Gale Halderman, designer of the original Ford Mustang, dies

Gale Halderman, designer of the original Ford Mustang, dies

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The world’s best-selling sports car celebrates a birthday April 17. The Mustang’s been an American staple since it debuted in 1964.

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Gale Halderman, a man known to classic car historians as the artist who sketched the original Ford Mustang, died Wednesday in the hospital at age 87 after suffering from liver cancer.

“Sad news for Mustang fans everywhere,” said Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum. “Lee Iacocca will always be remembered as the father of the Mustang, but he was merely the driving force behind a team of talented designers, engineers, and marketers — with Mr. Halderman prominent among them.”

Halderman is credited with proposing the long scoop on the Mustang’s side, Anderson said. “Some 55 years later, that scoop is still a defining feature on the car. I’m glad to know that Mr. Halderman’s contributions were recognized and celebrated by Mustang fans over the years. He knew how much the car meant to owners and enthusiasts.”

The “iconic Mustang design sold more than 8 million units, inspired six model generations of design and has been continuously built for more than 50 years,” wrote Tom Stahler for journal.classiccars.com. 

“Most people consider the late Lee Iacocca as ‘The Father of the Mustang.’ However, Iacocca wasn’t the man who put the pencil to the paper. Gale Halderman, however, remained in the background,” Stahler wrote.

Jimmy Dinsmore, author of “Mustang by Design: Gale Halderman and the Creation of Ford’s Iconic Pony Car,” and spokesman for the Halderman family, described to the Dayton Daily News a humble man who “touched the heart of every Mustang enthusiast out there.”

“As great of a designer as he was, he was an even better human being,” Dinsmore told the Dayton Daily News.

“The most striking thing about the 40-year Ford employee was Halderman’s humility. For many years, Halderman did not receive much attention for being the Mustang’s original designer, preferring to let others take the credit,” according to the Dayton Daily News.

Halderman was a Tipp City, Ohio, native who died at Upper Valley Medical Center near Dayton.

“As we mourn the loss of our dear friend Gale, we remember his amazing contribution to the introduction of our Pony car. While there were countless accomplishments in Gale Halderman’s 40-year career at Ford Design, certainly none was more impactful than his work penning the shape of one of the world’s most iconic cars, the Mustang,” said Ford spokesman Berj Alexanian.

The official Ford biography for Halderman reflects years of hard work at Ford that led to his induction into the Mustang Hall of Fame.

Auto historians and designers savor the little-known detail of a man who left a profound legacy. The following career snapshot for Halderman was provided upon request to the Free Press on Thursday by Ford. This is how an iconic vehicle is born:

  • Halderman graduated from the Dayton Art Institute in 1954, and was hired  by Gene Bordinat as a designer in the Lincoln-Mercury studio. 
  • On his first day on the job, Bordinat sent Halderman upstairs to help out and get acquainted in Alex Tremulis’ Advanced studio. Halderman was in the Advanced studio for two weeks, and was then sent to the Ford studio because of a crisis there.
  • After several weeks in the Ford studio, he was assigned to the Ford Preproduction Studio working with Damon Woods and Bill Boyer on the Mystere.
  • Halderman’s next assignment was in the Truck studio. After that, he was reassigned to the Ford studio.
  • In 1958, he was assigned to Elwood Engel’s Corporate Advanced studio as manager. While in the Corporate Advanced studio, he helped design the Levacar, the Mark IX, the X Sixty Five, the Astrion, the ‘61 Continental, and the Gyron. Halderman also supervised the design of production car proposals in competition with the other studios.
  • He was one of the designers of the 1965 Ford, and the primary designer of the original Mustang. In November 1968, Halderman replaced John Najjar as director of the Truck studio. Five months later, he was asked by the new Ford President Bunkie Knudsen to design cars, although he remained in the Truck studio.
  • When Joe Oros became chief designer at Ford of Europe in November 1970, Halderman replaced him as director of the Ford studio. In April 1973, Halderman was transferred to the Advanced studio as director. He also served as director of the Light Car Exterior, Custom Car, Interior, Mid-Sized car Interior, the Small Car and Truck studios. While he was director of the Custom Car studio, Halderman supervised design of the Mark VI and the ’80 Continental.
  • In September 1978, he was reassigned as director in the Small Car studio to supervise design of the proposed 1986 smaller FWD Lincoln Town Car. In June 1985, Halderman was reappointed director in the Luxury Car studio, where he supervised the design of the ‘90 Town Car, the ’95 Continental, the Mark VIII, and the revisions to the Mark VIII.
  • In January 1994, he retired.

In retirement, the designer established a venue for old car meets at his family’s farm in Tipp City, Ohio, which included the “Halderman Barn,” which includes drawings and memorabilia and his extensive Mustang car collection, according to Ford.

“The barn is decorated with automobile artwork contributed by many of the designers he worked with at Ford,” the company said.

The museum, which is run by family, will be kept open by appointment.

“Gale’s Museum is a destination for all Mustang enthusiasts,” Dinsmore told the Free Press. “It’s not a car museum but a museum to the legacy of America’s pony car from the design perspective.”

The Dayton Daily News reported that Halderman is survived by three daughters: Karen Koenig, Kim Learning and Carol Marchelletta; nine grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death in 2013 by his wife of 60 years, Barbara Senter Halderman; an infant son and a daughter. A celebration of life is being planned.

His death is being mourned on social media.

Contact Phoebe Wall Howard: 313-222-6512or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @phoebesaid. Read more on Ford and sign up for our autos newsletter.

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