A Professional Car Designer Draws The Modern Fox Body We Wish Existed

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“Watch THIS!” cackled The Bishop as he threw a Mustang II and a Mustang S550 pair of diecast models into the the Autopian Matter Transporter (how else did you think we got David to Australia? A paid flight? Ha!). “No Bishop don’t do it!” I cried as alarms blared and smoke poured out of the flashing chamber. Too late. There was Bishop’s updated Mustang II glowing red hot on the rematerialization pad, a mixture of the proportions of the former and the graphics of the latter. I quickly ran off to hide my Hot Wheels collection from the maniac.

[Ed note: Adrian Clarke is a professional car designer who, in his spare time, gives us a chance to test out our craziest notions. Whether it’s a Mini-based trucklet or a Jeep Hypercar, no car idea is too strange for Adrian – MH]

When it’s time to design a new version of a long running model, there’s two basic ways you can go: evolution or revolution. Do you update the themes and ideas of the existing model, including any key visual identifiers, or do you chuck the whole lot in the bin and start over?

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To an extent, it depends on what your car is and where it sits in the market place. Something like the Golf has had a very careful evolution over it’s eight generations. It’s a mainstream heartland product so VW would never get crazy with it. But what’s interesting to me is that it used to be the norm to go for revolution. Countless cars from mainstream OEMs were replaced with models that bore little resemblance to their predecessors.

The Mustang was initially one of these cars. The first three generations owed nothing to each other visually or conceptually. When the SN95 in 1994 appeared it had a softer retro look that was sharpened in’99 to better align it visually with the other ‘New Edge’ design language Fords that were appearing at the time. However, when the 2005 fifth generation was released the design controls were fully set for 1964, and the Mustang has been there ever since. With the latest 2024 Ford Mustang, my whelm was well and truly under. Where was the revolution?

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Of course heritage sells cars. But the Mustang’s isn’t just one car from 1964. It’s at least three completely different cars up until 1994 (and even in that first generation the final models had substantially different sheet metal to the original car).

The Fox body was a result of Ford wanting to adopt a more European aero influence on the Mustang. Chief designer Jack Telnack had returned from a tour of duty in Europe and he pushed the design team away from updated Mustang II ideas and towards something else – a radical new laid back front end and a tailgate. He wanted something more akin to the European Ford Capri, but clearly American.

Sketchboard1

What I’ve tried to do is take the ideas of the Fox body, and it’s shape and give it a modern update. This isn’t meant to be a slavish re-imagining copying details like for like, but something more akin to what Nissan have done with the latest Z car. Something familiar, yet totally up to date.

I don’t always start off with side view thumbnails, but I felt in this case it was important to allow me to try and capture the Fox body proportions – an angular coupe with a raked rear windshield and short dash to axle ratio, coupled with that laid back front end. I didn’t want to have the classic Mustang scallop out of the side, as that would have screamed retro straight away. Instead I went for a modern, clean bodyside with minimal decoration.

Sketchboard2
Once the side view is established (as Daniel Simon once told me: ‘when you nail that it’s half the rent paid’) I got straight into front and rear three quarter thumbnails. If you spend a little more time with these they will form the basis for the full render, which is pretty much my usual way of working. I already knew I wanted the tailgate to form part of the overall glazing so it would ‘read’ as one continuous piece, smooth and flush running from the roof down to the rear bumper.

At the front, I knew I wanted blacked out headlights with a graphic running the entire width of the car, but I didn’t yet know what I was going to do for the air vents in the lower corner. That’s why they’re a bit indeterminate in the sketch. Quite often, you can sketch something and it looks good, only to find when you start adding color and shading in Photoshop it falls apart. My cunning plan was to get the body and graphics blocked in in Photoshop, and then experiment pathing out different shapes for the vents to get a feeling for what I liked.

Mustangf3q

As you can see from the front three quarter render I did settle on something. They’re quite simple and the idea is the vent flows all the way up to the outside of the headlight. In keeping with trying to stick to a modern look, I’ve kept the vents and shut lines very industrial looking. The full width ‘down the road graphic’ with three vertical elements is a bit of a call back I’ll admit, but again it’s straightforward and simple.

The body side has small amount of cladding at the bottom which becomes the front spoiler, and the side vent is just a small triangle incorporated into the bottom of the door. I think this looks nice and subtle and works well with the shape of the door opening.

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At the back the spoiler is integrated into the tailgate, which runs all the way to the bumper to get the opening as low as possible. The split horizontal tail lights appear to ‘float’ inside the transparency (this kind of thing is quite hard to illustrate, so you’ll have to take my word for it). The reason for the split is I’m thinking the upper element opens with the tailgate while the lower remains in place attached to the body in white, so we don’t need any extra ‘hidden’ special taillights for safety when the tailgate is open (sorry Torch).

A simple horizontal slot for the exhausts is shaped to mimic the line where the bumper meets the glass, and the whole thing is clean and unfussy. The beauty of this approach is the base car becomes a very effective canvas for differentiating the hotter models, which may have lower cladding and a more aggressive bumper treatment.

