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Sketch to Design: The 1994 Ford Mustang
by Staff Report


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The story of the fourth-generation Ford Mustang is really that of three separate cars the 1979 Mustang, the 1989 Probe, and, ultimately, the 1994 Mustang. The three cars and programs spanning the better part of two decades encompass the seismic shifts in the automobile market during that tumultuous era.

The 1979 Mustang was born in an era when safety and fuel economy
regulations were already the norm. After launching the 1974 Mustang II
with only four- and six-cylinder engines, Ford heard the customer
demands that Mustang always should have a sporty V8 option. However,
they still wanted more interior room, handling refinement and
progressive styling. The stodgy shapes of the ‘70s were getting tired,
so this thoroughly modern “Fox” Mustang delivered on all fronts.

While the 1979 model had restored much of the spirit of the original 1965
model, its introduction was followed by a confluence of world politics
that would begin changing consumer opinions about the segment. The sting
of the 1973 OPEC oil embargo with shortages, outrageous gasoline
prices, long lines and fuel rationing left a deep scar in the driving
public’s mind. Those fears were revisited with the 1979 Iranian oil
crisis.

President Carter made his infamous “Crisis of Confidence”
speech that year, and fuel economy was again a primary concern of
buyers. Frugal and even sporty front-wheel drive offerings from Japanese
and German competition were grabbing ever more market share. The world
was turning to front-wheel drive as a way to save money at the pump,
Ford took notice.

By the mid-1980s, Mustang sales were flagging,
and the decision was made to phase out the rear-wheel-drive Fox platform
out and move to front-wheel drive. Work began on an all-new platform
produced in partnership with Mazda. The plan called for this new car to
be introduced as “Mustang” and sold alongside the Fox-platform car,
which would be relabeled “Mustang Classic.”

As “Mustang” picked up in popularity, the “Classic” would be quietly put to bed. The entire
development budget for Mustang shifted to this FWD program, and by early
1987 prototypes were testing around Dearborn. This huge shift in
vehicle strategy began leaking out, and angry enthusiasts began a
letter-writing campaign in protest. On April 13, 1987, Autoweek magazine
published a cover story titled “The Next Mustang,” which laid out the
plan in full.

As hundreds of thousands of letters poured in, the
overwhelming public outcry against converting the Mustang to a
front-wheel-drive platform led the company to make a rare strategy
change. Too much money had been spent to abandon the program entirely.
Instead, the new car adopted the name that had been used on a series of
aerodynamic concepts, and the Probe was introduced in 1988 as a 1989
model.

The design refresh that was planned for Mustang at the same
time went ahead, minus the “Classic” suffix on the badge. In many ways
the strategy had not changed – the Probe and Mustang would sit in the
same showroom and compete directly. Program management considered this
the purest way to decide the future of the Mustang.

The Probe was expected to handily outsell the Mustang and validate the original
strategy that created it and lead to end the rear-wheel-drive platform.
There was just one small glitch in the grand plan: Mustang sales picked
up and Probe sales faltered. The market had spoken, and a new Mustang
was ordered in 1989 - with the internal project code of SN-95. Despite
the Probe situation, two parallel redesign proposals were launched –
another attempt at a front-drive car and a thoroughly contemporary
rear-drive layout with traditional long-nose/short-rear-deck
proportions.

There was very little money for the unexpected program, so engineers would have to be creative. The front-wheel-drive concept proceeded along interesting lines, using the CT-20 platform that
underpinned the compact Escort of the time, an even smaller car than
the Probe. Many of these concepts never made it past the drawing-board
stages but a significant evolution in styling was evident over the
months of design work. A variety of shapes were considered, including
radical fastbacks, shooting brakes and two-seaters with combinations of
retrospective and futuristic design elements.

Ultimately the only FWD clay model to be produced was a conservative, albeit handsome, car
that would have been right at home next to the Probe in the showroom.
High-level engineering talks were kicked off to examine the feasibility
of packaging the forthcoming 4.6-liter V8, although no transaxle was
available to handle the output. Ultimately, the decision was made that
the market would simply not support a Mustang based on Ford’s
entry-level compact car, no matter how extensive the redesign was. The
writing was on the wall, and the CT-20-based effort ground to a halt by
the end of 1990 while the RWD concept moved forward.

Mustang, however, remained in a precarious position. Failure would put the car's
future in peril entirely, so successful execution was crucial. Because
there was no budget for an all-new platform, the new car would ride on
an updated version of an existing platform. A shorter wheelbase version
of the still-fresh 1989 Thunderbird was considered because it featured a
fully independent suspension, but it was deemed too expensive to hit
the Mustang price target. Thus a significantly refined version of the
existing Fox chassis - dubbed Fox-4 - was approved.

Approximately 80 percent of the platform was reworked and topped with a completely
different skin. Program manager John Coletti wanted the car to have a
more aggressive character. Rather than a vehicle for every demographic,
it would move toward a more performance-oriented position. After
eschewing most classic Mustang design cues on the third-generation
model, design director Patrick Schiavone brought back some heritage
elements like the side C-scallop, open grille with galloping pony
emblem, tri-bar taillights and a dual-cockpit cabin.

Early styling proposals were unimpressive, pedestrian even, but eventually three
different themes were commissioned. Each was assigned a famous name from
mild to wild - Bruce Jenner, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rambo.

In the competition among the three themes, each featured the design cues
that said Mustang, but stretched and tweaked in different ways. Jenner
was an extremely conservative design – rounded edges, smooth curves and
styling in line with what would become the “Ovoid” design language that
would eventually debut on the DN101 Taurus in 1996.

Rambo was a highly aggressive design with deep front and rear fascia sculpting, a
fastback shape, strong shoulder lines and sculpted fender wells.
Schwarzenegger split the difference. The car wore its proportions well
and featured a traditional but muscular coupe profile, good interior
room and visibility, modern styling and a set of tri-bar tail lights
stacked horizontally rather than the traditional vertical layout. This
theme was selected as the basis for the 1994 Mustang.

By the time the new Mustang hit the streets in 1993, the Schwarzenegger theme did
undergo some additional development. The lower front fascia was opened
up for cooling and aesthetic purposes. The hood inlets were tamed down
with inserts, and the wing mirrors and spoiler were refined for
aerodynamic performance. Speaking of which, for a brief period an
interesting roof spoiler was considered for the SVT Cobra coupe version
of the car, but was dismissed due to cost issues.

The 1994 Mustang debuted to huge acclaim with Motor Trend naming it Car of the Year and
sales figures proved more than satisfactory. The success of the SN-95
Mustang paved the way toward continued production for the Mustang, as
well as eventual dominance in its segment. After a “New Edge” design
refresh in 1999, SN-95 would return the brand to its previous position
as a performance icon, with variants including the Bullitt, Mach 1, and
SVT Cobra and the ultimate iteration in the track-bred Mustang Cobra R.

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