Interview with Matt Stone, January 2014

Matt StoneMy dad was a serious car guy and I loved photography. I joined the world of free-lance automotive journalism and went to work for Motor Trend for 15 years, executive editor at Motor Trend, Motor Trend Classics, lot of broadcast work mostly on Barrett Jackson Auctions for Speed and Fox TV. I've written and published dozens of books on collecting, Hollywood cars, etc. Anything to do with writing and photography about cars, I have done it.

Why have Mustangs lasted 50 years? That is a key question. Mustang meant a lot things to a variety of people. You could buy a fun car with a basic 6 and auto transmission and grandma could drive it. Car could be all things to all people. Or if you wanted to go racing – Shelby GT350 and Bosses – all the performance you could ask out of a car.

Proportions have been right. Front-end energy – rear drive, long hood, short deck, sporty look of Mustang that has never really changed. Timeless automobile proportions that people will always identify with and like.


NOT MANY NAMEPLATES HAVE LASTED 50 YEARS

There aren’t many models that have lasted 50 years. Camaro, almost 50 years but there was a time in the mid-90s when they didn’t make Camaros – Camaro didn’t have 50 consecutive years like the Mustang. Model A, Model T – none went 50 years. I guess the Volkswagen Beetle and the Mini. But no model had the gravitas and acceptance and popularity that the Mustang has for five consecutive decades.

PITCHING THE MUSTANG

Lee Iacocca was very concerned about his pitch of the Mustang to the Ford execs. It was the late 50s, the Edsel was a colossal flop – Ford lost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Base the Mustang after Falcon underpinnings – boring stuff – didn’t have any real pizzaz. It was an uphill battle. Lots of reservations from Ford brass – a sporty car based on Falcon underpinnings? It was an uphill push.

JUST A GLORIFIED FALCON

Some people say the Mustang is nothing more than a glorified Falcon. I wouldn’t say it was nothing more – you can’t deny there was a lot of Falcon in the early Mustangs. Those early prototypes were really re-bodied Falcons. But the Falcon didn’t have the pizzaz and the appeal that the Mustang had. The Mustang with that look and style took it to a completely different level than any Falcon would ever achieve. Not to mention the performance, the fastback, the convertible, the Shelbys that would follow. No such thing with a Falcon.

Ford Falcon

LEE IACOCCA

Lee Iacocca is one of the most brilliant, intuitive auto execs that ever sold cars. He was a natural salesman and knew how to create cars that people would want.

HENRY FORD II AND IACOCCA

I wasn’t there to see Henry II and Lee interact. They ultimately came to a very bad end – when Henry II fired Lee – that’s when Lee went to Chrysler. It didn’t end well but it sure started well. Henry saw Lee as a guy who could do great and creative things with the Ford line-up. They both agreed that performance and racing and a sporty image sold cars. There was no contention there.

So they were very much on the same page for many, many years and their success is legendary.

FIRST GENERATION

The five Generations of Mustangs has produced a lot of great cars. Most of us fell in love watching Steve McQueen in "Bullitt" bouncing up and down over those hills in San Francisco. The first Mach 1 and Boss 302 and Boss 429. The sport coup, fastback in 1969 and '70. Classic, iconic body style. I love those cars. It’s difficult to rate and rank those generations of Mustangs – they all offer a little something different.

The original. That’s where the American Pony Car comes from. Also gave us very first Shelbys – the '65 and '66 GT350.

I love the '67 and '68 body style. Very aggressive, handsome, rounded shoulders – looks like it’s moving when it’s standing still. Who doesn’t remember the metallic green bouncing up and down over the hills in San Francisco? 1969 and '70 – also fabulous. Trans-Am championship. 1970. 302. Bright orange cars – That gave us so many great Mustangs. The Mach 1, the Boss 302, Boss 429 – a generation of Shelbys.

1971-73 models maybe not so successful. Got a little big, a little heavy. Performance was dwindling about that time. Big, long, flat-roof Mustangs. The last of the early, classic Mustangs.