In the interests of full disclosure, I did once own a Fox body. I can’t remember the exact year, but it was an early eighties model with the utter boat anchor 3.3 straight six and weird shift pattern (I can’t remember if it was four or five speed. It was a long time ago and I’m old). I once convinced a girl to go on a date with me by promising her a ride in my Mustang. When we left the cinema in the darkness I proudly fired up my Sony CD autochanger (ask your parents) I had spent that afternoon installing to find I had no headlights. Stereo off. Headlights. Stereo on. No headlights. There’s no beginning to my genius.

So, do you think you want to take this to the cinema to see Bullitt III starring Chad McQueen? Or would you rather spin it into a ditch and drive your partner’s car instead?

(And yes, I know I forgot the door mirrors. I do this all the time. Back when I used to spend my weekends building 1/24th Monogram muscle cars I always forgot the mirrors as well.)

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69 Responses

  1. This isn’t a criticism, but that last image has strong IROC-Z vibes to me. Which is great, I hate the Fox mustangs and have an F-body myself. Design is pretty slick overall, I can’t think of anything I’d do differently. Maybe something darker and less body color in the lower bumper?

  2. Just beautiful, Adrian.

    This is what I kinda expected the S650 to look like, esp. the chiseled front end.

    Given that the current target consumer has fond memories of the Fox, I was surprised when Ford went with mostly a ’60s-themed design. I guess somebody on the marketing team mentioned “yeah but all the ’90s kids loved that Mustang in the Nic Cage Gone in 60 Seconds” and they hung their hat on that?

    I love how your cladding gets a little at the Fox’s (in GT form after the mid-80s refresh)…but can we see some turbine wheels too?!

  3. If I’d seen it without the running horse badges and someone asked me what it is and update of, I am pretty sure I would’ve guessed “Fox body Mustang”. (The black roof and odd tires and rims would have thrown me off a little, but I still think I would’ve guessed it.)

    Other than the black roof, odd tires and rims, and missing mirrors, I think you nailed it.

        1. I haven’t built a plastic kit for years, but I used to love building Revell and Monogram 1/24 American cars.
          I kind of still kept buying kits though, I have a bit of a build pile in Mother Dearest’s loft. Think I have an Apollo Lunar, the Airfix HMS Illustrious and Wolf Land Rover and some squaddies to go with, plus a few more non-cars (including a J3 Piper Cub which I have been looking for YEARS).

          1. Here in the States, there’s been a surprise little vogue for model kits of late, I suspect due to the pandemic. My local stores have them again after nothing for years. Biggest surprise is Walmart’s selection.

            And apropos current discussion here, what’s interesting is that they’re all retro. As in, the box art is a copy of the ones from the ’60s and ’70s and there are very few current cars available in model form.

            That said, I bought a Chris-Craft 1950s speedboat kit b/c so cool.

  4. I think you highly underestimate how old everyone is.

    From a recent date:
    Me: “Well it wasn’t a cassette, I’m not that old.”
    Him: “We’re almost the same age, you are 100% that old.”
    Me: “Dammit you’re right.”

        1. What fries my brain is that I still listen to music that is say thirty or forty years old (punk, eighties electro pop, hair metal, grunge etc).

          I cannot imagine back in my grunge phase (early to mid-nineties) listening to music from the forties and fifties.

          1. I… distinctly remember a trip my family had waaaaaay back in 90-91. My parents had 1 cassette and they played it constantly on a trip from Phila / Pa to Florida / Walt Disney World. Might have been 2 days of nonstop driving. Maybe we stopped somewhere.

            That makes no sense… I understand…
            On that Casette played some music by some dude in the 50s or 60s named Gene Pitney. I havent heard of him before, since or up to then. Now, Phila radio had a station called WOGL.FM going back to the late 80s. — How do I remember.. cause they had a 59 Caddy driving around as part of their motif.

  5. Us plebeians applaud your restrained wheel size 😉

    I like it – although personally, the most emblematic design feature on fox bodies were the stencil/shutter taillights. https://www.blueovalindustries.com/media/catalog/product/cache/1/image/1800x/040ec09b1e35df139433887a97daa66f/l/g/lg0125-gt-kit__6.jpg

    Hyundai seems to be playing in that realm and it could be an interesting take – props on not doing three vertical lines, at least.

    1. Back in those days (this was 25 years ago) the MOT testers were pretty lenient on flashing red taillights instead of amber indicators so it wasn’t a problem. I don’t think any of my four had amber indicators and I always thought that was cool – like I was driving a proper American car.

      These days they’re a lot stricter and of course lights are not just lights now – they’re an integrated system on new cars so it’s a bit harder to convert them. And they have to be converted. The UK market Mustang on has two bar vertical tailights. The third is the indicator and it looks shit.

