My Car Quest

June 19, 2019

The Italian Mustang – Is It Really Lost?

by Wallace Wyss

One of the saddest things I have seen in the auto design world is when L. Scott Bailey, founder and publisher of Automobile Quarterly, was running an ad trying to find out where his former one off Italian built Mustang was. I think he died before he ever found it again.

First of all a little history is in order.

Ford, back in ‘64 ½, had a baseline hit in the Mustang. There were 22,000 sold the first day.

And yet, in the back of their minds, Ford brass knew hey, you’re only as good as your last quarterly sales figure, so they quickly scheduled a 2-plus-2 model for ’65.

And lined up Cobra snakemeister Carroll Shelby to build a Shelby version, the GT350.

And after earlier working with coachbuilders (a one off Cobra that is also missing, from Ghia) they were even open to oddball promotions, such as the proposed by publisher L. Scott Bailey who in 1962 founded a hardbound magazine called Automobile Quarterly.

Most of the time Bailey published history but in this case he actually made history by commissioning his own Mustang to be built in Italy, a one-off car.

Bailey recognized that Ford was very bullish on promoting the Mustang six ways to Sunday, and he knew certain Ford brass (mainly Henry Ford II) loved anything Italian (with prototypes have names like La Aventurra, the Italien and so forth) so he proposed going to Carrozzeria Bertone and having an all new body designed for one as a promotional vehicle.

Ford Bertone Mustang

Ford was for it, and donated the chassis which was sent to Bertone for an all new design by Giorgetto Giugiaro, the wunderkind designer who had been hired at Bertone a few years earlier at the age of 19. I use the word “chassis” loosely because the car was unitized. You couldn’t lift off the made-in-America bodywork, you just unbolted it or cut it off one panel at a time.

The Bertone Mustang, in a sort of turquoise, made its debut at the 1965 New York Auto Show, where it was hailed as a brilliant design, winning a “best in show” award. The car was an original shape, much more together and integrated than Ford’s design. It had retractable headlights and those little side vent grilles Giugiaro liked and used on many of the cars he designed. Since the hoodline was lower than the stock Ford Mustang, he had to design bumps or bulges into it to clear the shock absorber connection points and for the air filter. The whole front of the car is also lower than the stock Mustang.

Ford Bertone Mustang

The odd little side windows could be opened electrically, The roof is still very light-looking. Now here’s where the appeal of the car subsequently was diminished somewhat in this writer’s eye in that the roof shape was subsequently adopted almost whole by the Mazda RX4, a car that might have been secretly designed by Carrozzeria Bertone though, at the time, Italian coachbuilders were still maintaining the fiction that they would never help the Japanese auto industry for fear it would drive the Italian building working class out of business.

Ford Bertone Mustang

Hey, I got early Bertone press pictures of Japanese cars they designed, who were they fooling? The nay-sayers were right, the Japanese cars did in fact drive the Italian cars like Fiat from the U.S. but it wasn’t the styling, it was the reliability that sold Toyotas and Datsuns in the U.S. and drove the shoddily-built Fiats and Renaults out of the country.

Whereas heads of carrozzerias usually glommed onto all the credit, in this case, ol’ Nuccio allowed a picture to be taken of himself with Bertone’s hotshot “young designer-in-charge” Guigiaro, both standing next to the wood “former” for the car, the wood guiding the panel beaters who beat out the body panels by hand. This author doesn’t recall when he saw the ad where Bailey was looking for the car, but rumors abound where the car went to after its show career.

Ford Bertone Mustang

MISSING-PRESUMED LOST

One story is that it was in a Ford showroom in Monte Carlo and that it disappeared from there. Another is that a journalist borrowed it, never to return (as improbable as that sounds, I am here to tell you that, as a journalist traveling in Europe, one time I walked into a showroom in Italy, pointed at a mid-engined Lancia, said I was going to photograph it and drove off in it, no papers signed, no showing of a driver’s license, not even leaving a business card. I could have, I think, kept going…).

I mentioned this car in previous articles and wouldn’t you know that some forum reader doesn’t send in an ad from Sept. ’67 Road & Track which shows the car advertised for $10,000 by no less than Bertone, the car’s builders. Which leads to more questions than answers, such as: did Bailey ever actually own the car? It sounds like he didn’t but he may have gotten nostalgic over the car in time and wanted to buy it only to find the trail had grown cold. Extremely cold.

