Author Michael Lamm recounts the development of Ford’s 196 Mustang the first mid-engine throust toward Total Performance.
People have tried for years to weave a connection between the Ford Mustang I-the knee-high 2-seater in which Dan Gurney lapped Watkins Glen in 1962-and the production Mustang that came out in May 1964.
Well, forget it. There ain’t no connection, or at best precious little. Other than the name, the horsey emblem, and the side scoops, the Mustang I didn’t contribute to the production car in any rational way. The little Mustang I did lead Ford into the GT40 program, though, and was emblematic of a performance and marketing bonanza that soon became known as Total Performance.
The Mustang I was created, it turns out, as an early component of Ford’s Total Performance buildup. According to retired Ford engineer Robert D. Negstad, who worked on the Mustang I and was later part of the team that developed the 7-liter Shelby Cobra, “The people who came out of (the Mustang I group) went on to win Le Mans…. They learned their craft and their skills in that Mustang I project. It was a labor of love….”
Horse of a Different Color
To begin at the beginning, around 1960 a Ford product planner named Don Frey became disturbed that the company was losing its performance image, especially among younger buyers. Hotrodders had given up the flathead Ford V8 in favor of smallblock Chevys and Chrysler Hemis. Sports-car enthusiasts were buying imports and Corvettes. Ford was becoming an old-maid car company.
So Frey expressed his concern to Robert S. McNamara, Ford’s car and truck VP, and to Henry Ford II, the company president. Frey also rallied a number of other Ford executives, key among them vice presidents Gene Bordinat (design) and Herb Misch (engineering). Frey’s message, in effect, was “Hey, fellas, we’ve got a marketing problem. Let’s do something to polish up Ford’s styling and performance
Designer Bordinat immediately got busy. Ford’s studios were turning out an armada of showcars-as many as one a week, most of them fiberglass rollers minus powertrains. Often these projects came in response to design competitions routinely held among Ford’s various studios. But for a competition in January 1962, Bordinat asked his styling chiefs to submit concepts for something new: a small, no-holds-barred sports car.
One of the designers was John Najjar, now retired after a career with Ford going back to the late ’30s. “We had a studio under Bob Maguire,” Najjar explains, “and in it were Jim Darden, Ray Smith, plus an artist, Phil Clark, several modelers, and me. We drew up a 2-seater sports car in competition with the other studios, and when they saw ours-saw the blackboard with a full-sized layout and sketches- they said, ‘That’s it! Let’s build it.’ So we made a clay model, designed the details, and then built a fiberglass prototype.” This car was simply a concept study rather than the final configuration, but it included a lot of the sporty, rakish flair the later showcar embodied.
With the performance kettle starting to simmer in Dearborn, VP of Design Bordinat decided to take this 2-seat concept further and build it into a showable prototype. To that end he invited his opposite number in engineering, Herb Misch, to come over and take a look.
Misch got excited as well, and he selected a special-projects wizard named Roy Lunn to head up the creation of a complete prototype. Lunn would act as liaison between the styling and engineering sides and oversee the building of the car.
By now it was early May of ’62, and the car had even earned a name: Mustang, suggested by John Najjar. Ford insiders actually referred to it as the Mustang Sports Car, and it wasn’t until the 4-place 1963 Mustang II concept car came out that people began calling the 2-seater Mustang I retroactively.
The Mustang I advanced quickly from concept sketches to package drawings conforming with the engineering specifications that were being laid down simultaneously. Najjar recalls that his studio’s full-sized drawings contained the suggestion of a tubular spaceframe, and Ray Smith, the studio engineer, added the popup headlights, retractable license plate, fixed seats, and adjustable-reach steering and pedals.
Fueled primarily on enthusiasm-the budget for the project being virtually nonexistent-in short order Ford had a fiberglass prototype of their 2-seat sports car. Initially no one knew whether the prototype would be developed into a runner or not, but by mid-summer Misch and Bordinat decided that in either case they wanted to display the car at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen on 7 October 1962.
