The Mustang’s Iconic Galloping Emblem Was No Accident

Waino Kangas’ final wooden sculpture of the production grille pony. Ford

April 17 marked sixty years since the Ford Mustang’s public debut at the 1964 New York World’s Fair. The original pony car immediately became a pop-culture and automotive phenom, and it remains one of the most impactful cars in history. We’re celebrating with stories of the events surrounding the Mustang’s launch, the history of the early cars, and tales from owners. Click here to follow along with our multi-week 60 Years of Mustang coverage. -Ed.

The word “iconic” is misused to describe mundane or obscure cars all too often. In the case of the Ford Mustang, there’s no question that the term is warranted. Over the car’s 60-year history, it has been a whopping sales success, a cultural trend setter, and a motorsports champion. If we boil the essence of the Mustang down to just one image, a single icon if you will, it has to be the galloping Mustang emblem that’s graced every generation of Ford’s famous pony car since its inception. It’s hard to imagine it any other way, but the emblem, styled by Ford’s Waino Kangas, could have been much different. Here are several iterations that were tried before the winning formula was discovered.

1962 Mustang I Concept

Brandan Gillogly

The public’s first look at a running Mustang emblem came in October 1962 when the Mustang I concept was first shown. The Chevrolet Corvair had a lot of influence on this concept, which was powered by a mid-mounted 1.6-liter Ford Taunus V-4 engine, the same engine that saw widespread use in Ford’s European models and a few Saabs. Ford hoped the production Mustang would capture some of the youth market that had been quick to scoop up the sporty, affordable trims of the rear-engine Corvair. However, as Ford would soon prove, the engine location was nowhere near as important as the sporty appearance and affordable price tag. Early emblem designs, while still galloping Mustangs, weren’t a side profile of a horse, rather one running slightly toward the viewer.


Ford Cougar


It seems like a foregone conclusion that Ford’s two-door, sporty compact would be named Mustang. This internal photo from Ford shows that the earliest iteration of the model that eventually became Mustang with a different genus of pony car emblem entirely. Ford tasked its designers to envision a sporty four-seater, and more than a dozen versions were created. The design that would become the Mustang was initially dubbed “Cougar” by Gale Halderman, the designer responsible. That magnificent feline wouldn’t go to waste, however, as the lanky cat would show up on the production Mercury Cougar in 1967. Halderman did influence the Mustang’s emblem though. Note that the above Cougar is enclosed by a ring around it—this would be adopted by Mustang and become known as the “corral.”



Hindsight is 20/20, of course, but you don’t have to be from the future to know that there were better options for a sporty car emblem than this square badge. Is it a chess piece or a Pepperidge Farm cookie representing the same? Perhaps it was left over from the Willys Knight. Hard pass.

Mustang II Concept

The Mustang II was built from one of the development prototypes during the summer of 1963 for its debut at the U.S. Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October.Ford

Showing considerable evolution toward the final product, the Mustang II concept was first revealed to the public on October 5, 1963, at Watkins Glen. While the steeply raked windshield was not intended for production, the general shape of the roof was there and its flanks were getting very close. Up front, the headlights were radical, although the grille was almost dead on. This was the first time the public had seen a running Mustang enclosed in its corral.  

Uncanny Valley


To prove just how iconic and specific the galloping Mustang iconography is tied to the Mustang, look at how unsettling it is when one simple detail is altered. We’ve got a feeling there’s a universe where Ford picked this version and detective Lieutenant Bullitt drove a Firebird, the Miracle on Ice never happened, and Seinfeld was canceled after the pilot.


Check out the Hagerty Media homepage so you don’t miss a single story, or better yet, bookmark it. To get our best stories delivered right to your inbox, subscribe to our newsletters.

Read next Up next: Vellum Venom Vignette: The 1965 Mustang’s “Interior” Motives


    It’s not simply that the Mustang emblem is iconic. It’s a work of industrial art. The hard lines used to create shape also create shadow and are modern enough that the emblem doesn’t need to be refined to stay current with changing design trends.The horse is caught in full gallop; the mane and tail expressing speed, and the head pointed forward with purpose. When asked about his career, Kangas could simply have said, “I designed the Ford Mustang emblem,” and would have needed to say nothing more.

    It’s funny that the original name for the Mustang was Cougar cause the original name for the Camaro was Panther

    That Mustang I concept was like a skateboard. it could have made an interesting car to have been raced in.

    Lee said – in regards to the Mustang 1 concept – ” I personally killed that cock robin ” . Which I remember because it’s such an old antiquated term that means first born.

    I came across a story once, I don’t remember where or when but it was a fair time ago, that the Mustang emblem should have been facing the other way like the “Uncanny Valley” picture. According to the story the horse was intended have been running from the viewer’s left to right in order to give the same view as a spectator sitting in the stands at a race track watching the horses come down the home stretch. Apparently design was somehow reversed and approved by Ford brass in the “wrong” orientation. Once approved for production it has never been changed.

    I have to admit that I’ve never gone to the horse races so I can’t say whether the backstory is complete nonsense or not. And like I said, I have no idea where this came from.

    Urban legend? Something to it? Half-forgotten hallucination? I’m curious if anyone else has heard this tale.

    Yes, I’ve heard this story in the past as well. The version I recall had some ford executives looking over the front of the car and they noticed the pony running in the wrong direction (expecting the horse running in the same direction as they did at the races). I forgot which person it was that defended the orientation, but their response was that a Mustang was a wild horse and ran in any direction it wanted. LOL.

    The Mustang I Concept looks more like a C2 than a Corvair to me, and I love it! And is that Mustang II Concept sitting on a turntable built into a parking lot??

    Lotus -never heard that story. Maybe something to it but it would only seem natural that the pony be running forward as it is, if I’m reading you right. For another bit of iconic auto art the ‘ Watch The Fords Go By ‘ poster done by A.M. Cassandre is really something especially when seen full size.

    Ironic, that the Mustang wasn’t even named after the horse! John Najjar, came up with the name, because he was enamored with WWII airplanes, thus the North American P-51 Mustang! At least he didn’t use the North American B-25 Mitchel, or the prewar, Boeing P-26 Peashooter. Instead of pony cars, we would have Mitchel cars?

    As I was a teenager in the 60s, I read anything I could find on the Mustang. Best I recall (and it is six decades later), Henry II was enamored and jealous of Ferrari. So he was very much in favor of a horse theme. And, although the convention of the day was for images of a horse running right to left, the Deuce liked the symbolism of the ‘Wild Mustang’ running against convention. And, perhaps, against the prancing horse of Ferrari.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *