Weeks before the Ford Mustang went into production executives were still fighting over the name.

Back in August 1962 when executives were reviewing the 12 styling proposals for what would become the Mustang, they gave each a different name.

One design really stood out. It was a white prototype designed under the guidance of Joe Oros, then boss of the Ford styling studio.

The actual shape had been penned by Gale Halderman and his proposal was called Cougar.

The grille featured a stylised big-cat contained by a chrome surround.

As time went on there was considerable debate about which direction the Cougar logo should face. Should it be left or should it be left or right?

Various design models during 1962-1964 can be found with logos pointing in either direction.

Meanwhile, Ford had prepared two concept cars for the auto show circuit which were called the Mustang I and Mustang II, and they used a galloping pony logo.

The designer was Phil Clarke and he had the pony running to the left. But, just as with the Cougar logos, debate went on about which way the pony ought to face.

As the deadline for releasing the new car drew closer some in Ford started to favour dropping the Cougar name and replacing it with “Mustang”.

They asked Ford’s adverting agency to conduct research.

The results were very clear. The name Mustang was top of the comparison list because, as agency personnel said, ” it had the excitement of the wide open spaces and was American as all hell.”

So it was back to the design studio to create a new version of the pony for the grille of the production car.

But should it go right or left?

The right hand supporters claimed that was the way horses raced in the USA. The left facing folk stressed that it represented a horse galloping out into the wild west, corresponding to that direction on a typical map.

Others suggested a compromise of a horse’s head and as late as January 1963, a mere eight weeks from the start of actual production, they even mocked up one on the grille of a pre-production car.

However, Ford boss Lee Iacocca cut to the chase and made the decision in typical blunt fashion: “the Mustang is a wild horse, not a domesticated racer, it goes left”.

And so it has been for 50 years.

David Burrell is the editor of retroautos.com.au

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Mustang was almost called Cougar


David Burrell is founder and editor of Retroautos.com.au, a free online classic cars magazine. Dave has a passion for cars and car design. He's also into speedway, which he's been writing about since 1981. His first car was a rusted-out 1961 Vauxhall Velox. His daily driver is a Pontiac Firebird. Prior to starting Retroautos, David was an executive in a Fortune 500 company, working and living in Australia, NZ, Asia, Latin America and the UK.
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