Fixture at Ford led design of original ’64 Mustang

Gale Halderman, one of the original designers of the first Ford Mustang, died Wednesday at age 87, friends and colleagues said.

He had been battling cancer and was at the Upper Valley Medical Center in Troy, Ohio, according to the Ford Performance website.

He is best known for being part of the Ford team that shaped the car that would become the Mustang before it debuted in 1964. Mr. Halderman has since been credited with the blueprint for one of the world’s most iconic cars.

Executives selected from a competition the design shape based on a sketch Mr. Halderman recalled he had composed one night at home, said Mike Rey, president at the Mustang Owners Club of Southeastern Michigan and a longtime friend.

“He created the greatest icon in the automotive industry, in my opinion,” Rey told The Detroit News. “If not for him, we would never have the Mustang as we know it.”

The pony car was instantly popular. Sales reached more than a million in its first 18 months on the market.

A woman drove away from a Chicago Ford dealership in the spring of 1964 in the first Mustang ever sold after paying $3,347, the Associated Press reported in 2013.

The sporty concept touted at reasonable prices “became a marketing phenomenon,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford in Dearborn. “It’s quite unlike anything else. That was a secret to its sales success.”

Drivers eyeing the iconic vehicle and its later versions also note the side indentation, or “scoop,” that resulted from Mr. Halderman’s vision, Anderson said. “That’s one of those characteristic design traits. His mark remains on the car today.”

For decades after the introduction, Mr. Halderman could still regale enthusiasts with how he incorporated requests from Ford higher-ups and colleagues to design the Mustang, which would go on to launch thousands of clubs.

But he remained humble about his role on the team and “didn’t want the spotlight on him,” Rey said. “At that time, he told us, it was just another car in the lineup. They never in a million years thought it would last as a brand. They never knew the importance that it would bring into the world.”

Over some 40 years, Mr. Halderman worked on numerous projects, Ford representatives said.

He joined the automaker in 1954 after graduating from the Dayton Art Institute in Ohio and started as a designer for Lincoln-Mercury, according to the Ford website.

According to his induction listing in the Mustang Club of America Hall of Fame, Mr. Halderman received the Industrial Design Society Design Award for designing the 1965 Mustang. He also designed the 1971 notch back and fastback Mustangs, the club said.

Mr. Halderman became a design manager and led the Lincoln-Mercury design studio, overseeing the team that designed the Lincoln Mark VII and VIII before his retirement in 1994, according to Ford Performance. 

In later years, he attended events celebrating the Mustang and welcomed sharing his memories and even signing autographs for other devotees, Rey said.

“He was the most gracious person you could ever meet. He’d sit and talk to you for hours about Lee Iacocca and the good old days. … To hear those kind of stories were just treasures you could not ever forget.”

Mr. Halderman also launched a museum at his family’s home in Ohio featuring classic cars, according to its website.

His death sparked an outpouring on social media.

“To say I’m heartbroken is an understatement,” one fan tweeted. “His contribution to Mustang will never be forgotten. Rest in peace, dear friend.”

Ford reported survivors include three daughters, Karen Koenig, Kim Learning and Carol Marchelletta; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. He was predeceased in 2013 by his wife of 60 years, Barbara Senter Halderman; an infant son; and a daughter.

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