Saturday, October 22, 2016

A Faster Horse

Last night I watched the documentary "A Faster Horse", a film about the development of the S550 Mustang. It was very well done and did an excellent job of showing the human side of engineering a new car while also delving into the history of previous generations and the people involved. Of particular interest were several interviews with designers and corporate decision makers of the past coupled with S550 project manager Dave Pericak. What was particularly gratifying was that each and every one of them understood and were protective of the brand that is Mustang. They get it. They understand what it means to those of us who part with our money to be a part of what has become an automotive legend. Hau Thai-Tang, the Vietnamese immigrant who became the chief engineer of S197 recalled his first encounter with a Mustang in his native country when he was a boy. That car left such a deep impression on him that when he was tasked with S197 his goal was to create a car that generated that same reaction he had experienced.

He was successful, because I still automatically swivel my head to look at every single S197 Mustang I see. Every time, without fail. I can't help it.

Mustang has been close to death several times:  The aircraft carrier sized 71-73 models championed by Bunkie Knudsen. The lackluster monetarily successful Mustang II. The Fox Mustang that Ford clung to for too long nearly being replaced by the front wheel drive Probe (and only after tremendous public outcry when that plan leaked out). Still, Mustang has endured...for over fifty years. Mustang is to Ford what Corvette is to General Motors. It is a flagship brand that people aspire to, dream about and purchase with no regard to practicality. It is an emotional purchase, and those emotions are what makes them sell.

Pericak is the most recent in a line of chief engineers tasked with replacing an icon with a newer version. Billions of dollars are at stake on any new vehicle but with Mustang the pressure is multiple times worse. It is a product you can't afford to screw up; if you do, your career will be over and pitchfork and torch wielding Mustang loyalists will hunt you for eternity. "A Faster Horse" was a rare and fascinating look inside this tenuous job and gave me tremendous appreciation for the people who are tasked with continuing a legacy.

Many people have asked me what I think of the S550 Mustang. The general public seems to find the car pretty polarizing. Some complain that it looks too Asian...or European. Others greet its departure from the 'retro' styling trend with joy. For myself, I find it to be a worthy successor. It hits all the proper marks while introducing a few new ideas to bring it into the modern world. I don't think you can mistake it for anything but a Mustang, and that is ultimately the idea. Do I think it looks better than S197? Well, no...but then I'm 52 as I write this and my ideas of Mustang perfection are probably far different than someone who grew up in the time of Fox-body Mustangs or who are just now entering driving age. The old adage "You'll never please all of the people all of the time" certainly applies to car design. S197 or S550? Too hard to choose. I'll have one of each, thanks.