Final Inspection

Mustang Almost Died in Early 1990s


CEO Alex Trotman said “Mustang is an intrinsic part of Ford’s DNA,” and this rallied the troops.

RIP Ford Mustang 1965-1993? Believe it or not, “Save the Mustang!” once was a desperate battle cry at Ford. They even circulated badges depicting the iconic galloping pony logo with a red slash mark running through it, accompanied by the words “Endangered Species.”

Mustang didn’t die, of course. Ford is celebrating its 50th anniversary with an all-new ’15 model that arrives next fall. It’ll be an “All-American” car built in Flat Rock, MI, but homologated to be sold globally, a first for the sporty compact. In all, Ford has sold more than 9 million Mustangs during its half-century run.

However, during the early 1990s Mustang’s future was seriously in doubt. Ford was cash-strapped and Mustang’s sales were sliding, dropping to 72,000 in 1992 from 91,000 the prior year. The incumbent generation, dating to 1979, was arguably vastly out of date.

Avid Mustang advocates, led by Ford Engineer John Coletti and others, ardently pleaded their case, but no decision from the top was immediately forthcoming.

Had the car brought to market and subsequent fame by the legendary Lee Iacocca outlived its usefulness in Ford’s stable?

As Ford weighed its options I happened to have lined up an interview with the late Alex Trotman, then CEO, covering a variety of topics, among them Mustang’s fate. Although he declined to confirm that a new generation had been green-lighted, Trotman said “Mustang is an intrinsic part of Ford’s DNA,” and this rallied the troops.

As it turned out, Ford earmarked $700 million and assembled a multi-faceted team to come up with a much improved ’94 Mustang.

The new version went on sale in late 1993 and quickly snapped Mustang out of the showroom doldrums. More than 114,000 were sold that year, a huge gain from 1992, rising to 137,000 in 1994 and 175,000 the following year.

Through 11 months this year Mustang’s sales are running 7.7% behind 2012 at 71,459 amid stiff competition from Chevrolet’s Camaro.

Because some Mustang fanatics may wait for the ’15, sales could ease even more in the months ahead. But it’s no longer an endangered species and certainly not ready for a tombstone.


Discuss this Blog Entry 3

on Dec 16, 2013

David, thanks for this bit of history on the Mustang. A lot of people also never knew that towards the end of the Fox-body years, there was a design for a new generation that was to be a Mazda based Mustang....the Probe. It came very close to being green-lighted. Can you imagine if the Ford Probe that we knew would have been called the Mustang? Glad that never came to pass.

on Dec 18, 2013

I also remember the Probe/Mazda 626 originally brought out to be a replacement for the Mustang. At the time, it seemed like the next evolution, as the Mustang had languished on, like an old nag that needed to be put down. Glad it didn't happen. Millenials probably don't even remember the Probe.

on Dec 18, 2013

This millenial does ('84). Not so much the first generation, but the final generation of the Probe actually was a pretty nice design (nice style lines). Not the biggest car in the world, but can you imagine that today with say, AWD and an EcoBoost around 300hp?

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What's Final Inspection?

WardsAuto editors share insights and observations on the global auto industry.


David E. Zoia

As Editorial Director, I oversee much of what goes into, enjoying a ringside seat that lets me observe up close just about every facet of the industry worldwide. I have covered the...

James M. Amend

James Amend is an associate editor at, covering day-to-day business and product news at General Motors. He also leads coverage of regulatory and environmental issues, as well as the...
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