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Few American autos are more iconic than the Ford Mustang, a car that defined the baby boom generation and still stirs widespread public passion and customer loyalty today. Ford has redesigned the Mustang about once a decade since the original 1964 release, so a sixth iteration was a forgone conclusion, but the car’s 50th anniversary this year added special significance to Ford’s revamping of the classic, a process captured in abundant detail by David Gelb’s doc.
Mustang fanatics will be thrilled by the level of access that Ford provided the filmmakers to shoot at the company’s Dearborn, Mich., headquarters and interview the Mustang design team headed by chief engineer Dave Pericak. Even so, it may be difficult to escape a sense that the film sometimes plays like an extended product promo, an impression unlikely to deter a potentially global audience of enthusiasts.
Along with Pericak, an engineer with overall responsibility for redesigning the Mustang, Gelb introduces chief technical officer Tom Barnes, who directs the expert teams implementing the brand reboot that begins in 2009. Together they coordinate dozens of specialists who start by sketching and computer modeling the proposed upgrades, basing the revisions on previous versions of the vehicle. Once the specifications have been updated, a full-scale model of the car is constructed out of a solid block of clay and mounted on tires for the engineers to evaluate and complete the design phase.
Prototype vehicles are then custom-built from scratch for engineering tests and road trials, which initially take place on public streets in proximity to the Dearborn facility, with the car cloaked in awkward concealing camouflage to maintain the secrecy of the redesign process. Actual production of the revamped Mustang begins three months before the its public launch, which includes splashy promotional events in the US and several international locations.
The 2015 Mustang redesign takes place against the failing economy of the Great Recession, the concurrent crumbling of the American auto industry and the decimation of Detroit’s manufacturing base. Gelb weaves together these social developments and a concise review of Ford’s corporate and manufacturing history with the profile of the 50th anniversary rerelease. In particular, the filmmakers emphasize the Mustang’s enduring reputation in American car culture, popularized in part through Ford’s pro racing program, the car’s starring role in films like Gone in 60 Seconds and Bullitt and 50 years of product advertising and promotion in every conceivable media.
With more than nine million Mustangs sold, the classic coupe’s customer base extends worldwide, but even more integral to the brand’s success are the 250 international fan clubs with 50,000 members frequently celebrating their favorite auto. More so than the informative interviews with Pericak, Barnes and numerous key team members, as well as former designers for prior remodels, the enthusiasm of these supporters demonstrates how the brand has endured and grown in popularity over the decades. Clearly the Mustang isn’t just a car, it’s an emotional investment.
Production company: White Horse Pictures
Director: David Gelb
Screenwriter: Mark Monroe
Producers: Nigel Sinclair, Glen Zipper
Executive producers: Alessandro F. Uzielli, Guy East, Nicholas Ferrall
Director of photography: Will Basanta
Editor: Isaac Hagy
Music: Danny Bensi, Saunder Jurriaans
Sales: Cinetic Media
No rating, 90 minutes
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Santa Barbara International Film Festival