Drifting is one of the fastest growing forms of motorsports in the world. It is the sport of losing traction, a driving technique where a driver purposely oversteers and causes the rear tires (or sometimes all the tires) to lose grip on the road. A car is said to be drifting when the rear slip angle is greater than the front slip angle, and the front wheels are pointing in the opposite direction to the turn. Basically, the car is turning left, but the wheels are pointed right. What’s extreme here is that the driver is controlling these factors the entire time. Drifters don’t cause a car to drift and then try to straighten things out. They just over-counter so the car goes into another drift. That’s the whole point.
Drifter Vaughn Gittin, Jr., demonstrates skill and showmanship in his No. 25 Mustang during the 2019 Formula Drift championship series. / Photo by Larry Chen
In a drift turn, the frictional force acts centripetally, meaning that it pulls the car in a circular motion, precisely the motion that is required to maneuver a turn. During a drift, you essentially make a turn too fast, causing the rear tires to lose their grip on the road. As a result, the rear tires over-rotate in the direction of the turn, which makes them go into a spin. To compensate for this over-rotation and spinning of the rear tires, you have to turn the front tires in the opposite direction of the turn that you were originally making. Drifters balance the amount of traction they lose on the rear wheels by constantly balancing the wheel speed and the slide.
Drifting. / Illustration by T.M. Detwiler
Drifting is not about being the fastest or crossing the finish line first. Drifting is all about skill and showmanship, with each driver being assessed and awarded points for things like speed, angle, line, and personality X factor.
One of those drifter personalities, Vaughn Gittin, Jr., is living a gearhead’s dream. The 2010 Formula D champion is a regular winner on the drifting circuit in his Monster Energy Nitto Tire Ford Mustang RTR. He has expanded his motorsports activities into road racing and off-road racing, where he won the 2018 Ultra4 4500 East Coast Championship. The star of viral videos, television, and video games, Gittin also became involved in the 2000s in the creation of custom Mustangs under the RTR—Ready to Rock—brand. In late 2019, The Henry Ford Magazine interrupted his busy schedule to get the answers to some burning questions.
Vaughn Gittin, Jr. (right), with RTR Motorsports teammate and fellow Spec 5-D driver Chelsea DeNofa at Formula Drift New Jersey 2019. Gittin finished fourth. / Photo by Larry Chen
1) How did you first become attracted to drifting and what makes you so good?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: My love for cars in general stems back to being a child. My dad was a used-car salesman, and he was a warm-blooded hotrodder. He was always bringing unique, cool cars home. At four years old, I got a go-kart. I vividly remember going out, going as fast as I could and pulling the little brake and making the go-kart slide. Fast forward through skateboarding, riding BMX, motocross…. When I was 18, I got my first rear-wheel-drive car, and I would go to the industrial parks and parking lots where I used to ride my go-kart and do donuts, burnouts, powerslides. Eventually, I saw videos of this sport called drifting, and my perspective was that it was about showing your style and personality with really awesome cars. It was something I just really, really enjoyed.
Right about that time, drifting was coming to the U.S. from Japan. I went to my first organized drift event in 2001 or 2002 and immediately realized that all these things I’ve done—the playing around, the motocross, the skateboarding—really taught me good car control. And I was pretty good, naturally, at drifting. I fell in love with the culture, the scene, the people, and the camaraderie.
2) You describe yourself as a “professional fun haver.” What is a professional fun haver?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: To me, fun and fun-having is a mindset. We all have our bad days, and we all have the things we have to do that we don’t necessarily want to do to achieve our goals and dreams.
But I always find something fun in just about everything I’m doing. It’s very similar to what kind of person you are: an optimist or a pessimist? Is the glass half full or half empty? I think a fun haver always looks at life and challenges with the glass half full and creates fun out of it. I truly believe that my purpose is to put smiles on faces and hopefully inspire people to have fun on a daily basis because I think it’s important. And anybody can be a fun haver. I’ve dubbed myself a professional one, but it’s a very inclusive movement and something the world needs more of.
