Editor's note: The author is the only child of Phil Clark, the man who sketched the Mustang's original running-horse emblem. She, like the Mustang, celebrated her 40th birthday in 2004. Holly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
It's a symbol adored by great men, desired by many, and recognized by almost everyone. The running pony has endured not only Vietnam, but also disco, the fall of Communism, and even the new millennium. It's still the quintessential symbol of the original ponycar. Regardless of the Mustang's fame, most don't know the story of the man who hand-sketched the running horse and whose mind captured the spirit of the Mustang.
My father, Phillip Thomas Clark, was only 27 in 1962 when he left General Motors to join Ford Motor Company. Ford's leadership promised to consider Clark's concept of a car that would not only be a means of transportation for the average American, but would also thrust its owner into the world of sports cars.
The "pony" came only after Clark and his associates at Ford spent nearly 100 arduous days working and reworking renderings of the final original design for the car now known as Mustang I.
My father had always been known for sketching animals. He sometimes even made amusing drawings on napkins as he lunched in Dearborn cafes. His wife, Marilyn, speaks even now of the pony's significance to her husband.
That uniqueness plays through even in Clark's artwork of the horse that gallops on the grille. In a popular board game, players are asked why the horse on the Mustang gallops to the left and not to the right. J Mays, Ford's group vice president of Design, said that Bill Ford requested research concerning Clark's work on the Mustang. Mays said, "Interestingly, I am informed that the reason the horse is galloping toward the left is because Clark was right-handed and it was more natural for him to draw the horse galloping to the left."
Today, more than 8 million Mustangs have been produced, most sporting Clark's emblem in four or more places. Mustang running-horse emblems are found on virtually everything possible, from T-shirts to car mats. The Mustang emblem is a wonderful legacy.
Clark had enormous vision for his work, and he desired to leave a legacy of more than a single running steed. He resolved to have a car with his name on it. He once said, "See the Cadillac? When you step into the door you see 'Body by Fisher.' One day I will create an automobile that you step into and it says, 'Body by Clark.'"
His short stint with General Motors did not allow him to create his heart's desire: a vehicle that would thrust futuristic designs into the real world. At GM, he worked on an imaginative city called Futurama for the 1964 World's Fair, and he designed "The Car of The Future" for GM's World's Fair display. When the task was completed, he and many others were let go.
Ford's Mustang would be the answer to his musings. He was at the right place at the right time when Ford hired Clark and several other young men for the Mustang I project. The car was dubbed the "100-day Wonder" because it was built in 100 days.
The Mustang I premiered at Watkins Glen on October 6, 1962. The white two-seater Mustang had a rear-drive, mid-ship engine and a welded aluminum skin over a steel-tube space frame. The headlights were retractable, a design Clark had drawn during his time with GM.
He had considerable input in the body design. He told his family this was the first time in Ford's history that one sketch was used for the design of a car. Until that point, auto companies combined bits and pieces of ideas from each designer.
J.J. Telnack, former vice president of Corporate Design, said, "Phil was one of our most talented designers and was part of the original Mustang design team throughout its development in 1962 until its launch. He had considerable influence on the total design with the early prototype Mustang concept vehicle that he directed."
Over the years, Clark was disappointed in the changes to the Mustang. He could hardly contain his disappointment, and the fact that his emblem remained on the vehicle was little consolation. He barely recognized what America would come to know as the Mustang. If the reflection of his friends and colleagues was an indicator, he would become more disappointed as the Mustang continued to evolve.
Clark met an untimely death at the age of 32. He suffered since childhood with an unknown urinary disease, and was on dialysis most of his adult life.
When you see the Mustang emblem of chrome, remember the legacy of Phil Clark: the man behind the running horse.