Driven to Fail Podcast #5: The man who saved the Mustang


What does it mean to really care about what you do? How much should you have to compromise when building something great?

Four weeks ago, Hagerty launched a new podcast, Driven to Fail. The show is about what happens when things go wrong—what we do when life falls apart, and what we learn when we put it back together. Each episode is an hour, give or take, a candid and revealing conversation with a single guest.

I’m Sam Smith, the host. You can read more about the show, and me, here.

Episode 5 begins streaming today. Our guest is John Coletti—the engineer who famously saved the Ford Mustang from a fate worse than death, and the project chief on the first Ford GT supercar.

Ford GT John Coletti

In the 1990s and early 2000s, Coletti ran Ford’s Special Vehicle Team. He grew it into a standalone business, helping birth a remarkable collection of projects, cars that everyone remembers.

In addition to making a huge gamble with personal stakes to help keep the rear-drive Mustang alive, Coletti chiefed the programs that produced the second-generation F-150 Lightning, the SVT Focus, and the Cobra R and Cobra “Terminator” Mustangs. On top of that, he capped his career, just before retirement, by spearheading development on the 2005 Ford GT.

Driven To Fail_Thumbnail_EP5 John Coletti with host Sam Smith

Like any creative endeavor, carmaking is a battle, a series of negotiations. You win some, you lose some, and if you’re any good at all, you spend a lot of time trying to turn losses into wins. Coletti is no stranger to that process, but before we began taping, he did something no other Driven to Fail guest has done: He asked if we could keep our chat positive.

Of course, I said—that’s the whole point of the show, finding light in the dark.

He smiled. But then, this is a man who once put his job on the line, against steep odds, because he believed in something greater than himself. You’d expect nothing less.


Driven to Fail can be downloaded or streamed wherever you get your podcasts. This link will take you to the show’s Apple page. Its home on Spotify is here.

If faces are more your thing, a video of each episode lives on the Driven to Fail YouTube channel.

If try our show and like it, please tell your friends. Even better, share a link or leave a positive review. A warm response will help make a second season happen, so hearing from you matters.

Barring all that, drop a line directly: I’d love your thoughts.

Thanks for listening!


Read next Up next: Vision Thing: The art of war


    John not only saved the Mustang from becoming the Probe but he actually saved the F body Camaro and Firebird. Had the Probe become the Mustang it would have most likely kept the GM guys on the GM 80 program of a FWD AWD F body replacement.

    The GM 80 was canceled when the Fox body was saved. It led to a 4th gen F body.

    The cancelation of the GM 80 also doomed the Fiero as the GM 80 was going to be built in the Fiero plant to take up the capacity once the Fiero settled to the 36K units a year they expected.

    Moves of one company can have a ripple effect in the industry.

    Same thing happened when the Mustang arrived. It was to compete with the Corvair but it was cheaper to build and faster. GM countered with the Camaro that was cheaper to build and faster. This doomed the Corvair not nadar.

    What is interesting is the 1990 Fiero GT design was reused to make the 4th gen F body. The profiles are the same and it was adapted to Front engine Real Hatch. They even used the same dash panel

    Between Sam and hyperv6, I may yet be able to drill deeper into car architecture and machinery, but when I saw the “Saved the Mustang” heading I assumed the subject would be the Mustang’s devolution into mediocre appearance around 1980 and how Coletti not only saved the Mustang as a performance car, but also restored the aggressive front end. I’ve been poking around online this morning, and have seen that the classic Mustang DNA did not reassert itself until around 2000. I recall when Mustangs started looking like pieces of scheiss. By 1994 I would have welcomed a funeral. I see now that Mr. Coletti restored the aggressive engineering the resurrection of the aggressive profile would have to wait.

    The most enjoyable sections had to do with the skunk works, and the amazing tale about the 250 “prototypes” that got built, distributed and sold before the C-Suite caught on. There’s got to be some BS in there somewhere, but it won’t ruin the story for me. Heck, print the legend. Anyway, another win for “Driven to Fail.” Only two more episodes? Don’t tell me that we’re going to have to bring back Coletti to save the podcast!

    Although loaded with facts or conjectures, the article too confusing. Kept jumping from one subject to another then a dozen adverts and when a conclusion was reached, more adds then the article continued on yet a different sub-thesis?

    My suggestion is for author to use an index of coherent thoughts and follow some sort of an outline.

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