Drifter Vaughn Gittin, Jr., with tire model Christen Dye. / Photo by Larry Chen
3) What’s next for you in motorsports?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: I’m really torn because I have only so much time, and there are so many cool opportunities and things that I’m excited to be a part of. You’re going to continue seeing me having some fun in drifting and competing. I’m definitely focused on doing more festival events, like GRIDLIFE, where I can go and get my fix on the track and have fun and perform and then chat with fans and get people in the passenger seat. Certainly, I have taken a liking to off-road, not just the racing, but the culture and being outdoors. Ultra4 is what I’ve kind of just fallen into the last couple of years, and my perspective is that it’s the most challenging type of off-road racing there is. You race in the desert, you race on the short course, you’re going over massive boulders and driving up waterfalls. It’s an absolutely incredible challenge, and it’s so beautiful when you’re out there.
4) Where do drifting and racing come together?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: Drifting is the epitome of car control, arguably one of the most challenging sports—the precision required and the commitment and the mental capacity to be the absolute best you have ever been in your life in that moment, because there are no chances to make mistakes. When you take that focus that has been built from drifting, and the car control and the feeling of the vehicle, it really translates to just about every other single motorsport or anything you could ever do that involves managing the vehicle, managing weight, and pushing yourself outside perceived limits.
Drifter Vaughn Gittin, Jr., demonstrates skill and showmanship in his No. 25 Mustang during the 2019 Formula Drift championship series. / Photo by Larry Chen
5) What’s harder, being behind the wheel or in front of the camera?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: I’ve always been in front of the camera. My mom used to have a camera on us all the time, and I was always a little ham with it. I was never shy of the camera and love being in the car. I would say both are equally as easy!
6) What led to your love of and loyalty to Ford?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: Growing up, I wouldn’t have considered myself a Ford guy; I was an import guy. But when Ford came out with that ’05 Mustang, I just fell in love with the look. I thought: “Man, I’d love to bring some American muscle into this import-dominated sport.” I’ve been working with Ford since 2007, and I beat the door down for a couple of years before I got an answer. Since then, I’ve met some really great people that speak my language and love the things that I do.
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.’s Mustang RTR race car. / Photo by Larry Chen
7)How did you come to launch your own brand of customized Mustang?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: When I first got into Mustangs in 2005, I was looking for a way to customize it and personalize it, but there was nothing that spoke to me. It inspired me to launch a new generation of Mustang. Ford was doing a phenomenal job building cars for everybody, and I wanted to build something that was for me. That’s when I conceptualized the idea of RTR. I wanted to have a Mustang that was Ready to Rock—it was representative of me from the exterior, and the performance was ready for anything I might want to do.
Take a side-by-side look at what more than 50 years of evolution and a passion for high performance can bring to an iconic vehicle brand. We’re comparing, spec for spec, the 1965 Ford Mustang Convertible Serial Number One, which is part of The Henry Ford’s collections, against Vaughn Gittin, Jr.’s 2019 Mustang RTR Spec 3.
8) Do you have any advice for those who would like to follow your path?
Vaughn Gittin, Jr.: I think it’s very important to keep your reality and passion in check. These things that we’re passionate about can very easily suck us in and make us forget reality. I maxed out credit cards that took me years to pay off. I think it’s important to pay attention and enjoy your passion, but always keep your reality one foot forward so you don’t get yourself in trouble. Most importantly, have fun!
1965 Ford Mustang Convertible, Serial Number One. THF90618
Ford Mustang Serial Number 1 and Original Owner Captain Stanley Tucker, 1966. THF98053
More than 55 years ago, Harry Phillips sold Mustang Serial No. 1 to Stanley Tucker in St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada.
The very first Mustang sold was a pre-production model only intended for display. It was meant to be sent back to Ford, and it took nearly two years for the car to be officially returned.
Harry Phillips and Mustang Serial No. 1, September 2019.
