The Mustang could have morphed into anything in the years following its 1964 introduction.
Ford experimented with front- and mid-engined models, two- and four-door variants and even more spacious body styles designed with families in mind. Its positioning as a two-door was cemented in the minds of enthusiasts by the end of the 1970s so executives never dared to stray far from it.
This has now changed and Ford has just introduced an electric, four-door SUV called Mustang Mach E. The connection between the two models is only skin-deep and they don't share a single mechanical part. There’s no question that putting such a heritage-laced name on a car that’s decidedly un-Mustang-like is a bold move on the part of product planners, one sure to receive praise and criticism in equal amounts.
While we wait for the opportunity to drive the Mustang Mach E, we’re taking a look at some of the wildest Mustang off-shoots made by Ford and coachbuilders since the early 1960s:
Mustang concept (1962)
Early on, Ford wanted the Mustang to change the public’s perception of its brand. Before settling on a pony car, the company experimented with a mid-engined, open-top two-seater named Mustang that was fitted with a four-cylinder engine. Enthusiasts discovered the concept when Formula One pilot Dan Gurney (1931-2018) demonstrated it before the 1962United States Grand Prix. The crowd loved it, and reports claiming it would reach showrooms quickly emerged, but it remained at the prototype stage.
Mustang II concept (1963)
The original Mustang concept gained the suffix I when a follow-up named Mustang II broke cover in 1963. With four seats and a front-mounted V8 engine, it was much closer to the series-produced Mustang unveiled in 1964 than its drop-top predecessor. It wore a more futuristic design characterized by rectangular headlights shaped a lot like the production model’s rear lights.
Mustang Sedan (1963)
Ford considered turning the Mustang into a full range of models even before it unveiled the car. In 1963, about a year before the model’s unveiling, it experimented with a four-door model that looked almost exactly like a coupe except for an extended wheelbase. The four-door never reached production, for better or worse, and Ford launched a fastback to give buyers an additional body style to choose from.
Mustang Concept III (1964)
Ford envisioned a sportier, two-seater evolution of the Mustang before series production began. After making several prototypes for internal evaluation, it turned one of the 15 pre-production cars made in 1963 into a concept called Mustang III and displayed it at events across America. The transformation involved chopping the wheelbase by 457mm (18in), fitting rear body panels made with fiberglass and removing the rear seats. Whether it was a candidate for production depends on who you ask but what’s certain is that it remained a one-off model, though several replicas have been made.
Bertone Mustang (1965)
Automobile Quarterly founder L. Scott Bailey (1924-2012) gave Bertone the idea of making a rebodied Mustang. It was one of Italy’s first Mustangs, though it certainly wouldn’t be the last. After receiving a red, V8-powered example, the design house commissioned 27-year old Giorgetto Giugiaro to draw an entirely new body with a more European flair. He shortened the radiator to lower the front end, fitted four round headlights concealed behind pivoting covers and added wrap-around glass. The end result didn’t look like anything the Mustang Americans knew, but it sounded and drove like one.
Bertone’s Mustang basked under the bright lights at auto shows held in Turin, New York, London and Paris in 1965. It was advertised for $10,000 (about $80,000 or £100,000 in 2019 money) the following year, a figure which Bertone claimed was a third of its actual cost. It hasn’t been since.
Intermeccanica Mustang wagon (1965-1966)
Automotive designer Robert Cumberford teamed up with friends Barney Clark and Jim Licata to purchase one of the first few Mustangs off the assembly line and turn it into a four-seater wagon. Originally white, the V8-powered coupe was shipped to Italian coachbuilder Intermeccanica and transformed into a shooting brake by using Cumberford’s drawings as reference points.
“It was very straight-forward, very simple. There were no fancy mechanical changes. It was as matter-of-fact as we could figure out how to do it,” Cumberford told Autocar. He wasn’t out to design a custom-looking car; he wanted it to look like it came out of Ford’s design studio.
Intermeccanica Mustang wagon (1965-1966)
Ford examined the car and decided not to build it, partly because it already had several in-house proposals for a Mustang wagon on its drawing board. Cumberford then talked to smaller companies, including the entrepreneurs who purchased the Avanti’s tooling from Studebaker and car importer Franklin D. Roosevelt Junior, but no one had the skills or the money to see the project through.
