Ford slashed a lot over the years to keep the Mustang affordable. But those prototypes were a real diamonds! Here’s some that really stand out:
Great engineering that sadly didn’t make it into production
Back in the day, Ford used to create some serious and innovative concepts for any given class of car they produced and the Mustang is no exception. Unfortunately they were canceled as fast as they were built and some really notable cars never came anywhere near a production line, because the Mustang was affordable muscle car and Ford would not make a compromise with a significantly higher price. Here’s some of those slashed concepts that made it to at least a working prototype, but never into our garages.
1962 Ford Mustang I
Ford Mustang I (1962)
This was the start of the buzz of the Mustang – a little two-seater roadster with a rear-mounted V4 engine from Ford Europe. The original idea for the Mustang was to be a small, lightweight sports car, to compete with Triumph TR3 or MG A. The car receive a wide press coverage and a very favourable public reactions – an excellent campaign for the first car to ever use the Mustang name. Regardless, Ford decided to go another way – the muscle car way!
1967 Ford Mustang Mach 2
Ford Mustang Mach 2 (1967)
As soon as the production model started making profits, Ford engineers presented quite a few different Mach concepts. Some of them made it to production later, but the Mach 2 was very unique. It was a mid-engine, with very aerodynamic shape and it was seen as an affordable road-going alternative to the GT40 racing car. Sadly, Ford executives slashed it. If it had been made, it would’ve been a viable competitor for the Italians.
1966 Ford Mustang Aspen Wagon
Ford Mustang Aspen Wagon (1966)
Well, it’s not your typical station wagon, but more of a shooting brake and it looked brilliant. At least this version. There was another prototype, 10 years later (1976), without the side vents and that crease in the rear window, but with wooden inserts and a roof rack. It looked like a Chevrolet Vega, more or less. But this one was wordy even for Steve McQueen! Just look at it! It’s the perfect movie car.
1979 Ford Mustang RSX
Ford Mustang RSX (1979)
The Mustang was a drag racer, street racer, circuit racer and even entered the Le Mans, but it was never a successful rally car. However, with the Mustang RSX, Ford wanted to change all that. It was a homologation rally concept with 2.3 litre engine and Ford was working on turbocharging it. It gained much traction in the media and with the public, but it was eventually dropped.
1980 Ford Mustang McLaren M81
Ford Mustang McLaren M81 (1980)
This one actually made it to a limited production and remains incredibly exclusive, with only 10 cars ever built! The cooperation between Ford and McLaren racing team in Michigan led the muscle car to a street racer – 2.3 litre turbocharged engine with 190 hp, lightweight body, roll cage and racing suspensions. It was well received, but the customers had to pay roughly three times the price of a regular Mustang.
2006 Ford Mustang Giugiaro
Honorable mention: Ford Mustang Giugiaro (2006)
It’s not that old and 20 prototypes were produced, almost made it into production but it was put on hold. Who knows, maybe Ford will use it someday. It was a successful blend of traditional muscle car presence with Italian beauty to appeal in the eyes of hardcore Mustang fans and Europeans. And with the 4.6 litres of supercharged V8 fury and 500 hp, it didn’t lost any of the Mustang spirit. When I saw it first, I was so much in love with it that I would’ve sold my house to get one! Now I’m somewhat grateful to Ford for not producing it, because it would’ve been my new home, quite literally!
Share your favourite Mustang concepts in the comments
The repressive state apparatus of USSR kept the existence of 603 such cars under wraps by creating a plausibly deniable sleeper. Very clever!