Thanks to a campaign spurred on by fellow Ford Mustang lovers, Mr. Phillips was reunited with that same car, in Henry Ford Museum of American Innovation, on Sept. 27, 2019. Hear his story of that landmark sale in 1964, and learn more about this important artifact: Stanley Tucker and Ford Mustang Serial Number One.
Lee Iacocca (right) lights a candle with Henry Ford II (center) and Don Frey to celebrate the Ford Mustang’s first birthday in April 1965. (THF113838)
A Born Salesman Lee Iacocca, the charismatic corporate executive whose long careers at Ford and Chrysler made him one of the best-known businessmen in America, passed away on July 2 at age 94. With his passing, the automotive industry lost one of its most colorful figures of the last 60 years.
Born and raised in Allentown, Penn., Iacocca earned a degree in industrial engineering from Lehigh University in 1945. Given his location, one might have expected him to take a job in the steel industry. But Iacocca was one of those people with gasoline in the veins. He wanted to build cars – specifically, he wanted to build them for Ford Motor Company. He joined the Blue Oval in 1946 as an engineer. But for a born salesman like Iacocca, it was an awkward fit at best. He asked for a reassignment to sales in Ford’s Philadelphia district, and his career blossomed from there.
Iacocca first attracted attention from senior Ford managers with a novel promotion in the mid-1950s. He dreamed up a “’56 for 56” gimmick in which customers could buy a new 1956 Ford with 20 percent down and monthly payments of $56 thereafter. It was simple, it was catchy, and it was a hit. The promotion earned him a transfer to Ford’s world headquarters in Dearborn.
Total Performance Lee Iacocca made no small plans. Barely into his 30s when he moved to Dearborn, Iacocca resolved that he’d be a Ford vice president by age 35. Though he climbed up the ranks quickly, he missed his goal – Iacocca wasn’t named Vice President and General Manager of the Ford Division until he’d turned 36. By a twist of fate, Ford President Robert McNamara left to become President Kennedy’s Secretary of Defense soon after Iacocca’s appointment. Iacocca’s influence at Ford Motor Company increased accordingly.
Young, enthusiastic, and a car guy to the core, Iacocca was the polar opposite of McNamara, whose major accomplishments at Ford included turning the sensuous two-seat Thunderbird into a four-seat family sedan. (Though to be fair, McNamara nearly doubled Thunderbird’s sales as a result.) Iacocca wanted his company to think young. He remembered the Ford V-8 of his own youth which, with help from legions of hot rodders, gave Ford a performance image. Chevrolet snatched that image in the mid-1950s with its small-block V-8 and its classic “Tri Five” Chevys of 1955-57.
Iacocca (right) with Jimmy Clark (center), Benson Ford, and the double overhead cam V-8 that Ford developed for the Indianapolis 500. (THF110520)
Among Iacocca’s first moves were to get Ford Motor Company back into racing. He greenlit a striking mid-engine sports car prototype and then – with Henry Ford II, Leo Beebe, Carroll Shelby, Jacque Passino, and others – launched an all-out assault in nearly every form of racing under the banner “Total Performance.” By decade’s end, Ford had racked up victories in NASCAR, on drag strips, at Indianapolis, and at Le Mans. But Iacocca’s tenure at Ford is forever tied to one car.
The Youth Car Working in secret with a select team, Iacocca pitched the need for a “youth car” targeted at the up-and-coming Baby Boomers. He wanted something with the appeal of a Thunderbird, the look of a Ferrari, and the economy of a Volkswagen – a tall order to be sure. But Ford’s designers and engineers rose to the challenge. In one of the automotive industry’s great triumphs, they put a sporty body on the existing Ford Falcon compact car chassis, produced a seemingly endless menu of options and accessories that encouraged customers to personalize, and dubbed their new creation “Mustang” – a name that evoked freedom, open spaces, and, in the words of one marketing expert, “was American as all hell.”
Ford optimistically hoped to sell 200,000 Mustangs in the first model year. But the car’s splashy launch – at the 1964 New York World’s Fair – and a savvy marketing campaign kicked off a mania rarely seen in automotive showrooms. By the end of the 1965 model year, more than 680,000 buyers had taken a new Mustang home.
