Archives Collection Puts Mustang’s 60-Year History on Full Display

Apr 16, 2024

As the iconic Ford Mustang approaches its 60th anniversary on April 17, the Ford archives team curated an exhibit featuring more than 300 related artifacts. Approximately 100 employees were recently invited to visit the collection at the Ford Engineering Lab, where the company’s archives collection is held.

Divided by each of Mustang’s seven generations of production history, the display spans all six decades of continuous production, a tenure unmatched by Mustang’s Pony car rivals. The story of Mustang’s evolution is told through brochures, documents, advertisements, press releases, books and magazines, memorabilia, and other Mustang artifacts from the many thousands in the company’s archive collection.

The 60th anniversary collection’s timeline actually begins before the first Mustang’s much-hyped public reveal at the 1964 World’s Fair – though Magic Skyway, a collaboration with Disney, is a highlight – with the experimental Mustang I. The prototype made its way around the U.S., creating a frenzy for the would-be car, though archived documents included in the display suggest there were some in the company who didn’t want it to see production. 

Audiovisual Archivist Shelby Long and the rest of the Ford archives team spent about a month preparing the gallery, which was arranged in a way to celebrate the introduction of the new seventh-generation Mustang. She said Mustang means various things to different people and that the car has also forged deep roots in pop culture and motorsports.

“The reason (the exhibit) came together so quickly is because all of us really enjoy it, especially the connection with pop culture. Mustang is part of American history,” she said. “Mustang gets at the connection Ford has to the zeitgeist and to what makes people excited about owning a vehicle. It’s more of a lifestyle than just owning a vehicle and getting from point A to point B. ... It’s accessible. It has always been about democratizing fun and muscle.”

A modified version of the exhibit will also be displayed at the Ford manufacturing plants that supply parts for and assemble Mustang: Flat Rock Assembly Plant, Woodhaven Stamping Plant, Livonia Transmission Plant and Windsor Engine Plant, as well as World Headquarters.

Mustang is a way of life

Chuck Drake, who has a sizable collection of Mustang items himself, enjoyed seeing the prototype drawings of the original Mustang logo on display at the archives. Drake, who was introduced to Mustang as a child after his father took him to a car show where he was entranced by the 1965 Mustang Shelby GT350, has collected various Mustang brochures, die-cast models, handouts, and posters since he was about 13. 

“It’s great to see all of Mustang’s history on display here,” he said. “I’m glad Ford is hanging onto all of this stuff for future generations – and it makes me feel better for hanging onto a lot of the stuff I’ve got.”

Drake’s passion for Mustang led him to work at Ford, beginning in 2000. Today, he works in the Vehicle Engineering Sport Attributes Group on development of ST-branded Ford SUVs and non-Ford Performance Mustangs.

“The only reason I wanted to work at Ford was to work on Mustang, and I’ve been fortunate to work on the Mustang program team,” said Drake, who was planning to attend a Mustang club 60th anniversary show in Alabama. “(Mustang is) my whole life. It’s everything I center my life around.”

Drake owns a 1993 Mustang Cobra and a pair of Boss 302 Mustangs: a 2012 model and a 2013 Laguna Seca, which he helped develop as a member of the program team.

60 years of production

While Mustang production has never paused, even expanding to supply global markets in 2015, it was planned in the late 1980s that it would be replaced by the Ford Probe. Jeff Boulton, who is now an air induction designer in Product Development, was a college student and a member of a passionate group opposing the change. Suffice it to say, Ford ultimately listened to Boulton and his like-minded Mustang enthusiasts, much to his relief. 

Boulton, who designed the air induction system for 2010 to 2014 model-year Mustangs, took an interest in Mustang around age 10.

“My dad started getting me Mustang books and magazines and I just loved it,” said Boulton, who has owned some 40 Mustangs since, and is currently working to restore a 1969 Mustang Mach 1. “When I was in high school, I had Ford T-shirts, a Mustang jacket, a Ford belt buckle. I was in, hook, line, and sinker.”  

Eventually, his affection for the Pony car led him to work at Ford. He also helped create the Ford Motorsports Enthusiasts club in the mid-1990s.

Mustang steers down memory lane

Karolina Skiba was taken back to her time working at Mustang’s former production home, Dearborn Assembly Plant, while walking through the exhibit. 

“It’s very cool seeing everything here and seeing how they built a continuous story out of Mustang’s 60-year history and how Ford communicated with customers about what we were bringing to the market through commercials and merchandising,” she said. “It’s fun to see things like the 50th anniversary nail polish they created – I didn’t expect to see that.”

Skiba, who works in advanced driver assistance system trailering and parking features, owns a 1995 Mustang and 2021 Mustang GT. The two models, from the fourth and sixth generations, respectively, offer an example of the car’s progression.

“It’s fun to see how the technology has advanced throughout the years, but my 1995 Mustang is still going strong,” she said. 

Grace Alderson, who works in the design studio, was also attracted to work at Ford because of Mustang. She recalled riding in her friend’s Mustang convertible in the 1980s to attend games at Tiger Stadium in Corktown, where today Ford’s Michigan Central campus is taking shape. She immediately registered for the archive tour, and she was fascinated by the original design drawings and drafting tables because there’s where she started as a designer doing manual drafting. 

“These nostalgic items are just history,” she said. “You don’t really get to see it and I’m not one to go searching for it, so when the opportunity came up to take a visit, I immediately applied. … I was so excited when I got selected.”

Employee exclusive experience

Greg Gerhardstein, an electrician at the Dearborn Research and Innovation Center, enjoyed learning about the storage process for archive materials. Gerhardstein, who owns a 1967 Mustang Fastback, said Mustang is top of mind when people think of the fun products Ford has produced over the years. He appreciated having the opportunity to visit the archives. 

“It’s nice of the company to put this together and invite employees to experience this,” he said. “You can see the chronology of the different generations and how much Mustang has changed. It’s nice to be able to put them side by side.”