Monday, January 31, 2022

The Mustang Gallops into Automotive History

New York World's Fair Mustang Introduction.

The recession of the late 1950s hit Detroit especially hard. Money was tight and car sales fell for the Big Three [General Motors, Ford, and Chrysler]. Factories were struggling to keep their workers employed and their plants open. In response to that, Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) reorganized their corporation and formed an Automotive Assembly Division promoting middle-management marketing man Lee Iacocca to head the division.

Lee Iacocca's challenges were many, but his goals were well-defined. He championed shifting production to smaller, fuel efficient cars and dressing them up to enhance their appeal to an economy-minded market. His first success was the Falcon Futura. The car was stylish, comfortable, and economical. Afterall, gas averaged thirty-one cents a gallon in 1961.

Iacocca formed a secret Fairlane Committee to come up with a new car concept unlike anything else on the market. FoMoCo needed a dynamic new car to capture a greater share of the youth market.

Their market research in 1961 indicated that a tidal wave of teenaged Baby Boomers [post World War II babies] were coming of age soon and itching to get behind the wheel of a sporty-looking car they could afford. By 1965, 40% of the United States population would be under 20 years old. By 1970, half of Americans would be under 25 years old. FoMoCo wanted to tap into that market.

The Edsel's 1958 introduction with Edsel Ford's three sons.

The wounds from the Edsel debacle were still fresh at FoMoCo leading to a company shakeup. Iacocca knew the Edsel was advertised as the Car of the Future, but it was a product in search of a market it never found. Here was a market in search of a product. FoMoCo tailored their new product for this new market.

Since the original 1955 two-seater Thunderbird was reborn as a four-seater, suburban luxury car in 1958, FoMoCo received lots of mail asking for another two-seater. But Ford's market research indicated a two-seater did not have the mass appeal they were looking for. That market was limited to a mere 100,000 units.

The parameters for their new concept car required it to be sporty but capable of seating four passengers; it had to be lightweight, under 2,500 pounds; and it had to be inexpensive, no more than $2,500 with special equipment included as part of their standard model to sweeten the deal.

Helping to cut engineering and production costs, the chassis and the power train of the Ford Falcon were chosen. What this car needed was a new skin. Iacocca initiated a competition among seven designers to come up with clay mockups of the exterior design fit to specific platform specifications.

On August 15, 1962, Henry Ford II picked the model he liked best by saying "That's it!" The winning model was designed by Dave Ash's design team, for Joe Oros, FoMoCo's Design Studio head. In profile, the car had a long hood, a swept-back cabin, and a short deck [trunk].

Car designers want to see their vision transformed into sleek sculpted steel, but automotive engineers have to figure how to put the actual car together and make it work. Once the model was approved, the battle between the designers and the engineers began in what they called "the battles of the inch."

First was the battle of the radiator cap that would not fit under the stylist's low hood. The solution was to raise the hood a quarter inch and the engineers counter-sunk the cap.

Next, the stylists designed the back bumper to fit flush with the rear quarter panels for a clean look. The engineers wanted to simply bolt the bumper with brackets onto the back of the car like they had always done. The designers won that battle.

The last disagreement was between Henry Ford II and Lee Iacocca over leg-room for the rear seats. Ford was a large man who wanted an extra inch. Iacocca argued that it would spoil the lines of the car. Ford won that battle.

Next, the car needed a name. Hundreds of names were whittled down to several finalists including Colt, Bronco, Mustang, Puma, Cougar, and Cheetah. Cougar was the front runner until Mr. Ford became embroiled in a messy divorce, and the publicity department was afraid the name Cougar might cause some unnecessary notority or embarassment for their boss.

At the same time, the name Mustang did well in their market research. The name was felt to embody the spirit of the wide open spaces and recalled the famous World War II fighter plane. Once the name was decided upon, the Mustang's signature galloping horse front grill was designed.

What has become one of the most iconic and famous emblems in automobile history was criticized early on by a reporter at a FoMoCo press conference. His observation was that the horse was running in the wrong direction. Obviously, the reporter spent too much time at the track where the ponies only run counter-clockwise. Iacocco's wise reply was "Wild horses run anywhere they damn well please."

The Mustang was introduced in Ford showrooms on April 17, 1964. It came as a two-door coupe or convertible. Five months later, a three-door hatchback was introduced. The Mustang came with a three-speed automatic transmission or a four speed manual, both console mounted on the floor. At first, there were two, straight-six engine choices available, with V-6 and V-8 options offered later in the Mustang's run. The basic car was equipped with front disk brakes, all for the low sticker price of $2,368.

Iacocca gave free rein to his marketing expertise and saturated the media with Mustang ads like no product had before. FoMoCo ran glossy ads in national magazines with stories about their youth-oriented car, and 420 local television stations were sent footage of the car for their feature stories.

Radio DJs were given Mustangs to test drive and plug over their airwaves. In Detroit, radio jocks were allowed to put the Mustang through its paces on Ford's test track in Dearborn, Michigan. Images of the Mustang appeared on 15,500 outdoor billboards nationwide and the car was displayed in the lobby of Holiday Inn motels and other high traffic venues like airport terminals in twelve major United States cities.

The evening before the car's debut, FoMoCo bought simultaneous time on all three major television networks from 9:30 to 10:00 pm. Twenty-eight million viewers of Perry Mason [CBS], Hazel [NBC], and Jimmy Dean [ABC] were wowed with Mustang advertising. 

Forty-four college newspaper editors were given the use of Mustangs to show off on their campuses for the spring term. No stone was left unturned to generate interest. As a final touch, Hayden Fry, football coach of the Southern Methodist University Mustangs, received a blue and red [school colors] Mustang as part of the car's debut launch.

After the Mustang's meteoric rise in the marketplace, Time and Newsweek featured simultaneous cover stories on the Mustang that Iacocca said led to the sale of an extra 100,000 units. By December of 1964, the Mustang had "the most successful new car launch ever introduced by the auto industry," reported Frank Zimmerman, Ford marketing chief.

At first, FoMoCo planned to produce only 100,000 Mustangs using only a portion of the Dearborn Assembly Plant. Before the car went to market, it was clear that demand was going to be greater than anticipated, so the whole plant was changed over to exclusive "Pony Car" production. Soon, another Ford plant in San Jose, California went online to boost yearly capacity to 360,000 cars.

In 1965, a third Ford plant in Metuchen, New Jersey was added to boost output to 440,000 cars prompting FoMoCo Assistant General Manager Don Frey to credit the Mustang's success on unprecedented market penetration. The Mustang is the only Ford nameplate that has been in continuous production since its introduction.

Latest Mustang Trotted Out

Saturday, January 22, 2022

Henry Ford II vs. Harry Bennett and Lee Iacocca

Ford World Headquarters [the Glasshouse] in Dearborn, Michigan.

After Ford Motor Company (FoMoCo) president Edsel Ford died at the age of forty-nine from stomach cancer, his eighty-year-old father Henry reinstalled himself as company president. Despite surviving two strokes, the elder Ford was not comfortable with retirement or handing his company over to a successor.

With the help of FoMoCo's security and personnel director, Rasputin-like Harry Bennett, Henry Ford was able to maintain his weakened grip on the company that bore his name. Bennett was Henry's eyes and ears in the sprawling FoMoCo industrial complex. In the Medieval world, Bennett would have carried the title of Regent as he tried to maneuver himself into the top spot.

Although Harry Bennett never exercised any real administrative power at the company, other than that delegated to him personally by Henry Ford, now he was Ford's right hand man who took advantage of his declining and infirm boss to assume powers never delegated to him. 

This disturbed Henry's wife Clara and his daughter-in-law Eleanor, Edsel's widow, who feared a power play to wrestle the company away from the family at Henry's death. Clara and Eleanor believed Bennett helped destroy Edsel's health from constant torment, and Eleanor vowed she would not allow him to rob her son, Henry Ford II, of his birth right. Both women and all of Edsel's children held Bennett beneath contempt.

Late in July 1943, Henry Ford II was released from the United States Navy by President Franklin Roosevelt. He was made executive vice-president of the company on August 10, 1943. Harry Bennett and Henry Ford II begrudgingly co-existed until Eleanor gave her father-in-law an utimatum. Retire and install her eldest son as company president, or she would sell off her stock ending the family's total ownership of the corportation. The old man was befuddled and approaching death; he had no fight left in him. On September 21, 1945, FoMoCo's Board of Directors elected Henry Ford II as the company's third president.

Henry Ford II

The twenty-eight-year-old, new Ford president's first priority was to sever Harry Bennett from the company. After a heated exchange between the two men in Bennett's basement office in the Ford Administrative Building, Bennett was told to clean out his desk because his services were no longer required. The fifty-three-year-old pretender to the Ford throne retorted, "You're taking over a billion-dollar organization that you haven't contributed a goddamned thing to!" Bennett spent the rest of the afternoon burning his personal files before he left.

To avoid a protacted and ugly legal battle, Bennett was given a "no-show" position with the company at a nominal salary for eighteen months until he could get his thirty years in with the company. Then, he drew the standard retirement benefit of $424 per month. Upon leaving FoMoCo, Bennett remarked to the press, "I feel like I'm getting out of prison." Nobody felt sorry for him.


The inexperienced grandson of the company's founder brought in his brothers Benson and William Clay to help with the management of the world's largest industrial giant. To make their imprint on the company and impress the auto industry, the Ford brothers set their designers, engineers, and marketing men to the task of developing the car of the future with a nameplate to honor their late father called the Edsel.

In death as in life, Edsel Ford could not get a break. His name became synonymous with epic automotive failure. After that public humiliation, it was clear to Henry Ford II that the company needed reorganization.

In a November 11, 1960 press conference at FoMoCo's World Headquarters [the Glass House], Henry, the Second, now known informally as "the Deuce," announced that his company would undergo a reorganization. He was going to step down as president after only fifteen years holding that position and installed himself as chairman of the company's board of directors, as his grandfather Henry had done when he brought his son Edsel in as president in 1919.

Forty-four-year-old Robert S. McNamara was introduced as the corporation's new president. This marked the first time a non-Ford family member held that position. McNamara announced the formation of a separate Automotive Assembly Division to oversee the seventeen domestic Ford plants spread over twelve states to streamline management and improve production.

Named to head the division as vice-president and general manager was Lee Anthony Iacocca from Allentown, Pennsylvania. Iacocca announced that FoMoCo would be introducing new, fuel efficient compact models to compete with foreign imports and Chevrolet's popular Corvair Monza. His first success was the two-door Falcon Futura with contoured bucket seats, a center console, and carpeting. The Futura was powered by a lightweight, aluminum-alloy, four cylinder engine.

Lee Anthony Iacocca

Iacocca was a marketing and promotional expert. He pitched the Futura as the "compact cousin of the popular Thunderbird." Iacocca realized that to climb out of the industry-wide recession, FoMoCo needed to appeal to an emerging demographic--the female sector of young, independent women who were looking for a stylish, economical car that was easy to drive and park. 

Ford dealers were worried about depreciation and the trade-in value of economy cars. It was no secret that dealers made more profit on their high-end models like the Thunderbird and the Lincoln Continental. One argument against the shift to a compact line of cars was salesmen felt the smaller cars downgraded their image to their customers, and the smaller cars were not big enough to hold their sample and sales kits.

Always the promoter, Iacocca contended that their full-sized, luxury models were still available for status-conscious consumers and reminded them that FoMoCo built its reputation and legacy by providing low-cost transportation to the masses.

On April 21, 1961, Iacocca announced the huge success of 20,000 advance dealer orders for the upgraded Falcon Futura. Second quarter production increased by 51% which outran the industry average of 26%. That translated to 145,000 units built during the second quarter. FoMoCo plants were working three shifts to keep pace with orders. Iacocca's star began to rise.

Not content with being a one-hit wonder, Iacocca introduced the Ford Fairlane on August 25, 1961, as a mid-sized, economy car offering. Like the Falcon line, the Fairlane quickly found its audience helping FoMoCo break sales records. Overall Ford sales in 1961 reached their highest point since the Model T in 1925.

In April of 1964, Iacocca introduced the car that would enshrine him in the annals of automobile history--the Mustang. This time Iacocca targeted the enormous market of Baby Boomers, children born after World War II, who were entering the new car market for the first time; multiple-car families, a quickly growing demographic; and the increasing ranks of young, professional women. This was the right product at the right time. Mustang sales set a record pace of 152,000 units in the first five months of production.