The Motherland’s motorcades
Soviet state leaders loved their long and flag-filled motorcades as a display of prosperity and supremacy. Naturally security was important part of the show and KGB was responsible to protect the all-important Chairman. Gorkovsky Avtomobilny Zavod (GAZ) was instrumental part of the Soviet leader’s lifestyle, supplying the infamous GAZ-13 Chaika state limousine and the fleet of Volga’s that was surrounding it. But KGB were unhappy with their current four cylinder cars and the idea of being underpowered, and possibly (certainly) unable to follow the more powerful V8 Chaika, or any Western car in a theoretical chase scenario. An order was placed for GAZ to secretly create a more capable vehicle by KGB’s 9th Directorate. The project started in 1959 with Boris Dehtiar – an automatic gearbox specialist, previously working on GAZ 13 and GAZ 18 leading it. What came out of it in 1962 could only be described as the ultimate sleeper.
The 5.5 litre V8 engine in a very snug fit – Credit: Za Rulem
Extremely tight squeeze
To accommodate what was effectively double the engine under the bonnet of GAZ M21 Volga, used as a platform, required more than just an engine lift. Some clever engineering solutions were applied, like completely redesigned cooling, new steering system from the Chaika, completely reworked front suspensions. And when that wasn’t enough, the engine was tilted by two degrees to fit with just one millimetre to spare! The bonnet also had to effectively grow a bigger bulge in the middle, but in a very discrete way. KGB had ordered the vehicle to be built in such a way, that it would look exactly like a factory-fresh M21 Volga. The exhaust system was also heavily revised with a series of strategically placed silencers to keep the low-profile sound of the original engine and not use more or bigger tailpipes. The creation was named GAZ M23 Volga, although officially it never existed. The codename was Dogonyalka (the “Chaser”) and was never mentioned in the press, the company catalogues or . . anywhere. Even the manuals in the KGB central contained a seal that spelled “For internal use only”. It was a ghost vehicle, only the manufacturers and the Soviet state knew about its existence. It was hand-built by the most skilled mechanics with the best materials that could be delivered to insure a complete no-compromise policy.
Describing Western diplomats cars – Credit: Za Rulem
The need for speed
At the time of designing the secret Volga, the West had the power advantage in the class, but the 5.5 litre V8 was kicking out 195 hp, compared to the standard 75hp four-pot, staying only inferior to the Mark 2 Jaguar’s 220 hp. The car was now capable to keep up with most Western rivals, which were commonly used by foreign diplomats, so suddenly surveillance was back on the table. An area of interest was the top speed. The speedo was left untouched, maxing out at 140 km/h, but it was capable of “no less” than 170 km/h, according to the testing 1000 km factory attestation. In order to deal with the extra power and torque, the 3-speed automatic gearbox was also lifted from the Chaika and that was not so easy to hide, given that a manual was the only option in the original M21. An ingenious solution was to put a small etched glass piece on top of the steering column, to mark the gear positions on the auto-box and remain hard to spot from the outside. Both the original manual and the new auto were on column shifter stalks. Of course, the lack of a clutch pedal was noticeable, but GAZ decided not to confuse the KGB agents with a non-functioning third pedal. Interestingly, the “P” on the gearbox was not meant for parking, but to keep a constant speed on long downhills and use the engine for braking. If the speed was below 20 km/h when “P” was selected, it would keep a steady 20 km/h and select first gear on the way down. If the speed was above 20 km/h – it would select second gear and keep at constant 40 km/h. A brilliant way not to cook the brakes, which were left untouched from the original.
The dashboard of M23 – Credit: Za Rulem
Serious spy credentials
For the untrained eye, the car looked exactly like a bog-standard M21, but there were some hidden differences that would overwhelm even Doug DeMuro’s quirking abilities. For starters there was the lights switch. It was configured in a way that would allow the KGB agents to flash either one of the headlights separately in order to communicate with coded light messages between the cars while on the road and retain radio silence. Same goes for the tail lights. Then there was the exterior boot release which was non-functional, with the real one being a tiny lever placed inside, on the base of the back seats, so no one from the outside would be able to access the car’s cargo, being a suitcase or a kidnapped Western spy.