OTHER GENERATIONS

Mustang II – a car that not everyone likes but it was the right answer at right time and proved very successful in the market place. People were thinking about smaller cars, more economical cars. The gas crunch, oil crisis – whatever you want to call it – economy was the issue, not performance. They did the best they could do at the time but not great cars.

Mach 2 – very important car in Mustang history. The original Fox platform 1979 – lived through the 80s – the original 5 liter Mustang. That took Mustang performance back on the track and on the track – drag racing, road racing, everywhere else.

3rd Generation

Then they re-did that car in 1994. New look, more rounded, a little more European. Substantially redesigned in 1999.

2005 Mustang got back to its look and feel, then a whole new Mustang in 2015.

The best? Probably now – 2012, '13, '14. Likely the best driving and performing Mustangs ever. They handle, they stoop, they're comfortable, reliable. These are the “good ol’ days.” I’m guessing the current generation of Mustangs are the best ones ever.

CARROLL SHELBY

Carroll ShelbyHe was a chicken farmer in Texas and decided that was a lousy way to make a living, so he decided to try racing cars.

Under his name – before there was a Cobra, before the Shelby Mustang – Shelby was a world class sport car racing driver. So he knew what won races. He surrounded himself with great fabricators and engineers and designers who could take a very straight-up, simple car, like the Mustang, and make it go fast.

One of his great sayings came when Lee asked him to make the Mustang into a sport car – Carroll always called it a sport car, not a sports car. He said, “you want me to make a race horse out of this mule?” Well they sure did.

Shelby knew exactly what to do with that car. He was surrounded with terrific car fabricators and designers – let’s take the back seat out, make it a two-seater, put in high-performance 289 V8, 4-speed only, take some weight out, fix suspension, wheels, tires, exhaust – Shelby GT 350. Let’s go racing and you know the rest.

I have many Carroll Shelby stories. Too many not repeatable to a public audience. Carroll Shelby – only one in the universe, ever. A unique individual character. But had tremendous concentration. People forget Carroll had impressive chops as a racing driver long before he built his own cars.


THE SHELBY GT350H

The all-famous "rent-a-racer", as people liked to call it. Shelby and Hertz Rent-a-Car had an idea, a way to expose the car to the type of executives who could afford to buy a car like the GT350 is to put the car in the rental fleet.

So they came up with the GT350H. The H was for Hertz. Most of them, not all, were painted black and gold. That’s the one you think of when you think of a Shelby GT350H. You think black with gold stripes and a black interior.

Great iconic look. Most were equipped with automatic transmission. They figured these executive types wouldn’t want to fool around with a manual transmission. They also feared a lot of clutch problems if they were manual.

And, of course, the legend goes that many GT350Hs were rented out on a Thursday or Friday and came back Monday or Tuesday with holes drilled in the floor for shoulder harnesses and roll bars and sometimes with the high-performance 289 missing and an old 289 2 barrel under the hood. That’s been an urban legend I’ve heard for decades as we all have.

How many were actually rented and raced and how many were stripped of their high-performance parts? I don’t know – but you gotta believe it happened.

THE BEST AND MOST VALUABLE

Maybe two separate questions but they actually are pretty similar. The most valuable would be a high quality, original authentic 289 Cobra. Long, sleek, beautiful, coupe-bodied Cobra that ran so successfully at Le Mans and at all the Euro tracks and here at Daytona. That car was built for the speed circuits. Only a half dozen were made and they sell for tens of millions of dollars. Most valuable? Gotta be the Cobra Daytona Coupe, in my opinion.

The original Cobra roadsters were fast, powerful – but not really aero-dynamic. So Shelby and Peter Brock and the guys who race these cars all figured we needed something a little more aero-dynamic, a little smoother to get the car up to speeds to run at Le Mans and the high banked curves of Daytona because the existing aero dynamics were holding the engine back.

So Peter Brock and the folks at Shelby America designed this wonderful Daytona Cobra Coupe.

The first body was built in Italy. So in case you didn’t know – the first of the great Cobra racers was built in Italy. Aluminum, hand-formed in Italy. Gorgeous. Beautiful. Only six of them in prize collections and they seldom come up for sale.

