1994 Ford Mustang
Photo: Ford

Ford was out to recapture America’s “love affair” with the Ford Mustang during the development of the fourth-generation model, and it tested some radical design directions in the process. One of them even looked strikingly similar to the fourth-gen Pontiac Firebird Trans Am.

The efforts to recapture the magic of the first Mustang with the fourth-gen Mustang’s development, including that love affair quote, are detailed in the November 1993 issue of Car Styling.

According to the article, Ford’s design took three main approaches to creating the new Mustang. One design was a sleek, modern design with rounded features and soft lines stretched over an athletic coupe profile.

Designers dubbed it the “Bruce Jenner” after the Olympic champion (who now identifies as Caitlyn Jenner). This was essentially the Ford Probe’s design language translated to the new Mustang’s updated rear-wheel drive Fox platform.

The Jenner design. (Via Car Styling)

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Another design was named after Arnold Schwarzenegger, which took a more muscular and slightly more aggressive approach based on the first design’s sleek style cues.

The third design was called the “Rambo,” and featured a sharp-pointed nose design that transitioned into more of a wedge-shaped profile. The sketch showed three hood scoops—one centered and two further back in line with the front axle—as well as thin headlights located below the defining line at the front of the car, and two fog lights that were housed in a very aggressively-shaped trim piece, where the fog lights fed into two sharply pointed prongs underneath the centered hood scoop.

The Rambo design. (Via Car Styling)

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1993 Pontiac Trans Am
Photo: Pontiac

The Rambo design study looked remarkably like the fourth-gen Pontiac Firebird Trans Am of the time, which featured a very similar defining line that brought the nose of the car to a point, sharply defined hood creases and two low-mounted circular fog lights.

Later models of the Trans Am, which were introduced long after development of the Mustang, adopted even more aggressive styling cues and hood scoops that brought the design even closer to the Rambo Mustang mock-up.

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The Rambo Mustang, according to the design sketch, also featured rear-view mirrors mounted near the top of the A-pillars, an aggressive lower body kit along the bottom of the entire car and long pointed gashes in each door instead of the Mustang’s traditional squarish c-scoops. The physical Rambo concept model departed even more from the Trans Am look, but still included some very similar features.

A physical model of the Rambo design concept. (Via Car Styling)

Ultimately, research proved that Jenner concept wasn’t aggressive enough and Ford was worried it would seem “too European or Japanese,” according to Car Styling. The Rambo look was overly-aggressive, and neither design seemed to register with consumers as a natural progression for the Mustang. Ford went with the Schwarzenegger look, which progressed into the design that became the 1994 Mustang.

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Here’s a quote from Bud Magaldi, who was design manager for the fourth-gen Mustang, from the November 1993 issue of Car Styling:

We brought back a lot of the Mustang heritage in a very contemporary way. That seemed to be what people wanted us to do. They didn’t want another 1964-1/2 or 1965 Mustang, which they loved. They wanted a new car and one that said ‘American’ on it.”

The intended cues translated from old to new were the c-scoops, three-bar taillights (now horizontal), and the return of the “prancing horse” centered in the grille instead of a traditional Ford logo which was featured on the third-gen Mustang.

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But it’s crazy to imagine Ford almost made what was essentially a rear-wheel drive Probe, and on the other end, nearly a Trans Am lookalike. What it ended up with was a handsome, inoffensive look that didn’t entirely recapture the magic of the first Mustang, but was perhaps the lesser of three evils.

A physical model of the Schwarzenegger design concept. (Car Styling)
Fourth-gen Ford Mustang.
Photo: Ford