Original Mustang Designer Honored by AACA Museum

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Gale Halderman, principal designer of the original Mustang, was recognized by the AACA Museum on Oct. 10 with the Automotive Heritage Award. The award, presented during the AACA Museum’s Night at the Museum gala, coincided with the recently released book “Mustang by Design: Gale Halderman and the Creation of Ford’s Iconic Pony Car” by Jimmy Dinsmore and James Halderman.

Although his Mustang-related accomplishments went under-appreciated for a time, this wasn’t the first time Halderman and the Mustang received accolades. In 2004, Halderman was inducted into the Mustang Club of America Hall of Fame at Mustang’s 40th anniversary. At its introduction, Halderman’s Mustang was awarded the 1964 Tiffany Award for Excellence in American Design, an award Halderman is especially proud of. 

“They didn’t like automotive designers — we were considered prostitutes, but they loved the car,” Halderman recalled in a press conference just before the AACA Museum’s Night at the Museum gala.

Halderman recalled how he arrived at Ford Motor Co. in 1954 after graduating from the Dayton Art Institute in Dayton, Ohio. He actually had hoped to become a lettering man, and had even lettered the buses in Dayton. Instead, life took him to Ford and then onto legendary status.

Halderman’s path to the Mustang began when he started on the 1957 Ford passenger car design team. In addition to Ford passenger cars, he also worked on the design of Ford trucks and Lincolns. When he was approached about designing a new Ford Falcon-based sports car, he already had his hands full with the regular 1965 Ford passenger car line.

“I was working on the 1965 Ford program until 11 at night. We had to design a new car in 10 days.”

Then Iacocca came to the team with the Special Falcon Project in August 1962. As if the designers weren’t already under enough pressure, Halderman had less than 24 hours to come up with at least a rough sketch of a sporting car based upon the Ford Falcon. The sketch would be presented to Henry Ford II the following morning.

“We discussed what it had to do. It had to be sporting; appeal to both male and female; and it had to be a car they would park outside so the neighbors would ask about it, and that they wanted to wash. It had to be a ‘wow’ car.”

By 3 a.m. in the morning, Halderman had a sketch of the driver’s side. That sketch formed the basis for the car that became the Mustang. It was a grand slam, and more than 1.2 million first-generation Mustangs went on to be built from 1964-1966.

“The Mustang was always a good-looking performance car. Young people loved it. It’s very American.”

John M. Clor of Ford Performance Communications accompanied Halderman to the AACA Museum for the award presentation. Clor has worked with Halderman on several projects, including the new book, and was clearly enthusiastic about the museum’s honor being bestowed upon Halderman.

“It’s great to see Gale get recognized... that people appreciate Gale today.”

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