It never fails to surprise me about how poorly major automakers kept records up until quite recently. For example, Volkswagen seems to have no idea they may have been the first to develop first-person driving video games. In much the same way, Ford can’t seem to remember that time they built—or at least started to build—a particular two-seater mid-engined Mustang. So a bunch of Ford employees, ex-employees, and enthusiasts are asking for help.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that Ford’s build mid-engined Mustangs before—in fact, the very first Mustang Ford actually ever showed was a small, two-seater mid-engined car with a V4 tucked behind the seats.
And then, later, in 1967 Ford built a concept car called the Mach 2 that was a sleek, two-seater, mid-engined Mustang, though what we’re looking at here isn’t that car, either.
In a way, it’s kind of surprising there’s a modern mid-engined Corvette now and no plans (that I know of) for a mid-engined Mustang, since the Mustang has such a comparatively rich heritage of sticking engines in the middle.
Part of this heritage is what I want to show you today, these pictures from the Ford Performance website, which first encountered them about five years ago. Here’s what they say about where they’re from:
That’s why we’re asking you to help us identify the project car seen in the four Ford Design Studio photos shown here, taken on May 2, 1966. We first got a look at these photos some five years ago, when Dean Weber, then head of Ford Archives but now retired, had sent them to Mustang author and columnist John Clor at Ford Performance and longtime Mustang marketing and PR guru John Clinard of Ford’s West Coast Public Affairs office. Weber’s email had read:
“Gentlemen: As you know, I am a big Ford Motor Company fan, but not really a motor-head. I was going through some scans and these jumped out at me — Did we know that in ’66 Ford was working on a 2-seater, mid-engine Mustang? It might have been re-skinned as the Mach 2 Concept, but at this point it was definitely a Mustang . . . Maybe this is well-known among the cognoscenti, I just didn’t know about it. Did either of you?”
As you can see from that, it’s a special sort of mystery when the head of Ford Archives is reaching out for help to figure out what something is from Ford’s own design studios.
The pictures are clearly from Ford’s design studios, and the project seems to be called S-9955-1, and the images are from May 2, 1966.
The car itself appears to be a mock-up made from a combination of production Mustang body panels and parts, like the rear fenders, rear fascia, bumpers, wheels, and so on, combined with welded metal rods, frames, stamped metal parts, and other little one-off bits.
It looks like the basic Mustang unibody frame is used, but there have been some modifications. If we line up a stock convertible 1965 Mustang frame with the same stampings we can see behind the front wheel of this concept, we can see some differences:
The wheelbase and most of the proportions are the same, but nearly a foot has been chopped off the rear to create a back end with much less overhang, suggesting that both retaining unchanged body panels and cargo room was not a priority of the designer.
The V8 drivetrain is visible here, where the Mustang’s rear seat would normally be, and there must be some kind of transaxle unit replacing the differential going on under that transverse frame member and spare tire, since there’s no room for a driveshaft between that transmission and rear axle.
This looks like some sort of early packaging study, though there are a couple of notable omissions: while the Mustang’s central round fuel filler hole remains in the rear fascia, I can’t see where they planned to mount the gas tank, and I can’t see exactly if there’s a place for a radiator, though it may be here:
My guess is whatever this project was, it never got that far; this kind of mockup would have taken far less time and resources than a full-on clay model styling study, and I bet this was a preliminary proof of concept kind of thing done before making a decision to move on to a next step.
And it looks like that decision was: no thanks.
That’s kind of a shame, as this certainly is an appealing-seeming car! Perhaps this was seen as a way to build on the success of the Ford GT40 race car from right around this same time, and have a mass-market car with some GT40 influence?
Ford’s 1967 Mach 2 mid-engined concept showed that Ford’s designers were still interested in mid-engine designs, even if it seems no one else at Ford really was. This doesn’t seem to b part of the Mach 2 project, which seems to be confirmed in the Ford Performance article:
Clor spent the next year asking select Ford retirees if they knew anything about the photos but to no avail. The guess floated by Weber in his initial email — that it could have been the origins of the 1967 Mach 2 Concept car — was ruled out after Clor had spotted a MotorCities.org blog post in December of 2016. In it, a story by auto industry veteran and historian Wayne Ferens about the Mach 2 had contained information that would indicate the 1966 Mustang in these photos was NOT the basis for the Mach 2.
There goes the most plausible-seeming explanation. So, what was this? And why does no one at Ford remember?
Lots of people would love to know, so if, by any chance, you have any idea or know someone who might, let us know in the comments, or feel free to email Ford Performance directly.
I’m really curious!