“Everyone has a Mustang story” states the hour and a half long documentary “A Faster Horse”, directed by David Gelb. That line is echoed through the rest of the film in the words of the Mustang design team, the Mustang fanatics, and everyone else who makes up the Mustang story. The film strives to show the legacy of this iconic muscle car of America.
The documentary opens on a clay model of the 2015 redesign of the Ford Mustang as the design team critiques every angle. Soon the film turns it’s attention to the decline of the auto industry after the economic recession and role of the chief program engineer, Dave Pericak, in the redesign of a lifetime. This redesign is planned to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the car and all previous models flash on the screen. Pericak is asked “so… how do you build a car?”Pericak pauses, laughs, and says simply “well that’s a good question.”
Now I am a little biased. Okay, a lot biased. I’m a former Mustang owner. A very proud one who will now take this opportunity to show off a picture of my beloved orange Mustang, Nemo.
I no longer have this Mustang but he (yes, my car was a he) was my dream car. Nemo was my very first car, arriving shortly after I turned 17, getting me through my senior year of high school where he won the student newspaper contest for “Car of the Year”, getting me back and forth from college, and earning me tons of stares as we drove through the streets. A quote from the documentary says it best. I felt “like a different person in the car.”
So yes, I have my Mustang story and the film very often highlights the Mustang stories of America and the world. Movie clips of “Fast and Furious”, “Goldfinger”, and many more films flash through the screen. A designer who grew up in Vietnam speaks of how he dreamed of getting the chance to someday own a car and how he could only have gotten the opportunity to work on the Mustang as a result of the longstanding American Dream. A father and a daughter who took three and a half years to restore a ’71 Mustang and proudly show off their car as the daughter thoughtfully reveals “it’s my type of car”. A woman pulls out a whole album of photos of every Mustang she’s ever owned. Pericak himself tells us how he proposed to his girlfriend while in a Mustang he borrowed from his boss in his younger days.
One designer states “if you were really logical you would never get a Mustang. It’s an emotional decision.” And this documentary does a great job highlighting the passion and strong opinions that Mustang fans have. Mustang fans nearly riot when they hear the Mustang could potentially be a front wheel drive in their ’94 redesign. The design team goes through 50 exhausts in their mission to find the correct Mustang sound and you see them driving their own Mustangs or showing off all their Mustang memorabilia. YouTube comments and other online forms of communication scroll through the screen both praising and criticizing the new Mustang design, as comments tend to do. You see a Ford employee looking at the car and bluntly stating “it just doesn’t scream Mustang to me” as she skeptically considers the car and in the next scene the designers are stopped while test driving the car and told “that’s the best Mustang I’ve seen in a long time!” Everyone in the documentary has an idea of what the Mustang is and, as promised early in the documentary, they will tell you.
The film also brings in the Mustang origins beautifully. Following the disastrous release of the Ford Edsel car, the Mustang concept is born and kept secret from everyone at Ford, even and especially, Henry Ford II. The original Mustang design team, some of whom appear in the documentary either through old video footage and photographs or in-person interviews, work to build a modern car that would stand out in the American market where cars all seemed to be big and bulky and innovative ideas can feel unwelcome. The car stated as the “Cougar” and featured a cat on the front grille but was eventually changed to showcase a truly American horse. The eventual release of the 2015 redesign and the original 1964 pony car both aim to be huge successes that would revive the Ford Company and bring it to the forefront of the auto industry once more.
The documentary is not without it’s faults and would have been stronger if it had followed a more linear timeline going through the 2015 Mustang story. The 2015 Mustang is first seen fully completed and out on the streets, not just for a couple scenes, but for the entire first half of the film. Then the team show how they cover features of the Mustang while test driving the vehicle with foam and velcro so it’s not photographed ahead of time. Suddenly, in the second half of the film the car is nowhere near finished, the car is wrapped in secrecy as the team scours the mountains around the Ford Arizona Proving Grounds to make sure no one is going to catch a glimpse of the new Mustang, and the car is hidden from view from everyone. Night only test drives are discussed and the car is completely covered. Yes, we all know how the 2015 story ends, but the transition from late production, where they are already in mass production, to the early production, where the team is struggling to build the first model, was a sudden jerk, distracting from the story, and could have been done a lot smoother.
Overall the story was beautifully told. At one point Pericak struggles to explain the importance of getting the design done right. By this time though, he doesn’t really need to. The film has done a great job of conveying the message already. The five year production process of the 2015 Mustang was not without it’s difficulties but seeing a huge gathering of Mustangs, every year, every body type, every color, all gathered on the screen alongside the 2015 debut is a sight that will make you itch to get behind the wheel of the first Mustang you see because you know you can appreciate it so much more now that you understand the history and significance of the Mustang. I, for one, cannot wait until I own a Mustang again and hear that distinctive Mustang engine spring to life once more.
Thank you for reading!