I saw the Bertone Mustang parked once at the Ford World HQ so I know they had it for awhile. Other journalists have also seen the ads run by Bailey. The poor man died in 2012 while in his ‘80s, never to see his baby again. The value of the car, in my opinion, has appreciated tremendously owing to the fact that Giugiaro, after founding his own firm, Ital Design, is arguably the world’s most famous Italian car designer.

The downside is the subsequent Mazda RX-2 had a nose very similar. That design too might have emerged from Bertone Carrozzeria. And I already mentioned the Mazda RX-4 (nee Cosmo) roofline. The truth is coachbuilders sometimes recycle designs–Ford obviously wasn’t going to pony up for a production version, so, hey, maybe Mazda would want that design.

One thing is sure: one-off coachbuilt cars by famous coachbuilders are soaring in value as sort of four wheeled souvenirs of great designers. The Tom Tjaarda-designed Corvette Rondine done for Carrozzeria Bertone for instance. Or the Giugiaro design for the Alfa Romeo Canguro, a one-off car built on a genuine race car TZ chassis. If you can tie a given one-off design to a famous coachbuilder and a famous designer, you’ve got a double whammy going.

POTENTIAL SUPERSTAR

Your author predicts that this car, if found, could allow its owner to “write his own ticket” as far as entering a prestige event like Pebble Beach or the Amelia Island concours. Hell, Ford might even pay the owner to bring it to Ford events (unless of course there was a chance it could outshine the 2015 Mustang they have just introduced).

Now, I know, to people who aren’t car enthusiasts, what’s the big deal that this car has disappeared? Hey, an old car, who cares? (sacrilege to say that on an automotive website…I know) but I, as an enthusiast, stay awake nights wondering if there’s answers to such questions as: where is it now?

When this author posted a query about it on a Mustang-oriented forum another forum poster cheekily replied it’s been found but the owner doesn’t want to talk about it. Well, la de da, when you own a legend, word has a way of getting out. The second that car rolls out into the noonday sun, some Mustanger will see it, shoot a snapshot with his camera phone and the world will be out. And that owner will have some ‘splainin to do (see “I Love Lucy” for word “splainin”)

This writer is talking about it, feeling that the Bertone Mustang is far too much a part of the rich legacy of Mustang history to be hidden away forevermore. And that, in a sense, we enthusiasts –we who enjoyed Automobile Quarterly for all those decades–owe it to ol’ L. Scott Bailey to find his long lost baby…if you have it, please let your presence be known.

THE AUTHOR: Wallace Wyss’ first in the series Incredible Barn Finds is available now from Enthusiast Books (715)-381-9755. See Wallace Wyss’ other My Car Quest articles at this link.

Sell your classic car on My Car Quest – click here.

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Summary
The Italian Mustang – Is It Really Lost?
Article Name
The Italian Mustang – Is It Really Lost?
Description
Italian design house, Bertone, designed a custom Ford Mustang that now seems to be missing.
Author

Comments

  1. Bill Cooper says

    Very interesting story, nice, clean lines.
    Note the 3/4 side and full rear views….bears a strong resemblance to the Grifo

  2. That is one of the most beautiful cars I have ever seen. And you’re right, you can see elements of it in future cars. I hope it it is brought forth for all to enjoy. And on that note, I have been searching for close to 20 years for the 1960 France Jet microcar that was shown at the NY Auto Show. I’ve heard it survived in the hands of the importer for several years in suburban NYC, but he died c.2000 and the trail has gone cold. Any info greatly appreciated! -Rob

  3. Roger Hirschland says

    Mike,
    There’s a 1:43 model of this Mustang available in kit or built form in Japan from Yowmodellini. Their site is here:
    http://www.yowmodellini.com/collezione/bertone/mustang/mustang.html
    And eBay currently has the kit posted, as well, if one searches for “Bertone” and “Mustang.” It looks like a beautiful model of this one-off. — Roger

  4. Any guess on where/what the glass was sourced form , or one off?

  5. Wallace Wyss says

    A carrozzeria has ways to get glass made on a one off basis but they might have used plexiglass for the sides and back window.

    As far as finding that car that was in the NY show, I would run a classified ad or even CL ad in the last town it was seen in.

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