater to a four-seater. Ford had no two-seater car to compete with Corvette.

Lee Iacocca became VP & General Manager of the Ford Division. In 1960, he had an idea for a new type of car – a sporty look with four seats – low slung, long hood, short deck. He created a team to come up with that concept. The idea was difficult to sell to Henry Ford 2 because he had just come off the Edsel debacle. Ford lost a lot of money with the Edsel so he was not receptive to taking another risk on a new kind of car.

But Lee Iacocca prevailed and convinced HF that this was the way to go – so the car was built and it was a huge success. Two years after the Mustang was released, Ford generated profits of just under two billion dollars.

My idea for the book started when I bought this pre-production hardtop. I wanted to know the history. Once I found the owner in the Yukon Territory where it was first sold – I couldn’t stop. It was one of first pre-production cars. I began researching the history of the Mustang and its concepts.

THE PLAYERS

Henry Ford II
Strong personality. Liked to remind people his name was on the side of the building. He wanted Ford to be run the way he wanted it to be run.

Robert McNamara
Another strong personality. Headed a group of Ivy League whiz kids who were brought in by Henry Ford II to get Ford back on their feet after the war. Imparted to Lee a lot of his philosophy on how to make progress at Ford.

Lee Iacocca
Amazing man. He is known as the father of the Mustang but it was really a group of guys who were the father of the Mustang – the Fairlane Committee. Don Frey was Iacocca’s key man in the group.

Don Frey
The man Iacocca depended on to run the project. Lee was Ford Division president and involved in all the cars Ford brought out. Frey paid the most attention on a daily basis to the Mustang project. Brilliant guy.

Iacocca Frey

Hal Sperlich
Brilliant. Came to Ford as a young man. Came up with the idea of using the Falcon chassis as the underpinning for the Mustang. Had he not done that, HF2 would probably not have approved the project because if you started from scratch, costs would have been too high.

John Najjar
Talented stylist. Responsible for styling the M1 into the M2. He had quite an influence over the Mustang background.

Joe Oros
Ran styling studio at Ford. He provided impetus for a lot of the direction and daily guidance to the stylists. A lot of his ideas and styling philosophy carried through on the M1.

Gale Halderman
Talented stylist. Worked at Ford when the Mustang was in its infancy. Input into the original Fairland Committee. His pencil sketches drawn on his kitchen table at 11 at night were adopted by Joe Oros as the starting design for the Mustang.

Jacque Passino
Performance guy. Involved with Ford getting into NASCAR once again in the early 60s. A lot of those big engines were his designs. He’s the one who put performance into Mustang along with Carroll Shelby.

Chad Morsey, Jr.
Helped develop demographics of the Baby Boomers. The decision to go ahead with the Mustang was based on his research.

Eugene Bordinat, Jr.
VP of styling at Ford. Called “Frenchie” by some of his close friends, Bordinat, along with John Najjar, Roy Lunn, and Herb Misch, came up with the design for the Mustang 1 concept car.

Herb Misch
Developed high-performance engine for original two-seat concept car (M1). Also put together M2 concept car.

Bordinat Misch concept 1

Bob Negstad
Chassis designer and suspension designer for the Mustang as we know it. He started with the Mustang 1 but also did the chassis and design work for the original Shelby Cobra cars. Also designed the suspension for the GT40 cars, which raced at Le Mans.

Walt Murphy
PR man at Ford for a long time. Lee Iacocca used Walt for marketing and PR ideas. Also helped develop the M2 concept. Big supporter of Lee.

2015 MUSTANG

It continues with some of the styling concept formulas of the original cars – like the galloping Mustang in the grille, to the back treatment to a tail light with three vertical bars. So a lot of the styling is still there from the original car – and a lot has changed – low slung – sleek. Unique in its own right and will sell well.

 

 

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