Volga, being Volga…
Ultimately the modifications gave the desired result and KGB escort could now keep up with the lead Chaika in the motorcade and even out-accelerate it to 100 km/h with two full seconds to spare. But there were some fundamental and very . . 60s Volga-like problems. The guys from the car magazine “Za Rulem” (Behind the steering wheel in English), recently got to drive a very rare, restored example and shared their impressions with the general public. The car was heavy at 1860 kilos curb weight and even with the revised front suspensions, that mass was still difficult to control and the leaning in the corners was noticeable, very uncharacteristic of a car that’s named the “Chaser”. Because there was more weight at the front now, the steering had become even heavier at slow speeds. The brakes were drums on all four corners from the original M21 and there was no assistance to the pedal, meaning that extra mass from the big engine was now making the brake pedal even harder to press and stop the car properly. Slowing down the heavy beast even at slow speeds has been described as “challenging”. And then to add an insult to injury – because most of the added weight was in the front of this rear-wheel drive car, the engineers at GAZ had to add 120 kilos of ballast beneath the boot’s carpet to counteract the traction issues. But those issues could never overshadow the purpose of this car – being the best possible sleeper and allowing KGB to operate without drawing any unwanted attention. 603 cars were hand-built between 1962 and 1970. Very few are still road-worthy these days and the guys from “Za Rulem” got very lucky, finding a rebuilt one and an owner willing to share it for a short drive.
Inspired by a Buick, designed for Party committee officials and sold freely to the Soviet people for the very first time
The solid, elegant car has become one of the symbols of the post-war industrial rise of the USSR. A tough monocoque, fluid coupling manual gearbox, front brakes with two cylinders per wheel, and most importantly – a unique style for a limousine, never mass-produced in the whole world before is what can describe the GAZ-12 ZIM. The car was designed in a record time of just over two years and had some advanced technical solutions that weren’t available in any Soviet-made car at the time. And not just that – part of those features weren’t available in some Western cars of that period. The vehicle was intended to serve mid-ranking Soviet nomenklatura, but was also readily available as a taxi and ambulance. Unlike its successors, this was the only Soviet executive class limousine that was actually made available for private ownership. Of course, the story goes much deeper so lets dive right in.
Credit: Za Rulem
“Should we just build a Buick?”
GAZ began the design process for what became the M12 in May 1948, when the Soviet government requested a six-passenger sedan for the niche between the ZIS-110 and the Pobeda, with a deadline of twenty-nine months to produce it. Due to the lack of time, head designer Andrei Lipgart was given a choice between copying a Buick or developing an entirely new model. He chose the latter, despite receiving some high level Party support for simply badge engineering a Buick. Lipgart made a bold decision – using the experience gained during the creation of the Pobeda, he made the body a monocoque. The weight was only 1940 kg compared to the closest size competitor Cadillac 75’s 2200-2300 kg. He even created a prototype to a convertible, but due to the lack of frame and consequently reduced structural rigidity that project never took off. GAZ-12 ZIM in 1950 looked fresh and elegant, less pompous and more modern than the ZIS-110, the main design motives of which were borrowed from the pre-war Packard. The car did not copy any American analogue directly, but borrowed some elements like the hood, the radiator grille, bumpers with massive fangs, chrome outlines. Some things made the design truly unique though – it was the world’s first mass-produced ponton limousine, the first executive car produced by GAZ and the first one to have the famous leaping deer hood ornament.
Brave new world
A novelty in GAZ-12 ZIM, unusual for the Soviet car industry was a fluid coupling in the transmission that smoothed out the jerkiness from the inaccurate clutch pedal. The Soviet fluid coupling was a copy of Chrysler’s pre-war Fluid Drive device. The limousine used about half the drivetrain components of the GAZ-51 and GAZ-63 trucks, or the smaller Pobeda, including the 3.5 L inline six engine, producing 95 hp rather than the usual 70 hp in the truck. Curiously, the compression ratio was increased to 6.7:1, but it was still able to employ the Soviet spicy water (70 octane petrol). The improved intake manifold and twin-choke carburetor were responsible for the increased power. The 0-100 km/h time was around four days or 37 seconds, depending on how you count. The suspensions were actually a copy of the design used on the Opel Kapitan from 1938, but a high-tech addition were the hydraulic shock absorbers. Despite the lack of power steering, a brilliant engineering decision with the 18.2:1 ratio steering box made turning the heavy beast fairly easy. GAZ-12 ZIM had one bizarre feature – the rear track was wider than the front by 10 cm to ensure the rear seat would accommodate three passengers.