  6. As always with these, I thoroughly enjoy being walked through the process and hearing about the thoughts behind the various elements. Would definitely like to see how this translates to three dimensions as my only real criticism is the front three quarter view kind of looks like it’s a 4:3 image stretched to fit a 16:9 screen. The back works very well though

    1. If I was doing this in the studio, or for a personal project, I probably would knock up a quick scratch model in 3D. Probably just the basic body lines as curves in Alias at first with simple cylinders for the wheels. You can then use this as an underlay to get your sketches accurate. When doing these articles there isn’t really the time for that though.

  7. Back in the late 60s, Bunkie Knudsen, who had been head of Pontiac and then Chevy, defected to Ford where he was soon fired because the Deuce (Henry II) and Lee Iacocca felt Bunkie was making Fords look like Chevy’s – or Pontiacs.

    Somehow I’m feeling the ghost of Bunkie has inhabited the Bishop’s soul.

    Also, the tail lights are from a ’68 Firebird. I’m pretty sure your resident tail light expert would agree.

  8. A couple things to consider: The rear part of the DLO needs to be straight across rather than kicked up. As is it evokes early Camaro rather than Foxstang, and rather strongly. I get why you did the taillights they way you did, but they’re near-exact copies of early Firebird. If you want a horizontal motif, look at Fox Capris; they used horizontal louvers that wouldn’t look out of place. And you missed an opportunity to do a modern interpretation of the TRX 3-spoke wheels. If you do an interior render, don’t forget the mesh headrests.

  9. Reserving judgement because silver. Like others, I grew up seeing herds of fox bodies. Red ones, white ones, black ones, yellow ones, blue ones, even gray ones but very few “shades/tones of silver” ones.
    So I can’t wrap my brain around this one as it is.

    1. It’s quite common to render models in silver as it’s a neutral color. In the studio, the initial clays are always wrapped in silver Di-Noc for this very reason. You don’t get distracted by the color and instead focus on the shape and the highlights.

    2. 1980’s Ford silver paint didn’t last real long. I’ve had a 1980 gray Mercury Capri(foxbody) and a 1984 Silver SVO Mustang and a 1986 Silver SVO Mustang and all three the paint would just get thinner and thinner over the years.

      I do love fox body Mustangs!

  10. I’m only one person but if I were the person hiring a designer at your 1st job you wouldn’t be a car designer. You do have the ultra dark pictures that hide every flaw, then the front end of a Fiero, with the backend of the worst Trans-am. Not sure why copying is considered designing? Not sure why ugly is designing. But the clothing industry celebrates weird methheads designing unbearable combination of fabric they call a design put it on a three quarter naked 12 year old and ask a fortune for it. I don’t know maybe put a half naked 14 year old in your design concepts to draw the eye away from the copying of cars that were ugly to begin with?

    1. Glad you like it, thank you. Ultimately we don’t know what the brief was in the studio, but I can guarantee you some young sketch monkey will have done something like this at some point. If I was in Dearborn I know I certainly would have done.

  11. As a Fox fan and someone who appreciates the cyberpunk aesthetic I love this, but it needs the tri-bar taillights. At this point to me that is one of the defining characteristics of a Mustang, even if some Foxes eschewed them. Other than that, this is fantastic, and while I do like the S650, I was really hoping for something more revolutionary.

    1. To be honest I went back and forwards in my head as to whether to do them or not. In the end I decided against because part of my half-assed point is that each of the first three Mustangs bore no relation to the others.
      But you are right, they are kind of cemented now as a Mustang trademark. In reality if I was doing this for a project or in the studio, I’d do as many different light graphics as I could come up with, and the three vertical bars would definitely be one of them.

      1. I always liked the horizontal three-piece units of the early SN95 – though they were extremely early 90s in hindsight – and I find myself thinking it might have been neat to do three bars like that.

        But Fox bodies had a ton of taillight variations so you’re not really tied down when that’s the starting point.

        1. Yes the SN95 tail lights were a nice twist on the theme. I really liked the SN95 when it came out, and still do to a degree, although I do now think it’s a little soft in some areas, and although I wouldn’t say it looks dated, it is VERY of it’s time. But it’s not overly retro, and it’s much better than the ’99 reskin which is borderline ugly.

  12. I like it a lot! It looks modern and fresh but obviously a Mustang, and it gets rid of the big angry mouth problem that Mustangs have had for the past couple of generations. The only thing I question are the taillights: they’re too close to the new Nissan Z taillights.

    And I always forgot the mirrors too. Or else I’d do the mirrors, then realize I left out the little reflective part on the chrome sprue. I think I missed an upper radiator hose or two as well.

  13. I like it, and I always liked the look of the Fox bodies, but something is giving me Camaro vibes. Which isn’t bad at all; I actually would like to see the Mustang shrink a little from a large GT to something smaller. The tail lights are giving me strong 300ZX vibes, though. Maybe they’re reconfigurable LEDs?

    1. Word. I had an ’83 Camaro daily driver for most of the last half of the 90’s. Flatten and lower that belt line, ditch the pretty ponies, and tip the spoiler up a bit and it would look nearly identical. Wait…does that mean the perfect Mustang is a Camaro?

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