Mustang Classics by Randy Leffingwell, with photography by David Newhardt
Published 2014 by Crestline
384 pp., hardcover
Purchased new from a retail bookstore.
I have always been a Mustang fan. Growing up, a neighbour I hardly knew had a 1972 coupe, and a 1968 coupe briefly occupied our garage while dad did some repairs for a friend. My cousin had a 1969 coupe but traded it on a new 1972 Charger when I was a toddler. Yet, somehow I became enamoured of Ford’s ponycar. Years later, Dad saw an ad from a now defunct Ford dealer, saying they had about 100 new 1988 Mustang LX notchbacks equipped with the 5.0L and 5 speed, all at the same low price. He bought one, and after a few months he told me it was killing him on gas, and I should drive the Mustang while he took back his Honda Civic. I was one very lucky teen.
Given my admiration for Mustangs it’s no surprise Randy Leffingwell’s Mustang Classics is a favourite in my library. It hits many of the sweet spots I tend to look for in books on cars. It’s well-written, and packed with great photos. And there’s a wealth of info not just about the cars, but about management decisions and product development surrounding the generations of Mustang. I’ve reviewed another of Leffingwell’s books, Legendary Corvettes, and I found it enjoyable and very informative. This is also true of Mustang Classics.
The story begins in the immediate post-WWII years. GIs returned from the service, jobs were plentiful, and families became more prosperous. As explained in Fifties Flashback: The American Car, people began driving for pleasure, taking long road trips as their vacation. Some returning soldiers had brought British and European sports cars back home, and American manufacturers took notice there was a market for cars that weren’t simply ‘transportation’.
At the same time, Henry Ford II took over at Ford Motor Company, an organization in dire straits. Hiring Ernie Breech, an experienced auto man from GM, as well as a group of former military men who came to be known as the Whiz Kids, Henry Ford II managed to transform company. Ford was now better managed and started producing better products.
Leffingwell then documents the pre-Mustang years. Included is information about the Ford Total Performance program, designed to put Ford at the forefront of auto racing worldwide. There’s coverage of the Mustang I concept, the corporate decision to create a smaller Thunderbird-like vehicle, and the company’s partnership with Carroll Shelby, both in support of the Cobra cars and his role in Ford’s GT40 program. There’s so much background on what led to the Mustang, it’s 68 pages into the book before we see the debut of the car that would set sales records beginning April 17, 1964.
The chapters break out the Mustang into groupings by years: 1964.5-1966, 1967-1968.5, 1969-70 and so on through to 2003-present (being 2005, when first published). The early years are interspersed with the Shelby cars getting their own chapters (1965-66, 1967-68, 1969-70). The mid-1980s SVO Mustang also has its own chapter. Most of the focus is, as the title suggests, on ‘classics’. The featured vehicles tend to be of the high-performance variety. There are California Specials, Mach 1s, and Boss Mustangs. There are some rarely seen models, such as the 1969 Shelby de Mexico (306 produced), the 1970 Twister Special (a regional variant, 96 made) and the Monroe Handler, a Mustang built as a promotional vehicle for Monroe shock absorbers (1 originally built, 6 others built afterwards). I appreciate the inclusion of these uncommon Mustangs, especially as they’re photographed beautifully.
Throughout this book, Leffingwell drops info of all kinds. The SVO chapter is an example. After describing how Special Vehicle Operations developed the SVO Mustang differently from the 5.0L GT to create more of a driver’s car, the author moves to how SVO’s success as a small group influenced decision-making throughout Ford at the corporate level. Similarly there’s paragraphs about Lee Iacocca‘s Fairlane Committee, the reign of Bunkie Knudsen at Ford, the re-entry to racing in the late 1970s. There’s mention of John Coletti’s Skunk Works that designed the 1994 Mustang. In fact, many people are named including designers such as Gene Bordinat, Larry Shinoda and Jack Telnack, engineers like Bob Negstad who spent over 20 years working on the Mustang. All of these speak to the culture of the company, and ties in to the Mustang’s development.
Now, as good as this book is, I still found a couple minor things to mention.
Firstly, it’s important to note that this book is a reprint from another publisher. The first edition was published around 2005, and though this edition is from 2014, it’s not been updated. That is disappointing, as the chapter ‘2003 and Beyond’ only deals with the Mustang GT design proposal. That’s the show car that hinted strongly at the retro-themed Mustang that hit the market for 2005. It’s a shame that the 2014 edition was not updated, as by 2014 the Mustang had seen a redesign in 2010, was about to debut another redesign in 2014, had reunited with Shelby to offer special models, had seen the introduction of the 5.0 Coyote engine, as well as the rebirth of the Cobra Jet drag car.
Secondly, there are minor quibbles. I have mentioned (in a previous review) the use of the term ‘big block’ referring to the FE engines. These engines are not truly big blocks but rather medium blocks, as they are lighter than Ford’s MEL and 385-series families. I suppose, as it’s cropped up again, perhaps the matter is not agreed upon by all. The other quibble is that the author referred to ‘Ford Galaxy’ more than once. As the Galaxy is a van sold by Ford internationally, there is no doubt he meant ‘Galaxie’, the correct spelling for the full-size car sold from 1959-74. And sadly there’s a few other typos here and there.
Thirdly, I found the period of 1994-2003 was somewhat abbreviated. There are few pictures or references to the 1994-98 cars which include the last of the pushrod 5.0L GTs. There’s more emphasis on the 1999-2004 cars, and while the Mach 1 appears, there’s no pictures of the Bullitt edition. The SVT Cobra does show up. Actually it’s somewhat strange that the SVT Cobras aren’t broken out to their own chapter. These cars, built from 1993 through 2004, were the ultimate Mustangs available. That they are not treated similarly to the Shelby cars seems the wrong choice.
These things aside, Mustang Classics is a great automotive coffee table book. David Newhardt’s photos are fantastic, showing off the classic Mustang lines that have captured the hearts of so many. And Randy Leffingwell has packed the pages with stories of the Mustang that will interest history buffs as well as car nuts. There isn’t a lot in the way of pedestrian Mustangs, but what is presented is quite stunning visually and really details much of the Mustang’s high performance story. This is one book Ford fans should own.
Pros: fabulous photos; great information on the cars and company; high quality book
Cons: somewhat dated, having not been updated since 2005
Where to get it: Amazon, bookstores