Mustang’s success made Iacocca a household name. But his rising star contributed to growing tensions between Iacocca and Henry Ford II, the company’s chairman and ultimate authority. After several difficult years, their strained relationship foundered and, in 1978, led to an acrimonious parting of the ways between Iacocca and Ford Motor Company.
Iacocca found the perfect pitchman for Chrysler – himself. His print and television ads made him one of the best-known business figures in the United States. (THF103024)
A Second Act No one could have blamed Iacocca if he’d retired then and there. The Mustang alone was enough to secure his legacy. But retirement wasn’t Iacocca’s style. He missed being at the center of the action. When the failing Chrysler Corporation offered him the job of CEO, he couldn’t resist. Iacocca’s second act was even more impressive than his first.
Iacocca took over a company in ruin. Chrysler was losing millions with little hope of recovery. His first and most important act was to secure a loan guarantee from the U.S. Congress. He then set about rebuilding the automaker’s product line. First came the K-Car, a highly-adaptable front-wheel drive platform that Chrysler offered under any number of makes, models and designs. Then came another vehicle that, like the Mustang before it, transformed the industry. The minivan, manifested in the Plymouth Voyager and the Dodge Caravan, was born of an idea Iacocca had toyed with at Ford to no avail. At Chrysler, the innovative minivan became a best-seller that redefined the family car for a generation of Americans. To top off his achievements, Iacocca added an evergreen marque to Chrysler’s lineup when he acquired American Motors and its enduring Jeep brand in 1987.
Eager to restore faith in Chrysler vehicles, Iacocca personally vouched for his products in a series of memorable television and print ads. He ended many of them with a simple, straightforward challenge to his audience: “If you can find a better car, buy it.” The ads were effective, and he enjoyed making them. In truth, he enjoyed the limelight. Through the 1980s, Iacocca added to his celebrity by writing two best-selling books, leading a successful effort to restore the Statue of Liberty, and appearing in a bit part on the popular TV series Miami Vice. For a time, there was even serious talk about Iacocca as a candidate for President of the United States.
Enough for Two Lifetimes Iacocca retired from Chrysler in 1992. He’d returned the company to profitability, restored its reputation, and repaid its government loan. But even then he didn’t really retire. With billionaire Las Vegas developer Kirk Kerkorian, Iacocca launched an unsuccessful takeover attempt of Chrysler in 1995. Ten years later, he returned to Chrysler – by then under German ownership as DaimlerChrysler – to shoot a few commercials, reprising his trademark “If you can find a better car…” slogan.
Lee Iacocca seemed to live two lifetimes in his 94 years. He enjoyed success at two car companies, and he fathered two groundbreaking vehicles. Iacocca lived to see the Mustang turn 50, and to see Chrysler fall into bankruptcy once more before remerging as a part of FCA. He will be remembered as long as there are people who love cars like he did.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
THF233334 / Advertising Process Photograph Showing the 1963 Ford Mustang II Concept Car.
The 1963 Mustang II (not to be confused with the Ford Pinto-based production Mustang II of the 1970s) surely is one of the most unusual concept cars ever built. Industry practice (and common sense) tells us that an automaker builds a concept car as a kind of far-out “dream car” to generate excitement at car shows. Most never go past the concept stage, but a few do make it into regular production. (Chevrolet’s Corvette and Dodge’s Viper are notable examples.) The Mustang II previewed the production Ford Mustang we all know and love, but the concept car was designed and built after the production Mustang project already was well underway! Why? It’s a case of managing public expectations.
Most Mustang histories start with the 1962 Mustang I, but devoted pony fans know that Mustang I was an entirely separate project from the production car. Ford built the “Mustang Experimental Sports Car” (its original name – the “I” was a retrospective addition) to spark interest in the company’s activities. Ford was going back into racing and looking for a quick way to create some buzz about the exciting things happening in Dearborn. The plan worked a bit too well. When Mustang I debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1962, and then hit the car show circuit, the public went crazy and sent countless letters to Ford begging the company to put the little two-seater into production.