Cumberford put thousands of miles on the wagon before selling it to a dentist in Portland, Oregon. “It was the best handling Mustang I’ve driven from the first generation,” he told us, explaining the extra glass and sheet metal added weight over the rear end. Its whereabouts are unknown as of 2019.
Four-wheel drive Mustang (1966)
While the Mustang has always been rear-wheel drive, its nearly boundless popularity in the middle of the 1960s encouraged Ford to experiment with a four-wheel drive model developed jointly with Britain’s Ferguson Research. The company shipped a pair of V8-powered Mustangs across the Atlantic and asked Ferguson to install its four-wheel drive technology in one. The other remained stock so product planners and executives could drive four- and two-wheel drive models back to back.
Ferguson also added Dunlop’s mechanical Maxaret technology, which functioned a lot like modern-day ABS systems. The four-wheel drive Mustang handled well but it never received the green light for production, likely because spinning the front wheels would have made it too expensive. It’s in the Tampa Bay Automotive Museum as of 2019 and it remains drivable.
Much of the hardware added to the experimental, four-wheel drive Mustang found its way into the Jensen FF released in 1966. About 330 units were made until production ended in 1971.
Mustang Mach 1 concept (1966)
Ford knew it had to make regular updates to the Mustang to keep its sales momentum going. The Mach 1 concept created in 1966 previewed one way to update the model’s design without diluting it. Its front end looked like a natural evolution of the 1964 Mustang’s but its squashed roof line gave it a sportier look. Out back, a huge rear hatch provided access to the cargo compartment.
Some of the Mach 1’s styling cues made it to production during the late 1960s and its name denoted a high-performance option package starting in 1968. Enthusiasts seeking practicality had to wait until the Mustang II made its debut in 1973 to enjoy the benefits of a rear hatch.
Mustang wagon (1966)
Ford’s vehicle development team worked overtime during the 1960s. In 1966, when the Mustang had already cemented its positioning as one of America’s favorite cars, they turned it into a two-door shooting brake aimed at buyers who wanted more space for people, gear or both. The front end adopted a boxier, almost truck-like appearance than the coupe’s. Here again, product planners canned the project to focus on the sportier variants that sold well.
Mustang Mach 2 concept (1967)
Ford design boss Gene Bordinat (1920-1987) and the company’s Special Vehicles Group created the Mach 2 by taking Mustang parts and arranging them in a different order. The Mach 2 concept used a standard 289cu in (4.7-litre) V8 but it was mounted directly behind the passenger compartment rather than in front of it. The cabin lost its rear seats to accommodate the mid-engined layout.
Bordinat and his team built the Mach 2 as they considered expanding the Mustang family with a mid-engined sports car that would have been billed as a replacement for the Shelby Cobra. The model would have been positioned above the regular, front-engined Mustang but it never reached production.
Mustang Milano (1970)
The Milano concept unveiled in 1970 took the Mustang’s basic design in a much more dramatic direction. Long, wide and flat, it stood out with numerous vents chiseled into its front end and a generously-sized hatch out back. The Hot Wheels-esque sheet metal hid underpinnings borrowed from a regular-production Mustang SportsRoof. The concept served as inspiration when Ford stylists gave the original Mustang a redesign during the 1971 model year.
Mustang II wagon (1976)
The idea of turning the Mustang into a more family-friendly model never died within Ford’s vehicle development team. In 1976, with Mustang II production already under way, the company built an experimental two-door model with a longer, taller roof line that cleared up a generous amount of interior space. It even wore the fake wood paneling often seen in America during the 1970s. Only one prototype was made, according to Ford, and it was never a serious candidate for production.
Mustang III concept (1978)
The Ghia-designed Mustang III concept made its debut at the 1978 Geneva auto show. Enthusiasts who were still shaken by the Pinto-based Mustang II released in 1973 were in for another shock. The Mustang III arrived as a pint-sized coupe with a removable roof panel and a four-cylinder engine shared with the Fiesta, Ford’s entry-level model in Europe and, briefly, in the United States.
The design study kept the Fiesta’s front-wheel drive layout. Luckily for enthusiasts, the third-generation Mustang arrived later in 1978 with rear-wheel drive.
Mustang RSX concept (1979)v
Ford built the two-seater Mustang Rallye Sport Experimental (RSX) concept to renew ties with the nameplate’s illustrious heritage. There were no major mechanical modifications, it used a 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine bolted to a four-speed manual transmission, but it was much shorter and noticeably wider than the regular-production model and the two cars looked nothing alike. The RSX could have made an awesome entry into Group B rallying but it never raced, let alone reached production.