At that point the project still had no budget and only the fuzziest of goals: to show up at Watkins Glen on race day. But on that goal alone Roy Lunn quickly assembled a team and dedicated them to building a finished showcar in the remarkable time of just 100 working days.
In the late 1980s, Chrysler transformed its Town & Country, and most other station wagons it produced, by reimagining them into its first-generation minivans, built on the front-wheel-drive S platform and sharing powertrain with Lee Iacocca’s ubiquitous K-cars. That’s notable because for most of the time leading up to then, the Town & Country was a massive, luxury-packed conventional station wagon with a longitudinal layout and an overall length that stretched right out of sight. The Chrysler minivans rocked the automotive world as few new cars before them had done, defining a new way to carry people and their possessions.
The redefinition of the wagon erased some of the attributes that made Americans love big station wagons in the first place: Gobs of big-block power, enough to ferry a full family across the continent with their belongings in back and whatever was left over in a trailer bobbing along behind. It’s a portrait in time that defines the postwar American dream as thoroughly as a tract house in a newly plowed suburb. A big station wagon is an iconic automobile. Given the way most of them were used hard by their owners and the owners’ hordes of kids, finding a survivor today is a definite occasion.
The exact mileage of this enormous 1973 Chrysler Town & Country nine-passenger station wagon (which means a rear-facing third seat) is unclear, though the owner thinks it’s on the light side of 100,000. Its condition is both original and phenomenal: Virtually everything, right down to the 3M woodgrain on the sides, is just as it was when the monstrous wagon rolled out of the Jefferson Avenue plant in Detroit in September 1972. All the owner says he’s had to do is gently touch up a little bit of woodgrain and one rock-chipped body piece, and then figure out its complex climate control’s vagaries.
According to widely accepted records, Chrysler built 14,687 copies of the nine-passenger Town & Country wagons for 1973, the highest total for fuselage-body wagons in that premium model range. Look inside, and you’ll find an unusual non-patterned cloth interior in prime condition, and a cargo area that’s devoid of scuffs and gouges from skidding objects and careless feet. It’s fully loaded with options, lacking only power windows, surprising for a car that was sold new in Arizona.
Again, fewer than 15,000 were built. Where are you going to find a survivor with this level of originality, options, and non-abused quality? In your dreams. Or, if you’re particularly fortunate, in the car corral at the AACA Eastern Fall Meet in Hershey, Pennsylvania. Hank Hallowell, who lives in Hershey and owns this nearly perfect Chrysler, bought it there just minutes after also buying a late “Letter Car” from Chrysler at the same sale.
“It’s my favorite Town & Country, to be truthful,” Hank explains. “I prefer the front end of the 1973; it’s the only year without the chrome loop front bumper, and it has the Chrysler New Yorker front end because the industry was heading toward a more formal, classic look. The New Yorker front looks majestic on the Town and Country. Plus, ’72 and ’73 were the only years for the fuselage-body wagon with fender skirts, which enhance the lines of the car dramatically.”
For enthusiasts and collectors who don’t have millions of dollars to spend, there are many other Ford classic cars with big engines that don’t cost an arm and a leg. But with the increasing demand for these Ford classic vehicles, the best time to get one of the Blue Oval classics is yesterday, and the next best time is now.
1940 Ford Standard Fordor Sedan
The Standard and Deluxe are some of the most iconic models produced by the Ford Motor Company. The cleaner one-piece grille on the Standard is the most striking difference between both models. With about 151,000 units of the 1940 Ford Standard Fordor Sedan built, you can still find many around today for about $21,500.
Powering the Standard Fordor is a 221-cubic-inch flathead V8 with a rating of 85 hp and 155 lb-ft of torque. The standard transmission is a three-speed manual.
1951 Ford Deluxe
Upon its introduction in 1949, the Ford Deluxe was the first car to be built from scratch since World War II. Everything about the Deluxe was new, save the powertrain and wheelbase. This first-generation “Shoebox” Ford outsold the Chevrolet and Plymouth, making it a popular choice for first-time or budget-conscious collectors today.