At the same time Mustang I was being built, another team at Ford was working on the production Mustang that would debut in April 1964. Mustang I’s popularity created a problem: Everyone loved the two-seat race car, but would they feel the same about the four-seat version? The solution was to build a new four-seat prototype closely based on the production Mustang’s design.
Enter the 1963 Mustang II.
The new concept car wasn’t just based on the production Mustang’s design – it was actually built from a prototype production Mustang body. Ford designers removed the front and rear bumpers, altered the headlights and grille treatment, and fitted Mustang II with a removable roof. While the car looked different from the production Mustang, a few of the production car’s trademark styling cues were retained, including the C-shaped side sculpting and the tri-bar taillights. Mustang II also consciously borrowed from Mustang I, employing the 1962 car’s distinct white paint and blue racing stripes. Conceptually and physically, the four-seat Mustang II formed a bridge linking the 1962 Mustang I with the 1965 production car. Mustang II was a hit when it debuted at Watkins Glen in October 1963, and when the production version premiered six months later, there were few complaints about the four seats instead of two.
Fortunately, Mustang II is one “link” that isn’t “missing.” The Detroit Historical Society acquired the car in 1975 and has taken great care of it ever since.
We’ve said much on this blog about the Mustang, Ford vice-president Lee Iacocca’s sporty, affordable little pony car that targeted baby boomers and scored a direct hit. In the words of Ford’s memorable advertising campaign, the Mustang was “designed to be designed by you.” Depending on how you optioned it, your Mustang could be a cool-looking economy car, a Thunderbird-like personal luxury coupe, or a V-8 powered factory-built hot rod. It was a recipe for success, and customers bought more than 680,000 Mustangs in the initial 1965 model year.
With the Mustang racing up the sales chart, it was only natural that Lee Iacocca would want the Mustang literally racing. The car’s launch came in the midst of Ford’s “Total Performance” racing initiative, through which the company scored impressive victories in NASCAR, in endurance races, at drag strips, on rally courses, and even in the exalted Indianapolis 500. A few Mustang wins would add nicely to the publicity bonanza.
Iacocca turned to one of the foremost figures in American motorsport, Carroll Shelby, to make the Mustang into a credible race car. The good news was that Ford had a productive working relationship with Shelby already. His Shelby American shop was busy reworking Ford’s budding GT40 race car into a winning machine. The bad news was… that Shelby American was busy with the GT40. His hands already full with a prestige project, Carroll Shelby was reluctant to take on the Mustang. But Iacocca - ever the salesman - talked Shelby into the assignment.
At the time, in mid-1964, the most powerful engine available for the Mustang was Ford’s 289-cubic inch, 271-horsepower “Hi-Po” V-8 – known to fans as the “K-code” engine for its designation in the Mustang serial numbering scheme. These surely were impressive figures when compared to Mustang’s standard 170-cubic inch, 101-horsepower 6-cylinder engine – or even the basic 210-horsepower V-8 – but Shelby American did even better, modifying the “Hi-Po” engine to produce more than 300 horsepower. Having added power, Shelby’s team next subtracted weight by removing the Mustang’s rear seat and replacing the steel hood with a fiberglass unit. With the suspension suitably beefed up, the Shelby Mustang GT350 was born.
That name, incidentally, is a big part of the car’s lore. The “GT” came from “Grand Tourer” -- strictly speaking, a luxury performance car suitable for long-distance races, but simply associated with racing by the general public. The “350” was much more random. Apparently, Carroll Shelby grew tired of Ford’s long deliberations over his modified car’s name. He asked an associate to pace off the distance to a nearby building. It was about 350 steps, so a GT350 the car became!