McLaren M81 (1980)
Eager to delete the Mustang II from the public’s collective memory, Ford asked McLaren to extract every ounce of performance from the third-generation Mustang unveiled in 1978. Presented in 1980, the M81 gained a full body kit that included a new-look front end and flared wheel arches, among other add-ons. Power came from a turbocharged, 173bhp evolution of the stock Mustang’s 130bhp, 2.3-litre four-cylinder engine. Suspension tweaks were also part of the package.
Ford and McLaren planned to make 250 units of the M81 but its $25,000 price tag (about $78,000 or £100,000 in 2019 money) greatly limited its appeal. Only 10 examples were made before the project ended.
Mustang Mach III concept (1992)
Unveiled in 1992, the Mustang Mach III concept shared nothing more than a horse-shaped emblem with its predecessors. Its rounded, almost bulbous design signaled it was styled with an eye on the 1990s. It never reached production, unless you count the numerous 1/25-scale replicas of it distributed across America, but its design influenced the fourth-generation Mustang launched in 1994.
Giugiaro Mustang (2006)
Giorgetto Giugiaro penned one of Italy’s first Mustangs while working for Bertone in 1965. 41 years later, he helped his son Fabrizio design a follow-up model based on the fifth-generation Mustang introduced in 2005. The concept was again based on a V8-powered coupe but it looked more like a Mustang than the 1965 original. The father-and-son Giugiaro team nonetheless made it more compact by reducing the size of the rear overhang and tucking the corners. Lamborghini-like scissor doors let the passengers step into a custom-designed cabin flooded with natural light thanks to a glass roof.
Mechanical modifications were part of the 30,000-hour build, too; the stock V8 was notably supercharged to 500bhp. The project had Ford’s blessing but it remained a one-off.
KHM Motor Warszawa M20 GT (2018)
In 2018, Polish coachbuilder KHM Motor transformed a 2016 Mustang GT into the Warszawa M20 GT. The firm redesigned nearly every body panel and sourced parts from other automakers when needed; the rear lights notably come from the Mercedes-AMG GT. It takes a well-trained eye to tell this coupe started life as a Mustang. Ford kindly asked KHM not to use its logo on the Warszawa M20 GT.
The overall design is a tribute to the original Warszawa M20, which was a GAZ-M20 Podeba made under license by FSO between 1951 and 1953. Odds are the Mustang’s designers never envisioned it would serve as a two-door tribute to a four-door, Polish-made variant of a Russian design, yet here we are.
KHM announced plans to make about 10 units annually. Whether production started is up in the air.
Mustang Lithium (2019)
At first glance, the Lithium looks like the dozens of Mustangs presented each year at the SEMA show. It’s not; Ford and Webasto sent the V8 back to the parts bin and replaced it with an electric powertrain that makes over 900bhp. The motor’s output travels to the rear wheels via a six-speed manual transmission, which makes the Lithium unusual in a sea of automatic electric cars.
Ford is working on a Mustang-inspired EV but this isn’t it. The company stressed the Lithium is a one-off model, though it previously announced plans to release a hybrid variant of the Mustang.
Mustang Mach E (2019)
Years in the making, this electric, four-door SUV is the most contentious Mustang off-shoot to date. Ford called it Mustang Mach E after deciding giving it the hallowed Mach 1 nameplate would rub purists the wrong way. Stylists liberally borrowed styling cues from the Mustang to give the people-mover an aggressive, muscular design. We’re told its chassis was tuned with performance in mind, too, and Autocar's Andrew Frankel reported it felt composed through the slalom course in spite of its hefty weight after riding shotgun in one in Los Angeles.
Aimed at the upcoming Tesla Model Y, the Mach E is the first Ford developed as an electric car from the ground up. Powertrain options include rear- and all-wheel drive, a standard- or long-range battery, plus a flagship GT model with 459bhp on tap. Motorists who don't need that much power under their right foot can order cheaper variants with 254, 285 or 332bhp. Maximum driving range varies from 210 to at least 300 miles depending on the configuration selected.
American deliveries will begin in late 2020, though the GT won't arrive until early 2021. In the United Kingdom, pricing will start around £40,000.