As a child of the 90s, I fundamentally believe that the most beautiful cars look like a bar of soap. That’s why the original SN95 Mustang — not the “New edgerefresh (what wasn’t extreme New Edge-y, let’s be real) – has aged so beautifully in my eyes. I suppose my opinion is partly a reaction to the increasingly agitated behavior of passenger cars over the past 20 years, but that is neither here nor there.
I’m reminiscing about the fourth-generation Mustang because I recently came across a trio of pre-production designs that I somehow missed when I Ford resurfaced them in 2013† These won’t be new to Mustang believers, but they are interesting to ponder nonetheless, as nothing is more fascinating than what could have been.
You may already know that the SN95 was an unplanned project for Ford. In the late 1980s, the car manufacturer had so much confidence in the new probe that it planned to quietly retire the Mustang with the third-generation Fox body model. Worse, it didn’t expect people to be so sad about it.
Of course that didn’t happen. When Ford discovered that the love for the Mustang was still strong, engineers more or less had to work with what they had in the Fox platform, while designers did what they could to dress up those old bones in a fresh, forward-looking way.
That resulted in three exterior proposals – named “Jenner”, “Schwarzenegger” and “Rambo” – ranging from friendly too aggressive in appearance. The Schwarzenegger, seen above, was eventually green-lighted, and the production Mustang we got is very similar to this concept, except for a minor tweak to the lower front end.
As for the rejected designs, they are so very similar they might as well come from different brands. In the Jenner field, we see the rounded surfaces and general harmlessness that would come to define much of the Blue Oval lineup in the 1990s, with cars like the “Ovoid” Taurus and Escort ZX2. It was even more reserved than the production SN95.
That said, now that we’re some distance from a time when every new car looked like this, I really love the Jenner design. It has a little bit of Cadillac Catera/Opel Omega in the headlights. The way the bonnet transitions into those flared fenders is subtly athletic, and when combined with that single, unbroken cut line extending from the deck lid through the profile, it all combines for a very clean and handsome, albeit understated look.
Rambo, on the other hand, looks like an alien reptile right before it lunges at you. It’s much busier and idiotic, with “teeth” under the fog lamps and a gap between the trailing edge of the side windows and the B-pillar, hinting at a second pair of vents. That little spoiler bridging those two giant enveloping taillights would also have been extremely unusual for the time.
This one is more liftback than coupé, and far less pedestrian than the other two proposals. As much as I appreciate the simplicity of the final SN95 we eventually got, the Rambo concept imparts a sense of urgency and importance to the Mustang, as if Ford were aiming for the more gritty and sinister Dodge Viper. I wonder where the pony car would have evolved today if the fourth generation model looked like this.
In the end, Ford management decided to go for the middle-of-the-road Schwarzenegger proposal—the kind of compromise you’d expect from the Big Three in the ’90s. The rest is history. Which brings us to my final question: which of the three do you like the most?