Carroll Shelby had one more trick up his sleeve. If the Mustang was going to compete in Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) races, it was going to have to hold its own against more powerful Corvettes and more agile Jaguars. Thirty-six GT350s were further modified exclusively for competition. The GT350R (“R” for racing) had window glass replaced with lighter plexiglass, carpet removed, steel door panels traded for aluminum, and the front bumper replaced with a distinctive fiberglass apron to improve airflow to the radiator and reduce weight. The already potent engine was further refined to churn out better than 360 horsepower.
The GT350R dominated its class in SCCA’s 1965 racing season, taking five of six divisional championships, as well as the national championship. With the mission accomplished, and Iacocca satisfied, Shelby pulled his team out of competition for 1966, but other teams continued to win with the GT350R.
Fifty years later, the Shelby GT350 remains, to many fans, the ultimate Mustang. Given their low production numbers (only 562 GT350s were built for 1965, and just 36 of those were R competition vehicles), the cars command premium prices on the auction block -- on the rare occasions when they even cross the block. But they make for a fascinating sidebar in the history of Ford’s premier pony car.
Matt Anderson is Curator of Transportation at The Henry Ford.
The Mustang, America’s original pony car, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year. When the first generation Mustangs were being built, no one anticipated that they would become American classics and popular vehicles for restoration.
We have many cool pieces of Mustang history here at The Henry Ford, from...
Memorial Day, June 1, school letting out. It seems there are plenty of different dates that mark the beginning of summer for some people; the summer solstice on June 21 being far too late.
For me, summer has always begun with the flash of sunshine on chrome-heavy bumpers, the throaty roar of a high-performance engine, and the smell of barbecue tinged with a bit of exhaust – for me, summer begins on June 14 this year, and every year around this time, with our Motor Muster car show in Greenfield Village.
This event is the essence of summertime fun – distilled delight for all the senses. Just as novelist Ray Bradbury in his 1957 classic, Dandelion Wine, described the nostalgic summer wine made by the main character’s grandfather, Motor Muster is “...summer on the tongue...(it’s) summer caught and stoppered.”
Fifty years on, it’s almost impossible to imagine the American road without the Mustang. What would actor Steve McQueen have raced through the streets of San Francisco in Bullitt? What would singer Wilson Pickett have regretted buying for “Mustang Sally?” What would the 11,000 members of the Mustang Club of America celebrate? The Mustang is more than a car. It’s an icon, an image and a lifestyle.
Of course, none of this was predicted when Henry Ford II unveiled the Mustang at Ford Motor Company’s pavilion at the New York World’s Fair on April 17, 1964. Ford was taking a chance with an unprecedented concept pitched at an untested market. How and why the company took that gamble is a fascinating story of vision, determination and luck.
Riders began their journey on the Magic Skyway by passing through a glass tunnel around the outside of the Ford pavilion (lower left), affording a unique bird's-eye view of the fairground. (THF201987)
Some people called the 1964-65 New York World’s Fair the greatest fair ever, while others denounced it as a nostalgic look backward. Either way, no one could miss the mega-attractions that were staged by American corporations. Among these display “giants” was Ford Motor Company, who brought in Walt Disney to ensure that its corporate pavilion would be a blockbuster hit at the fair.
A Partnership is Formed
Ford and Disney both had their reasons for making a big splash at the New York World’s Fair.
Ford Motor Company executives wanted to tell their corporate story, showcase their products—including a special highlight on the new Ford Mustang—and provide a “unique and memorable entertainment adventure” that would outshine their competitors at the fair.
Walt Disney, by now internationally recognized for his success at Disneyland, was planning for the future. He looked to the fair as a place to try out new ideas and refine new technologies, obtain corporate funding to create new attractions, and test the receptiveness of East Coast audiences to his most recent dream—building a spacious new theme park in Florida. The Ford pavilion was one of four major attractions that Disney and his Imagineers at WED Enterprises would produce for the New York World’s Fair. (The other three attractions were Progressland for General Electric; Great Moments withMr. Lincoln for the State of Illinois; and it’s a small world for Pepsi-Cola.)