Interest in the Mustang was so keen that crowds of people were drawn to FoMoCo showrooms across the country. Many car buyers walked out with the a new 1964 Thunderbird, whose sales rose 65% over the previous year. The Mustang had coattails.

Iacocca was clearly Ford's Golden Boy. Both Time magazine and Newsweek used his image for their cover stories on the Mustang miracle. It took some time to rise above the ranks, but on December 10, 1970, the Deuce promoted Iacocca to company president. 

Iacocca was a respected advertising man at heart who had no trouble talking before the press or pitching new ideas to his staff. His engineering team did preliminary planning and design work on two new products which Henry Ford II summarily shot down.

The relationship between him and Iacocca declined to the point that heated arguments broke out in the board room. Ford made it clear that it was his name on the building. On July 13, 1978, the Deuce dismissed Iacocca for the oblique reason that "sometimes you just don't like someone."

Iacocca was heavily courted by the Chrysler Corporation, which was struggling to survive for quite some time. They hired Iacocca as CEO [Chief Executive Officer] four months after he was fired from FoMoCo, making him the only man in history to lead two of Detroit's Big Three [GM, Ford, and Chrysler].

Iacocca lured several disgruntled Ford executives and engineers away from FoMoCo, along with his Mini-Max concept vehicle which the Deuce had rejected. It became reincarnated as the Dodge Caravan/Plymouth Voyager minivan which, along with the K-Car, saved Chrysler from bankrupcy, prompting the Deuce to remark, "Harry Bennett was the dirtiest, lousiest son-of-a-bitch I ever met in my life, except for Lee Iacocca." Nobody felt sorry for him.

The Tragedy of Edsel Ford 

Friday, January 7, 2022

The Spill the Honey Foundation and the Paintings of DeVon Cunningham

The Spill the Honey Foundation is an alliance of Jewish Americans and African Americans dedicated to using the arts to promote human dignity by advancing public awareness of the European Holocaust and American slavery. In addition, the group draws attention to contemporary social injustices and systemic oppression to advance cultural tolerance. They strive to spread dignity, goodness, and kindness among all people in a cross-generational effort to improve the DNA of the soul by countering racism and antisemitism.

This non-profit organization takes its name from the inspirational story of Eli Ayalon, a teenaged survivor of the Nazis. Forty years after maintaining his self-enforced silence after World War II, Ayalon shared the story of how his mother told him the family was going to be separated from the Warsaw Ghetto in Poland and send east to the concentration camps. She knew they would never see each another again.

Young Ayalon was allowed by the Nazis to leave the ghetto and return because he ran errands for their German oppressors. “When you leave tomorrow,” his mother told him, “never return. Never! Struggle to survive.”

His mother gave him a small, gauze-covered cup with some honey in it. “Eli,” she said, “honey sweetens the sting of hate. Close your eyes to see beyond the pain and suffering to celebrate the sweetness of life. Spill the honey.”

From this painful memory between a mother and son, Eli Ayalon went from being a survivor to becoming a messenger of hope. The Spill the Honey Foundation was inspired by the Jewish wisdom of Elizer Ayalon and the civil rights movement of Dr. Martin Luther King.


DeVon Cunningham and me in his art studio. [11/11/2021]

In 2018, the Spill the Honey Foundation under the direction of Dr. Sheri Rogers brought Detroit docuartist DeVon Cunningham on as art director to create a series of eighteen original paintings for display in each of the eighteen Holocaust museums nationwide.

The collection was scheduled originally for its debut at the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History in Detroit’s Cultural Center in 2020. But due to Covid restrictions, the debut exhibition was cancelled. Mr. Cunningham is working to reschedule the exhibition while the collection is still intact.

Many of Mr. Cunningham's Spill the Honey paintings contain the melding of the Christian crucifix and the Hebrew Star of David to symbolize the underlying ties of both religious traditions. The Spill the Honey Foundation is a model to show how different communities can find common goals and work together.

The shape of the hexagon appears in several paintings as a unifying image linking the concept of the honeycomb, the bees, and the honey of the natural world to the goals of the Spill the Honey Foundation, which are to spread peace, harmony and justice, using college student ambassadors to bring the movement to young people.

Reconciling the inequities of history will not happen without bearing witness to the documented truths of the past—the good, the bad, and the ugly. I believe we owe future generations that much.

Shared Legacies trailer