They’re gorgeous, They’re fast. They handle. Tens of millions of dollars. They have a fabulous race-winning history with some of the greatest sports car drivers at the wheel. Cobra Daytona Coupe. What else could it be?

FORD TRIES TO BUY FERRARI

In the early 60s, Henry Ford II tried to buy Ferrari. The deal was close to being signed when the Ford accountant wrote all these limitations into the deal. Ferrari was the kind of guy who did what he wanted when he wanted to do it. He wasn’t about to be told what to do by Ford accountants. So the deal blew-up at the last minute.

IF YOU CAN'T BUY 'EM, BEAT 'EM

Henry Ford committed piles of money and resources at beating Ferrari at the 24-hour Le Mans race – the world’s greatest showcasing of endurance racing. “We’re going to beat Ferrari on his own turf.” because Ferrari was very successful at Le Mans. Won many, many times. Henry says, “we’re going to beat him there.”

So they developed a Ford GT40. Two teams entered GT40s at Le Mans. 1965 almost did it. Ferrari won, 1966. It all came right – all-star cast of drivers, three great cars – big block version of the GT40. And Ford finished 1-2-3 in 1966. Won again in '67 with Dan Gurney and AJ Foyt – big block powered – Ford Mach 4.

Again in non-factory supported efforts. The Gulf oil cars of Jackie Oliver in 1968 and 1969. Four consecutive wins at Le Mans. On the world stage with an American sports car. That was huge news and it sold a lot of cars and it did wonders for Ford’s performance image. No doubt about it.

KEY PLAYERS IN MUSTANG DEVELOPMENT

We’ve already mentioned Lee Iacocca – the spearhead right at the front. The design team that gave Mustang the look – long hood, short deck, great detailing, scoops, flares, stripes, whatever. And that famous horse in the corral badge up in front of the car.

Some of the great dealers that really supported the Mustang. I think of Galpin Ford in California and also Bob Tosca of Tosca Ford on the East Coast. These guys sold more Mustangs than many, many dealers combined. They customized them, they raced them, and they showed them and they sold them. Some of the dealers did an awfully lot for Ford’s sales success.

It became a cultural icon – there was lots of music – Mustang Sally – it became a cultural phenomenon in its own time.

It really has many fathers and a lot of people supported it on its way to success. It’s a group effort, It takes a village to make a child and it took a huge village to make a very successful car and it has for 50 years now.

DESCRIBE MUSTANG IN ONE WORD

If you were to ask me to come up with one word to define Mustang – I would say American – in every sense of the term. The way it was born and launched into the market place. An American success story. It defined the American Pony Car. Again, that long hood, short deck proportion. That Camaro, Barracuda and every other one picked up on Mustang and really defined the Pony Car and now defines the modern American Muscle car because cars like GTOs – they’re not around anymore. So Mustang, Challenger, and Camaro have to fill those shoes and Mustang is the best in my opinion.

FAVORITE MUSTANG

That’s really hard to say – how do you pick? Like asking what is your favorite child – which if your kids is your favorite? All of them and none of them.

I would say a couple that really ring out to me are the '67 Shelby GT350. I love to look at that car – great handling, small block – all the Shelby cues. Or the '68 GT Bullitt metallic green fastback.

Those ring pretty high – and one I would just love to have in my very own garage. The Shelby sitting right behind me is a Boss 302. A 1970 Boss 302 to me is everything. A Mustang should be fast, sporty, well-balanced – a race winner. I can’t think of a more appealing car than a 1970 Boss 302.

Or my own 2008 Shelby GT ain’t a bad daily drive, either…if I do say so myself.

Shelby GT350

SHELBY AND FORD - REUNITED

You may recall that for several years, what was then Shelby Automobiles and now Shelby American, were not building new Mustangs in a program with Ford.

So, in 2005 or so, Shelby management and Ford got together and recreated the Shelby Hertz Program – called it the GT-H and with the advent of the new body Mustang that came out in 2005. Shelby and Ford thought it was time for another Shelby Mustang. They felt the platform and power train were good enough that could be converted successfully to the Shelby formula. So they came out with a new Shelby GT-H. They were black and gold. Some of them later were white with gold stripes and then in 2007, 2008 came back with the Shelby GT – street model available to civilians.

