Ford Mustang designer Donald Frey dead at 87

CHICAGO – Legendary engineer and Ford Mustang designer, Donald Frey, died March 5 after suffering a stroke. He was 87. Besides sculpting America’s most famous sports car, Frey helped pioneer the field of consumer electronics.  Developing the CD-Rom and VHS cassette tape industries.

After his time with Ford he when on to become the CEO of Bell & Howell Co., was a board member of 20th Century Fox, and taught at Northwestern University.  For his efforts he received the National Medal of Technology from President George H. W. Bush in 1990.

Frey was chief engineer and an assistant general manager for Ford Motor Company when the Mustang was developed. He reported to Lee Iacocca, who received much of the credit for the Mustang’s success.

“A few of us at Ford were sitting around one day in the early 1960s and thought it would be a good idea to produce a small, sporty car that would appeal to a mass market,” Frey once told a reporter. “We were a bunch of young guys in our 30s and early 40s then.”

Hard sell

Frey and his cohorts had a hard time selling Henry Ford II on the idea.

“The company was just getting over the Edsel flop and really didn’t want to gamble on another new model,” Frey said. So development funds for the Mustang were taken from excess money buried in the budget.

Years later, Frey said that it had taken five tries to persuade Mr. Ford to go along with the project. “On the fifth try, he said to me, ‘I’m going to approve your Mustang, and it’s your ass if it doesn’t sell.’ ”

Sell it did, of course. Instead of an estimated 86,000 that first year, 400,000 cars were sold. The Mustang is still in production today, and more than 7 million Mustangs have been produced..

Ford Motor Co. issued a statement late Tuesday honoring Frey’s work with the company. It read:

“Don was an outstanding engineer with a keen eye for innovation and creativity. While often remembered for his work on the original Mustang, he also made valuable contributions to Ford’s success as general manager of the Ford Division and vice president of Product Development. We at Ford extend our deepest sympathies to his family.”


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