The Ford Crestline is an affordable way to get a view of the mainstream 1950s American automotive landscape. The 1954 Crestline is available as a Fordor Sedan and Skyliner, with the latter being rarer. The Crestline Skyliner is a two-door hardtop featuring a tinted Plexiglas panel over the front end of the roof.
While Ford discontinued its premium Parklane just after only a year in production, it still wanted to stay in the two-door sport wagon market pioneered by the Chevrolet Nomad and Pontiac Safari. This led to the introduction of the Del Rio in 1957. Based on the two-door Ranch Wagon, the Del Rio was quite inexpensive, unlike the Nomad.
The Ford Country Sedan is a full-size station wagon that ran from 1952 until 1974. Unlike the range-topping Country Squire, the Country Sedan was distinguished by its plain body sides. The passenger capacity of the full-size station wagon is nine. You will find items of both the Ranch Wagon and Fairlane on the Country Sedan, including two sun visors, armrests, and a horn ring rather than a horn button.
Sales-wise, 1959 was the best year for the Country, selling 123,412 units. It seems collectors are starting to see the true beauty of the 1959 Country Sedan, as the value is up by 35.2%, with a current valuation of $19,200.
After nearly 10 years of ownership it was about time to match the drivers side peep mirror on the passenger side of the Sport Coupe
In theory this mirror is “exactly” the same as the original on the drivers side, but…
The bracket needed quite a bit of adjustment (bending!) to get to the situation below
Then the next challenge
The grub/set screws are too long to allow the door to close, when compared to those on the original they are around 2mm too long. These are a probably a little too short too cut or grind and I’ll see if I can source before attempting the hackery 🙂
This podcast is a great listen, highly recommended!
The Dork-O-Motive Podcast hosted by Brian Lohnes is a research driven, story fueled, mechanically stoked look at the machines, people, and history that make up the modern mechanical world. Whether it’s the stories of the men and women who have done amazing things in racing, the machines that roar around tracks and shape the Earth, or some bizarre mechanized history, Dork-O-Motive is here to bring you the story in a fun, well-researched, and informative way!
[Editor’s Note: Elmer Liimatta sent in this story of his first (full-size) car for Reminiscing in Hemmings Classic Car. Got a story about cars you’ve owned, cars you’ve worked on, or working for an automaker? Send it in to email@example.com.]
I grew up in Detroit, Michigan. My dad, with only a fifth-grade education, was a good mechanic and had a job at Packard Motor Company. During World War II, Packard had contract work building Rolls-Royce engines for the North American P-51 Mustang fighter planes and PT boats—more than 9,000 of those engines. During that time, we rebuilt used cars because the production of new civilian vehicles had ceased. It was something we still did afterwards; believe it or not, cars were still scarce in 1949. It was a problem, as I was 17 years old and had thoughts about a car of my own.
One day, my cousin—who was “bird-doggin,” or spotting cars for dealers—came over and said, “Elmer, I have a car for you.” That Sunday afternoon we went to his house, which was about 10 miles away. There sat a 1934 Ford Victoria. It was hard to miss with that front end, and it had doors that opened from the front. The car had been used as a paint truck by a previous owner and it had big hooks on the left side that were used to hold ladders between jobs. Someone had made a wood floor in the back that covered the factory recessed floor.
The Ford looked good, but it was tired. I was able to buy it for $50. When I drove it home there was a cloud of blue smoke billowing from the exhaust. Its engine had used all the oil by the time I got home. During lunch that Monday I took three buddies for a ride. Unfortunately, it didn’t last long because the engine stalled, and it was so worn it would not start. We pushed it home.
