After Hours

Geek Trivia: Overhaul of fame

What future political figure spearheaded the development of the Ford Falcon?

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On March 9, 1964—approximately 41 years ago—the first production model Ford Mustang rolled off the assembly line in Dearborn, MI, beginning a four-decade affair of automotive passion. While it would take far too much time and space to detail all of the many automotive firsts embodied by the Mustang, a few areas of distinction stand out above the rest.

  • The Mustang was the first of what the industry would come to refer to as "pony cars," a subclass of high-performance muscle cars built on compact frames. In fact, the term is a reference to the Mustang itself.
  • In its first two years of production, the Mustang sold almost 1.5 million units, a sales record that no make or model of any car has managed to break in the past 40 years.
  • The Mustang was the focus of arguably the first "media blitz" advertising campaign, receiving simultaneous promotion on all three major U.S. television networks of the era, as well as a gala unveiling at the 1964 New York World's Fair.

The man behind the media blitz, as well as the very idea of the Mustang itself, was legendary Ford product developer (and future Ford president) Lee Iacocca. According to legend, Iacocca foresaw the coming-of-age of the Baby Boom generation, and he wanted to produce an affordable sports car for this then-new market segment.

In 1962, Iacocca undertook a redesign of the markedly successful but otherwise unremarkable Ford Falcon. It was an experiment that produced one of the most famously successful automobiles of all time.

The Falcon, however, has a history of its own—a history that nearly prevented the Mustang from ever rolling off the assembly line in the first place. In 1959, Ford shut down its two-year-old woefully unsuccessful Edsel division, and the financial pinch meant that daring projects such as Iacocca's Baby Boom roadster were no longer an option.

Instead, money-conscious Ford executives championed the Falcon—a small, inexpensive, high miles-per-gallon (for the era, at least) compact car. The Falcon sold well, yet excited almost no one, except for Ford's numbers-oriented upper management and particularly the "Whiz Kid" product manager who oversaw the Falcon's development.

By some accounts, it took the departure of this "Father of the Falcon"—also a future Ford president and a historically significant political figure—for the Mustang project to get the green light.

WHAT FUTURE POLITICAL FIGURE SPEARHEADED THE DEVELOPMENT OF THE FORD FALCON?

What historically significant political figure spearheaded the development of the Ford Falcon, the compact car on which Ford based the original Mustang sports car?

The figure in question is none other than Robert McNamara, the controversial U.S. Secretary of Defense under Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson. McNamara presided over the Cuban Missile Crisis, the Bay of Pigs, and major stages of the Vietnam War.

Before all that, however, McNamara was a fast-rising, number-crunching product manager at Ford. Many have credited his cost-conscious management principles with righting the automaker's financial ship after the fiscal difficulties of World War II. In fact, many automotive historians view the Ford Falcon—which sold in record numbers before the Ford Mustang redefined the term "record sales"—as emblematic of McNamara's reign: effective, cost-conscious, and bland.

On Nov. 9, 1960—one day after JFK won the U.S. Presidential election—Robert McNamara became the first president of the Ford Motor Company who was not a member of the Ford family. One month later, President Kennedy asked McNamara to become Secretary of Defense, and the rest is history.

In the meantime, Lee Iacocca was forging his own name at Ford, and he became the "stepfather" of the Falcon model group following McNamara's departure. Two years later, Iacocca finally obtained permission to build his compact sports car, and the Falcon served as the perfect basis for the now legendary Mustang, sort of the less-famous older brother of an automotive rock star.

In car collector circles, the Falcon still boasts a loyal following, though nowhere near that of the Mustang. (Of course, if Steve McQueen had driven a Falcon instead of a Mustang in the famous car chase sequence in the hit 1968 film Bullitt, who can say which would be more famous today?) While Ford no longer manufactures the Falcon in the United States, Australia still produces new models of the Ford Falcon, and the Falcon remains one of the most popular Ford cars sold Down Under.

So, while the Falcon may never enjoy the same retro-inspired redesign (and marketing campaign) from which the new model Mustangs have benefited, the 'Stang's unheralded older brother still survives, guaranteeing it a place both in automotive lore and Geek Trivia.

The Quibble of the Week

If you uncover a questionable fact or debatable aspect of this week's Geek Trivia, just post it in the discussion area of the article. Every week, yours truly will choose the best post from the assembled masses and discuss it in the next edition of Geek Trivia.

This week's quibble comes from the Feb. 23 edition of Geek Trivia, "All-stars in the sky." A certain vocab term confused TechRepublic member Thotful, who asked, "What is a Q rating?"

Luckily, TechRepublic member Q_answer jumped in to help and quoted QScores.com's definition.

"Q Scores are the industry standard for measuring familiarity and appeal of performers, characters, sports and sports personalities, broadcast and cable programs, as well as company and brand names. Based on our 'One of My Favorites' concept, Q Scores actually summarize the various perceptions and feelings that consumers have, into a single, but revealing, 'likeability' measurement."

Thanks for the extracurricular Q&A, kids, and keep those quibbles coming.

For more, check out the Geek Trivia Archive.

The Trivia Geek, also known as Jay Garmon, is a former advertising copywriter and Web developer who's duped TechRepublic into underwriting his affinity for movies, sci-fi, comic books, technology, and all things geekish or subcultural.

About Jay Garmon

Jay Garmon has a vast and terrifying knowledge of all things obscure, obtuse, and irrelevant. One day, he hopes to write science fiction, but for now he'll settle for something stranger — amusing and abusing IT pros. Read his full profile. You can a...

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