The most American Soviet interior
The GAZ-12 ZIM interior was made in the general American style of those years. Moreover, the dashboard and the upper part of the doors were decorated with wood. The car had a clock, a radio receiver and for the first time for the GAZ vehicle – a steering wheel with a chrome-plated horn ring. Uniquely, the three-band AM radio was standard equipment at a time when radios were not standard on most American cars, even the most expensive ones. GAZ-12 ZIM was closely copying the American executive saloons, in particular Chevrolet cars in terms of the dashboard design. The interiors of many overseas cars were then made in the same style. The most unusual part behind the rear-hinged (suicide) back doors was the seating. It was an 8-seater car, with a front and rear bench for three, but the two extra foldable chairs were between the two benches! Up to date this is by far the most unusual place for two extra seats.
Credit: Za Rulem
Soviet cancel culture
The ZIM abbreviation stands for “Zavod imeni Molotova”. Prior to 1957, the GAZ factory was officially named as “Gorkovsky avtomobilny zavod imeni V.M. Molotova”, or the Vyacheslav Molotov Gorky automotive factory, in honour of the Soviet Foreign Minister. Yes, the same guy that signed the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact, believing Nazis were honorable people. All of the models carried the prefix M instead of GAZ. However, for a car of executive class, a new catchy abbreviation was introduced, coinciding with bigger ZIS limousines. In the style of American car fashion that the vehicle was inspired by, the ZIM was used laboriously to decorate the car – the hubcaps, the bonnet, the radiator grille, even the horn button on the steering wheel. However, the Soviet Minister’s career was abruptly finished in May 1957, when he lost a political fallout with Nikita Khrushchev. Following his downfall, the country underwent a renaming spree, with cities, streets, ships and factories being hastily rid of the fallen politician’s name. ZIM, which was in production, from the summer of 1957 was hurriedly re-christened as GAZ-12, and all of the badges and adornments replaced by the new abbreviation. Moreover, right up until the perestroika the car was officially named labelled only as the GAZ-12, whilst unofficially it was almost exclusively referred to as the ZIM. The car was produced between 1950 and 1960 with 21 527 vehicles being made.
An army offroader for the civilian customers
This one was recently chasing Indiana Jones
Yes, a Soviet car made it into Hollywood in one of the worst CGI-heavy car chases in the cinema history. Yet it’s not what GAZ-69 is famous for. The development process started in 1946 and the first prototypes known under the name “Truzhenik” (Toiler) were built in 1947. The chief designer Grigoriy Vasserman was intending to build a replacement for the GAZ-67B (a shameless Soviet copy of the Wyllis Jeep) to be mass produced and sold to regular customers. The priorities were lower fuel consumption and better behaviour on an actual surfaced road. But the Soviet state’s objective was that the car should be built with full military specs and if a war erupted, the owners had to be able to provide support to the military.
The 2.1 L Dodge-based engine. Credit: Milweb
A decadent capitalist engine inside
You would think that since it took 7 years to develop, the GAZ-69 would’ve used some state-of-the-art Soviet made engine . . and you’d be horribly wrong. The 2.1 L straight-four petrol enigne was based on a classic Dodge engine from 1935, of which the blueprints were purchased for $20 000. The same engine was used in the GAZ-M20 Pobeda saloon earlier. Two power options were available – one that wasn’t capable of hitting 100 kph at all (55 hp) and another that was (65 hp) . . but only as a claimed top speed. Three speed manual gearbox with low-range was in charge of that power, driving all four wheels. Interestingly, even though it was a civilian version, it got two fuel tanks – one of 47 litres under the floor, one of 28 litres beneath the passenger’s seat. Being an army vehicle for the road, the 69 was very capable off the road with great angles of approach and departure, making it an ideal vehicle for the avid hunters in the vast Soviet steppes. It was also utilised as a farm equipment, replacing the horses for pulling the plough in the field.
