Gale Halderman, an automotive artist who was the first to sketch the original Ford Mustang, wasn’t as well-known or commended as Lee Iacocca, but automotive historians know he had plenty to do with the design of the iconic pony car. Halderman died of liver cancer on April 30. He was 87.
“Gale Halderman was truly one of the unsung heroes of post-war automotive design,” says author and Hagerty contributor Colin Comer. “When he penned the long hood/short deck concept that became the Mustang, with its groundbreaking side scallop and ‘scoop,’ he literally created a cultural icon, as well as an entire genre of similarly styled pony cars that popped up to ride the Mustang’s coattails.
“And when he returned to the studio later to create the Fox-body Mustang, he did it all over again with yet another iconic design that is also loved by millions around the world.”
The Ford Mustang was unveiled at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, with Iacocca front and center. The longtime Ford executive was a marketing genius, and the success of the Mustang landed him on the cover of Time and Newsweek. He is often referred to as “the father of the Mustang,” but a modest Halderman—the behind-the-scenes guy—could have also laid claim to the title.
“Gale’s Mustang legacy, although little known, is right up there with Iacocca and Carroll Shelby in my book,” Comer says. “It’s a very sad day for Mustang enthusiasts everywhere, whether they know who Gale Halderman was or not.”
Matt Anderson, curator of transportation at The Henry Ford museum, echoed Comer. “Sad news for Mustang fans everywhere,” Anderson told the Detroit Free Press. “Lee Iacocca will always be remembered as the father of the Mustang, but he was merely the driving force behind a team of talented designers, engineers, and marketers—with Mr. Halderman prominent among them.”
Jimmy Dinsmore, author of Mustang by Design: Gale Halderman and the Creation of Ford’s Iconic Pony Car, described Halderman as a humble man who “touched the heart of every Mustang enthusiast out there,” according to the Free Press. “As great of a designer as he was, he was an even better human being.”
Halderman, a native of Tipp City, Ohio, graduated from the Dayton Art Institute in 1954 and was hired by Gene Bordinat as a designer in the Lincoln-Mercury studio. According to Ford Motor Company, Halderman worked in Alex Tremulis’ Advanced studio for a short period before being sent to the Ford studio. He was later assigned to the Ford Preproduction Studio before moving on to the Truck studio.
Halderman became manager of Elwood Engel’s Corporate Advanced studio in 1958 and eventually helped design the Levacar, the Mark IX, the X Sixty Five, the Astrion, the ’61 Continental, and the Gyron. Halderman also supervised the design of production car proposals in competition with the other studios.
He was one of the designers of the 1965 Ford, and the primary designer of the original Mustang.
“As we mourn the loss of our dear friend Gale, we remember his amazing contribution to the introduction of our Pony car,” said Ford spokesman Berj Alexanian. “While there were countless accomplishments in Gale Halderman’s 40-year career at Ford Design, certainly none was more impactful than his work penning the shape of one of the world’s most iconic cars, the Mustang.”
Halderman retired from Ford Motor Company in 1994, but he remained actively involved in the automotive community, particularly in Tipp City. The Halderman Barn Museum, which includes Halderman’s Mustang collection and many of his drawings, has been a frequent gathering spot for enthusiasts. The museum, which is run by his family, will be remain open by appointment.
Halderman is survived by daughters Karen Koenig, Kim Learning, and Carol Marchelletta; nine grandchildren; and eight great-grandchildren. His wife of 60 years, Barbara, passed away in 2013.