Shelby GT-H

The program is not very different than it was in 1965 and 1966 when cars were shipped from Ford to Shelby and converted to Shelby Mustangs. That’s what they did to these cars. The convertible body style and the vista blue paint was new in 2008 and when I saw it I had to have one. So here we are.

The Ford Mustang and the Shelby Mustang rank very high in the collector car community for many, many reasons. They are cultural icons – many of them great performers – great style – they are fun to drive and they were Fords – such an appealing cultural thing in its day – and still now.

And for another reason – the Mustang is a very straight-forward car – great for first-time enthusiasts – because they can work on them, they can restore them, and with a variety of replacement and repro parts available so if someone has an old one that’s tired and needs to be redone – a Mustang is a very straight forward car to restore.

You drive them and enjoy them, anywhere, any time, every day. They’re safe, keep up with freeway traffic, and they’re reliable. So it’s a classic car you can take out any day. Pile your friends or kids in the back seat, go to the beach, go anywhere you want – top up, top down. A Mustang is a car you can drive. What good is a collector car if you can’t drive it?

The Most Valuable Mustangs are the early Shelbys. More specifically, low serial number 65s. The 65s are original, rough and ready, a thinly disguised race car for the street and they didn’t make too many of them. It’s practical, appealing. So I would say early Shelbys, low serial number 65s and the R model – GT350. The racing model. Those are the ones all the collectors have to have in their collections and they pay huge money to get – deservedly so.

Followed by that – I would say the big Bosses from '69 and '70 – the 302 and 429 – those were special.

But, generally speaking, the convertibles and Fastbacks with the biggest engines and high-performance configurations are the ones people want and pay out for. It has been proven many, many times over the years and decades, that performance excitement and winning on race tracks – sells cars. They say: “Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.” Whether that’s quarter mile, Indy, Le Mans, whatever it is – high performance cars and winning on race tracks sells cars.

Ford – two times in its most recent history – has organized its performance parts and racing divisions under umbrellas which have been very successful.

SPECIAL VEHICLE TEAM

In the 1980s, it was SVO – Special Vehicle Operations. Ford Racing parts, high-performance parts, special models like the SVO Mustang racing efforts together an umbrella and united leadership – to go forward in a unified way with a united Ford performance message – globally –

In the 60s, the effort was called “total performance.” In the 80s, it was SVO. That returned in the early '90s as the SVT – Special Vehicle Team.

These are my kind of guys and gals – engineers and vehicle designers and hot rodders – who were all about taking Ford products and making them perform better. More exclusive, better performance – and I don’t mean just a straight line – but a balanced performance of handling and braking and comfort and looks. And, of course, acceleration.

SVT in my estimation, for a couple of decades now, has done incalculable good in furthering Ford’s reputation as a global performance brand. These are the guys and girls who know how to make Fords go fast. I’ve known many of them and they’re my kind of people.

SVT – even though renamed – much the same formula – a slightly re-casted organization somewhat loosely based off the old SVO. SVT – the Special Vehicle Team – just has a better ring to it than organization – and that combined with racing and parts and development of special models, like the SVT Cobra, the SVT Lightning Truck and releases that we know as the Ford Performance Parts Catalog – a book I read from cover to cover every time a new one comes out. It gets all the good stuff that makes your Ford go faster and handle better and look cooler. The SVT Ford High-Performance Parts catalog – I’m never without a copy close by.

SVO and SVT, in their times, were completely independent of Shelby Automobiles, although they seemed to be doing somewhat similar activities. They were not really connected. Only later, say 2007, were they more closely joined when it was decided what was previously the SVT Cobra would become the next generation Shelby GT500. Shelby American got involved in the development and design of that car – although that is built in Michigan – not on the Shelby line in Los Angeles or Las Vegas.

They were independent. In the late 2000s, they got together and collaborated on several vehicles.

 

 

 

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