The interior of GAZ-69 – Credit: Milweb
The first European indestructible
No, seriously, it is! It was built between 1953 and 1972 (in Romania as ARO – until 1975) with more than 600 000 vehicles produced, mostly by UAZ, who took over the production from GAZ in 1956. A lot of those 69s are still on and off the road, more than 50 years after the production started. Being a military-grade offroader, it was built to be reliable and require next to no maintenance. As for spare parts to keep it going, this is where UAZ shines. When they took over production, the engineers were so impressed with the qualities of the GAZ-69, they’ve used it as a platform for quite a lot of things – UAZ-450/452, UAZ-469, 2P26 tank destroyer, GAZ 46 MAV 4×4 amphibious vehicle, just to mention some. It was a proper influencer! As for where are the remaining GAZ-69 now, several examples are currently having a well-deserved rest at different museums around the world, including the Museum of Transportation in western St. Louis County, Missouri, United States, and the Fort aan den Hoek van Holland in the Netherlands. But a lot of them are still on the road! Confirmed sightings with photos as of 2020 were made in: Bulgaria, Czech Republic (or just Czechia these days), Germany, Egypt, Hungary, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia and Syria. They are starting to finally get rare though. If you spot one on the road, don’t forget to snap a photo and post it here.
Truck Garage GAZ-69 modification – Credit: Kolesa
Update: getting the 21st century Western treatment
A Soviet-era army offroader getting Americanised in present-day Russia. Sounds ridiculous, right?! Well, that’s not what the Russian tuning company “Truck Garage” thinks. Around 5 years ago they’ve bought 12 examples of GAZ-69 and started extensive tuning program. Replacing the feeble 2.1 L engine with a HEMI V8 was their very first step, either 5.7, 6.1 or 6.4 litre American muscle, the most powerful one pumping 465 hp. The 3-speed manuals were replaced with the appropriate automatic, the brakes are now disks on all four corners, but it’s not a soft-roader in any sense of the word. TeraFlex offroad parts and special purpose coilovers were also installed, along with 17 inch alloy wheels and 35 inch offroad tyres. So the potential to drive it into the vast Russian wilderness is still there. The interior was also completely overhauled and the 60s looking basic radio can now sync over Bluetooth with your smartphone to play your favourite tunes. Prices in 2015 were around $53 500 which is around 4 times more than a GAZ-69 today that haven’t been restored.
It was never mass-produced, but is still regarded today as been a worthy competitor to the German executive saloons of that era
Last of a dying breed
Along with the collapse of the Soviet Union, the unique developments of factory designers, sports cars and “Motherland” car enthusiasts have sunk into oblivion. Even today in the connected age it’s becoming increasingly difficult to restore history and find a reliable information for those models. The ZIL-4102 executive class car did not have a chance to go into production. Very little information on this executive saloon has survived.
The story goes that the car was developed at the request of the last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev. The promising limousine was supposed to replace the “outdated” five-seater ZIL-41041 saloon. In 1985, a new Rolls Royce Silver Spirit was purchased to serve as a basis. In 1987, the ZIL workshop manufactured one prototype of the ZIL-4102, followed by two more in 1989. It was planned that a whole family of cars would be built on the platform of this model. However, Gorbachev did not like the new development. There was no money to fine-tune the car and after one more prototype in late 1990/early 1991 the project was canceled.
