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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 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

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

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.