The solution was to rebuild the engine. While we were at it, we made our own dual exhaust system using 1.50-inch diameter flexible tubing. My Ford had a nice snap to it. Later, I put two Smithy mufflers on it. But now that it sounded good, it needed to look good. We found a pair of doors at Ford Salvage over in Highland Park and bough a can of metallic blue (a silver-blue) paint. Dad took the compressor from an old refrigerator, and an old army surplus air tank, and put them together to create his own air compressor. To make it portable, he made a little cart with casters. It worked well enough that we painted the Ford’s 17-inch spoke wheels yellow
The signs are everywhere, but they might as well be nowhere. Yellow markers, warning against trespassing, that violators will be prosecuted. They no longer serve as deterrent, if they ever did. As Detroit’s once-proud Packard assembly plant continues its slide into ruin, interlopers have turned the automotive landmark into a giant dump. The buildings, or their remains, hold unwanted junk of all sorts—as large as cars and boats, as small as household waste.
Now it appears the brick and mortar will soon follow suit. After a foreign developer abandoned his redevelopment plans for the plant, the City of Detroit was given permission to level the place in the name of public safety. The wrecking ball could get to work any day. When that happens, a hundred-year-old landmark and long-contested symbol of a struggling city’s glory days will be gone for good.
Detroit being Detroit, the Packard plant is not alone. Eleven miles to the west, the former American Motors Corporation headquarters will also meet the wrecking ball as part of a redevelopment costing $66 million. Other historical industrial/transportation buildings are also undergoing change. In the Corktown neighborhood, the 18-story Michigan Central Station, opened in 1914, is receiving the finishing touches of a reported $738 million makeover. (USA Today says the number is closer to $1 billion.) Like the Packard plant, Michigan Central has been deserted for years. Unlike that plant, it is on the way to becoming the centerpiece of a new high-tech campus for the Ford Motor Company. Meanwhile, the long-vacant Fisher Body Plant 21 on Piquette Avenue is set to be repurposed as Fisher 21 Lofts, a $134 million project.
Detroit has been a home of “ruin porn” since the tail of the last century—these buildings are but the four most visible and well-known. Depending on where you stand, their diverging futures are either exciting or tragic.
“I grew up in the city. I know all these buildings well, and yeah, you’d like to preserve them, but it’s a balance,” says Tim Conder, vice president of acquisitions for NorthPoint Development, which is redeveloping the AMC site. “Sometimes you can preserve them, sometimes you can’t. People compare Central Station [which is essentially an office building] with AMC, but you’ve seen AMC—that’s not an office market out there … It just wouldn’t work.”
The problem with saving these buildings, Conder says, is the cost. And there are other considerations with structures like these.
“If you want to maintain the historical aspect of it, you want to get tax credits,” he says. “That’s a long process, it’s a tedious process, and it’s not an easy process. It’s like restoring a car; do you want to do it halfway? Maybe there’s adaptive reuse, and you can include portions of a façade, but that still costs money. That wasn’t factored in at AMC. That building is just too far gone.”
The Motor City is a place both shackled and bolstered by its past. These four buildings are a tangible version of Detroit’s complex relationship with history, but they’re also deeply representative of how the city operates and has always operated. How optimistic plans born of good intention can repeatedly stall. How tradition matters, but long periods of decline can bring too much entrenchment in the past. And how the city’s very strengths can stand in the way of it becoming the best modern version of itself.
The undeniable truth is that things in Detroit are changing, and not always as everyone would like. So, we went there to see the condition of these historic for ourselves.
One: The AMC Headquarters
The former American Motors Company headquarters and factory sit at 14250 Plymouth Road, about 10 miles northwest of downtown Detroit. At 95 years old, the AMC complex is the youngest of the four sites in this story. It is also the only one not built from the start for the transportation industry.
Designed by the city firm of Smith, Hinchman & Grylls, and built under the direction of architects Amedeo Leoni and William E. Kapp, the facility’s administration building and factory were completed in 1927. They were constructed for the Kelvinator Corporation, which made home refrigerators. Originally 1.5 million square feet (later expanded), the park included a tall office tower facing Plymouth Road. Behind that building sat a huge, three-story factory in multiple sections, plus a self-contained power plant. Kelvinator’s name was chosen to honor the British physicist Lord Kelvin, who developed a scale for measuring absolute temperature. A Kelvin quote was once engraved above the doorway to the plant’s administrative entrance: “I’ve thought of a better way.”