Despite the fact that Rolls Royce was used as an “inspiration”, the exterior and interior design were carried out with an eye firmly towards the American cars. The vehicle was very similar to the 1985 Cadillac Fleetwood Limousine – low shoulder line, flat headlights and sides. Seen from the side, the shape of the windows resembles the Volvo models of those years. That’s not surprising, because Swedish cars were held in high esteem in the Soviet Union. Compared to its monumental predecessor ZIL-41041, the new saloon looked more . . democratic. There was a good reason for that – according to the marketing team, it was meant to compete in the foreign markets with the likes of Mercedes-Benz W126, Mercedes-Benz W123 as well as Audi 10.
As for the powertrain, there was a choice of four different engines – 4.5L V6, 6.0L V8, a huge 7.7L V8 used in the Chairman’s ZIL limousine and even a 7.0L V8 diesel option. The diesel remained as planned, but even a prototype was never build. The giant petrol V8 was pushing 315 hp and could accelerate the heavy beats to 100 kph in just 10.5 seconds. The fuel economy was a horrific by today’s standards 18 to 21 litres per 100 km (11/13 mpg). There was also a choice between a 5-speed manual and a 4-speed automatic gearbox. No weight was officially ever mentioned, it is known that it was a monocoque, unlike most big ZIL limousines and it was “a ton less” than them. The intriguing bit was that the engineers were actually working to actively keep the weight down and so the roof panels, the floor, the trunk lid, the bonnet and the bumpers were all made of fibreglass. Even just before of the Soviet Union, this many fibreglass elements were unheard of in any “homemade” cars.
ZIL-4102 – Credit: Dmitry Mehedov
Chairman’s luxury for the masses
Inside, there were no crazy folding seats, so all the luxury was available for only four people, including the driver. The split rear seats were electrically adjustable, a ceiling-mounted lights, a separate air conditioning zone with a control panel, even the floor had hinged footrests for the back passengers. The front seats were still divided by a wide central tunnel. As a result, all four sat in the corners of a huge suede interior with a leopard-like carpets and wood paneling. Power windows, an electronically tuned radio, a CD player and a 10-speaker speaker system are nothing special today, but don’t forget that it was the late 1980s. The car was equipped with an on-board computer with a speech synthesiser. As in previous ZIL models, to ensure reliability, some of the units and electrical systems of the car were cleverly duplicated for redundancy.
To have an even more competitive product for the Western market, ZIL were even allowed to introduce different models and trim levels. There were three different models planned – a four-door family saloon, a four-door touring saloon and a two-door touring coupe. All three had very similar standard options, except for the standard engines and transmissions for both the touring coupe and touring saloons.
Spoiled for choice
Not really. There were only two trim levels for all three models. Base interior trim on the family saloons was composed of an AM/FM radio/tape player, suede seats and head liner, two-way power bench (only the family saloons had benches), adjustable rear bench, power windows, power locks, heating and ventilation, power steering, 4.5L V6 engine, front disc brakes and rear drums (family saloon exclusive). The second trim level on the family saloon contained the features on the base trim but added leather seats, air conditioning and the 6.0L V8.
The touring saloon and coupe’s base trim was almost identical to the family saloons except that they offered leather seats as standard, 4-way front bucket seats, 6,000 rpm tachometer, 6.0L V8, 5-speed manual transmission (standard on the coupe only), front and rear disc brakes. The second trim level focused mainly on the drivetrain offering a slightly tuned version of the 6.0L V8 with about 15 more horse power, a bit more torque and tighter shift ratios for the manual. It isn’t clear where the bigger engines and the CD player would’ve slotted in.
ZIL-4102 – Credit: Dmitry Mehedov
During the existence of the USSR, a unique team of designers of representative cars was formed at ZIL and even their own school was created. However, the difficult situation at the plant in the early 1990s did not allow the development of passenger cars to continue.
“We can only hope for rich patriots with philanthropic inclinations.”
Unfortunately, they were not found. According to eyewitnesses, the very first ZIL-4102 was last seen live in 1997 on the territory of the plant and in 2000 the car was re-registered with the traffic police. Nothing else is known about his fate. The second car belongs in a museum now while the faith of the remaining two vehicles in unknown.