Fifty Years Later The Alternate Mustang Naming Myth Is Still Being Perpetuated

Iacocca Mustang and Donal Frey

It’s been proven that iffy memories become to feel iron-clad solid if repeated often enough. Such is the case with the version perpetuated to this day (in a Mustangs press release) by former SMU Mustang’s (and later Iowa) football coach Hayden Fry, wherein Lee Iacocca and a troop of his “engineers” barged into the Mustangs’ locker room after being defeated by Michigan 27-16 on September 28, 1963, and announced:

“Today,” Iacocca said, “After watching the SMU Mustangs play with such flair, we reached a decision. We will call our new car the Mustang. Because it will be light, like your team; It will be quick, like your team; And it will be sporty, like your team.”

Nice story, and no less than Automotive News asks “Is SMU horsing around with the Mustang’s history?”  You really have to ask? 

ford mustang 1961 -prototypes-4

The first Ford to wear the Mustang name was the Mustang I concept, first shown to dealers at the fall 1961 new-car intros, and the public in 1962. There were also a number of other internal concepts that lead up to the actual Mustang wearing various names, so one could conceivably argue that the Mustang name wasn’t really locked in for Ford’s future sporty car.

Ford Mustang II prototype

But here’s the smoking gun: The 1963 Mustang II concept, a thinly-veiled preview of the production Mustang to come. It was built for Ford by Dearborn Steel Tubing in the summer of 1963, and shown at Watkins Glen on October 6, 1963, just one week after that mythical football game. The Mustang II’s name and logos were obviously wrapped up months before that. Sorry…that story just doesn’t have real legs to run.

At least Automotive News contacted Iacocca, and got this response from his assistant “So did Iacocca go into SMU’s locker room or even attend the game at all?

“I have read what you sent before and Mr. Iacocca doesn’t affirm or deny when asked,” she e-mailed back. “I think perhaps he gets pleasure from the various accounts on how Mustang was named.”

That sounds about right for Lee. Even the more orthodox Mustang naming myth is still debated. One story has it that John Najjar named it after the famous WW II fighter plane. Iacocca’s assistant offered the more common version:

“We had a fellow at J. Walter Thompson Advertising suggest a list of names. Cars were being named with animal names, which seemed to be popular at the time. Our list had animal names, one of which was Mustang. Gene Bourdinat, VP of Styling and I sat down and chose the name Mustang from the list, because the running horse connotation suggested ‘moving fast through the countryside.’ Our team heard GM was considering using the name Mustang, but we registered it first.”

So why would Iacocca “and his engineers” be so impressed by the losers of the game? Oh, and Coach Fry also claims that Lee sold him the very first Mustang off the line for $1. Which he later sold to a relative, and its whereabouts are long lost.
and a hat tip to EN!