For Kelvinator, the better way involved a merger with Nash Motors in 1937. In 1954, the resulting company, Nash-Kelvinator, merged again, this time with Detroit’s Hudson Motors, forming the American Motors Corporation. When AMC relocated its headquarters to suburban Southfield in 1975, the Plymouth Road facility refocused on Jeep. In 1987, when Chrysler bought AMC, the complex was renamed the Jeep and Truck Engineering Center.
Twenty years later, in 2007, Chrysler filed for bankruptcy. The Plymouth Road complex closed in June 2009.
Drama began soon after. In 2010, the AMC facility was sold to Terry Williams for $2.3 million. (The original ask was $10 million.) Williams announced that he was going to turn the facility into a school for autistic children, but he began stripping the factory of scrap metal, which authorities said “disturbed asbestos-containing materials and released ozone-depleting substances.” In 2014, Williams was convicted of violating the Clean Air Act and sentenced to 27 months in prison. The AMC property, seized by the court, was transferred to the Wayne County Land Bank. It wound up as property of the City of Detroit in a 2018 land swap. A subsequent environmental-cleanup operation included demolition of the power plant and much of the rear of the factory
After the property sat vacant for more than a decade, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan held a press conference on December 9, 2021. NorthPoint, he announced, would demolish the remaining buildings and replace the complex with a $66 million warehouse development.
“One by one,” Duggan said, “we are taking down the massive vacant buildings that for too long have been a drain on our neighborhoods and our city’s image, and putting something new in their place … (and) I expect we will be announcing plans for other such sites in the city very soon.”
Not everyone was so excited. Because NorthPoint pursued public incentives (the firm eventually secured $32.6 million in brownfield TIFs), the Missouri-based developer was required to hold public meetings about its plans for the site. Those meetings resulted in “a ton of pushback” from preservationists, Conder says, and a December 2021 editorial in Crain’s Business News—the headline was “Detroit needs a plan to save its industrial history”—advocated saving the historic structure. The Crain’s story immediately prompted an open letter to the editor from neighborhood residents, who were thrilled that something was finally being done with the abandoned complex. It was an eyesore near a public park, they claimed, one with racist ties to the area.
“The joy in our neighborhoods was indescribable,” the letter read. “For many years, that monstrous abandoned AMC site has devastated our community, driving down the home values of those who stayed, crippling any effort to rebuild commercial businesses on Plymouth, and permanently affecting our children’s view of the neighborhood where they are being raised … We won’t sit by while outsiders, who couldn’t find our neighborhood without a map, presume to tell us how much we should value their precious ‘Art-deco neighborhood landmark.’”
NorthPoint’s Conder, despite his admitted affection for historic buildings, agrees: The time to save the AMC facility has come and gone.
“Do you know how long that building has sat there untouched?” he says. “The moment someone is interested in the site, all of a sudden people come out of the woodwork and say, ‘You can’t do that …’ No one cared about it until we got it under contract. Talk to the community; they’re happy to see it go. Hey, I love historical buildings and want to preserve as much history as we can, but again, you have to balance that with economics and business going forward.
“The problem with Detroit is, there are not enough readily available sites to develop. So, when requirements come out for space in the city, they quickly realize there are no sites available, so they immediately look in the suburbs. And there are sites available in the suburbs, so none of the business stays in Detroit. What we’re really trying to do is help the city of Detroit create developable sites that are readily available … We’re trying to remove blighted properties, bring in new projects, bring in new jobs to the area.”
Northpoint says the plan to build a 794,000-square-foot warehouse or light industrial space on the former AMC campus at Plymouth Road will create 350 permanent jobs and 100 temporary construction jobs. Demolition is expected to begin this month. Conder says it will take approximately six months to “prepare the pad” and 12 months to complete construction.