Using this detailed model, Walt Disney shows Ford Motor Company CEO and Chairman of the Board Henry Ford II some of the features that he and his Imagineers had dreamed up for the Ford pavilion. (THF114505)
Ford recognized that Disney represented not only “the greatest pool of creative talent available” but also had years of experience with crowd movement and control. Indeed, when Walt Disney brought in architect Welton Becket from Los Angeles to design the Ford pavilion, he directed Becket to provide space for two simultaneous shows, queuing areas, and product displays—allowing for a capacity of 4,000 guests per hour. Ford Motor Company executives were particularly interested in their pavilion taking on a rotunda form, in keeping with their previous structures at world’s fairs and to commemorate the loss of their beloved, recently-burned-down Ford Rotunda in Dearborn.
This page from a souvenir brochure shows the two distinct structures that made up the Ford pavilion: the so-called “Wonder Rotunda,” inspired by previous Ford world’s fair buildings, and the building that housed most of the Magic Skyway ride. (THF114832)
A Ride on the Magic Skyway
Disney Imagineers brought to the Ford pavilion all the experience they had gained in developing attractions at Disneyland.
As guests entered the Ford pavilion through the monumental Rotunda building, they encountered a series of colorful exhibits focusing on Ford’s history, global influence, and current products. The topics were Ford-related, but the treatment of virtually every element had the unique Disney touch. For example, the miniature villages of the International Gardens display were reminiscent of the miniscule settings at the Storybook Land Canal Boats attraction in Disneyland. Great moments in Ford Motor Company history were represented by several humorous, Disney-designed dioramas as guests took moving “speed ramps” to the upper level for the Magic Skyway ride. Near the ride queue, a Disney-created “animated orchestra” was comprised of ingeniously rigged Ford automobile parts.
Representing Ford Motor Company’s global reach, the Disney-designed International Gardens display featured miniature buildings, landscapes, and settings of 12 countries. (THF114465)
The “Auto Parts Harmonic Orchestra”—comprised of Ford automobile parts—really played music! (THF115025)
The climax of the Ford pavilion was, of course, the Magic Skyway ride—billed as “an exciting ride in a Company-built convertible through a fantasy of the past and future in 12 minutes.” It is quite possible that the idea of using real cars for the ride was Ford Motor Company’s, inspired by the “Road of Tomorrow” feature at its 1939 New York World’s Fair pavilion. There, guests had ridden in current car models along a “highway of the future.” But, this time, the cars were fixed in place, attached to a track that moved them along at evenly spaced intervals. Perfecting this ride track technology was, in fact, a major goal for Disney and his Imagineers at the fair.
Convertibles were chosen for the ride because they were easy to climb into and out of and because they afforded the greatest visibility for the show. Through most of the planning process, the choice of convertibles had included examples from all the regular Ford and Lincoln-Mercury lines—Falcon, Ford, Comet, Mercury, Lincoln-Continental, and Thunderbird. But, with mere months to spare before the fair’s opening on April 22, Ford realized the marketing potential in adding several of its new Ford Mustangs to the ride track as well.
Once settled inside their cars, guests used the push buttons of their car’s radio to hear sounds, music, and—after a brief welcome from Henry Ford II—the narration for the show in a choice of four different languages.
The ride began with the cars slowly gliding along outside the Rotunda building through a transparent glass tunnel. This idea, conceived by legendary Disney Imagineer John Hench, both afforded riders a perfect view of the fairground from the upper level of the pavilion and allowed fairgoers to glimpse the new Ford models from below.
Twin tracks can be seen here in the loading area of the Magic Skyway ride, where friendly attendants helped guests quickly and efficiently get into the next available convertible. Story has it that the Ford Mustang was so popular that guests would wait out their turn until a Mustang came along. (THF114475)
Guests enter the glass tunnel overlooking the fairgrounds in anticipation of their “Adventure through Time and Space.” (THF67946)
Back inside the pavilion, the cars picked up speed and the ride truly began. Rainbow-hued strobe lights flashed past while sound effects created the illusion that riders were hurtling through a “time tunnel,” racing across millions of years toward a far distant past.