“We approach these as spec developments, meaning we don’t have a tenant,” he says. “We buy the property, tear it down, clean it up, and go vertical—all while talking to prospective tenants.”
In addition to cost, Conder says, the number-one reason NorthPoint never considered saving even a portion of the AMC structure is that every bit of the 50-acre site is needed to deliver adequate warehouse space.
University of Michigan’s Zimmerman has not visited the AMC headquarters recently, so she admits that it might be too far gone. Regardless, she says, the facility never should have reached this point. On historic Detroit buildings in general, she reasons, “The City of Detroit is not thinking about the city’s heritage here; they’re thinking about the city’s budget … (but) once these things are gone, they’re just gone. You can’t recapture them.
“I think it’s a little bit of a failure of the public realm not to have some provision to guard the history of the city and its significant buildings. Yes, they require some maintenance, and you’d have to do serious work to bring them back up to a usable state, but what do we have city governments for? We have them to keep law and order, and to preserve civic identity.”
The overdrive four-speed automatic is replacement for older three-speed Turbo Hydra-Matics or two-speed Powerglides
Many classic cars that used an original Powerglide two-speed or TH-350 three-speed can benefit from installing a TH-200-4R four-speed automatic without having to perform major modifications. The 200-4R can be used on many other GM passenger cars because it was manufactured with both a Chevrolet and a B-O-P bellhousing bolt pattern. The taller, fourth gear allows the engine it is installed behind to rotate at lower RPM than a three-speed transmission, and this not only will save on gas and engine wear, but it also allows you to change to larger rear axle ratios without severely impacting streetability.
TH-200-4R transmissions are very easy to locate from salvage yards, and most replacement parts are still available from transmission parts suppliers and auto parts stores. Heavy-duty parts for racing applications are available from transmission parts suppliers, as well.
Will a TH-200-4R fit in my car?
Your engine size should be a consideration; many muscle-car enthusiasts recommend using the TH-700-R4 or 4L80E overdrive units on large V-8 and higher performance engines. However, in many V-6 and small V-8 applications, a TH-200-4R will fit with fewer modifications.
The TH-200-4R, like the TH-350, uses a 27-spline output shaft, which is similar in length to the TH-350 and the TH-200, making it a natural for many overdrive conversions. The TH-200-4R is also similar in length to the Powerglide and the B-O-P Super-Turbine 300 (two-speed), which makes it a popular unit for converting from a two-speed to a four-speed automatic.
The TH-200-4R has a 2.74:1 first gear ratio, and overdrive is 0.67:1. Its odd-shaped 16-bolt pan has 13mm bolt heads. The TH-200-4R was used in GM rear-wheel-drive cars equipped with the 231 Buick, 301 Pontiac, and the Oldsmobile 307, 350 gas and 350 diesel engines from 1981-’90; however, many Chevrolet 267 and 305 V-8s also used the TH-200-4R because of the multi-fit bellhousing.
The transmission identification is on a plate on the right side of the case towards the tailshaft. This ID plate is attached by one rivet. The plate will have a two- or three-letter transmission code in large letters.
Which TH-200-4R should I get?
The most desirable TH-200-4Rs for performance enthusiasts are the units manufactured for Buick Grand National, Olds 4-4-2 and Chevy Monte Carlo SS in 1986-’87. These units used a special valve body. They also had a larger reverse boost valve, second to third intermediate servo, and a specially designed governor assembly. Their BQ, OZ, CZF, KZF or BRF transmission codes can identify these more desirable units.
This transmission is ideal for swapping with a TH-350 or a Powerglide, because the overall length and the bell housing bolt pattern of the TH-200-4R are the same, and your original driveshaft does not have to be shortened. The output shaft is 27-spline, the same as the TH-350’s. Moving the crossmember will be necessary, because the TH-200-4R crossmember is mounted on the extreme end of the tailshaft.