Emerging from this time tunnel, guests found themselves in “a dim primeval place of strange sounds and sights.” Their cars moved past several gatherings of “prehistoric monsters”—some engaged in mortal combat, others combing the rugged and swampy terrain for food. But, within moments, climate and plant life shifted and Man made his appearance. Groups of cavemen could be seen discovering fire, painting on cave walls, fighting off vicious beasts, using stone as a tool, and—in a final vignette—using the wheel.
Riders on the Magic Skyway intently watch this primeval scene from the comfort of their Ford convertible. (THF114507)
For the scenes of the primeval past, Walt Disney had wanted to create an adventure “so realistic that guests will feel they have lived through a wonderful, once-in-a-lifetime experience.” To accomplish this, Disney Imagineers “brought to life” both the prehistoric creatures and the cavemen with their newest storytelling technology, Audio-Animatronics®. They had introduced this technology only recently—at the Enchanted Tiki Room in Disneyland in 1963, and they had much they wanted to refine on its details here at the fair.
Guests left these scenes behind and entered a second time tunnel, speeding past flashing, spinning, and twirling wheels that symbolized the progress of thousands of years. After their journey through time and space on a “Highway in the Sky,” they were dropped off at “Space City”—a “spectacular, impressionistic city of tomorrow.” Guests disembarked here, as the voice of Walt Disney—speaking through the car radio—invited them to enter a world “where tomorrow is created today.”
Returning to the real world of corporate exhibits, guests encountered five “Adventures in Science” displays, which highlighted Ford’s and Philco’s (a Ford subsidiary at the time) current research in the fields of space, electronics, power sources, fuel, and new materials.
Taking moving “speed ramps” back down to the first level, guests were encouraged to explore on their own the many Ford products and presentations on display in the elegant Product Salon. A final Disney-produced exhibit—featuring moving scenes of city and countryside—provided the backdrop for a Ford “Product Parade”—an “endless stream” of current Ford-built cars, trucks, and tractors.
After the Fair
The Ford pavilion and its Magic Skyway ride were, as hoped, a huge hit with the public and an unqualified success for both Ford and Disney.
For Ford Motor Company, millions of people riding the Magic Skyway experienced a ride in a Ford car for the first time. In addition, Ford’s idea to introduce the Mustang at the fair was a stroke of marketing genius, as the Ford Mustang would go on to become one of the best-selling automobiles in American history.
With its sporty look, reasonable price, and endless number of options, the Mustang hit a sweet spot in the market—appealing to a wide range of buyers. Ford was able to boast that it was a “show stopper” at the New York World’s Fair in this August 14, 1964 Time magazine advertisement. (THF77007)
With four top-ten attractions at the New York World’s Fair, Walt Disney established an impressive record working with large corporations. His Imagineers achieved in record time what might have otherwise taken years to accomplish. Their experiments with ride track technology would be further refined at Disneyland to become the WEDway People Mover, while their refinements with Audio-Animatronics® would find their way into many new attractions. Finally, Disney knew that his dream for a new theme park in Florida could proceed as planned. But for now he was happy to bring back all three non-Ford attractions from the New York World’s Fair back to Disneyland.
The Ford pavilion almost came back to Disneyland too. Walt Disney proposed to Ford Motor Company a re-envisioned attraction that would house a 1,000-seat theatre with a new, product-oriented stage show employing Audio-Animatronics® techniques, as well as a showroom for corporate products. The real cars of the Magic Skyway ride would be replaced by the new WEDway People Mover, circulating through the interior of the pavilion on its route around Tomorrowland. Ford Motor Company debated the pros and cons of Disney’s proposal but, in the end, declined his offer.
Ironically, only the dinosaurs of the Magic Skyway ride survived “extinction,” taking up residence in the Primeval World diorama along the Disneyland Railroad in July 1966.
Donna R. Braden is Curator of Public Life at The Henry Ford.