As a child of the ’90s, I fundamentally believe the best looking cars resemble a bar of soap. That’s why the original SN95 Mustang – not the “New Edge”Refresh (which was not extremely New Edge-y, let’s be real) – has aged so nicely to my eyes. I assume my opinion is partly a reaction to the increasingly agitated demeanor of passenger cars over the last 20 years, but that’s neither here nor there.
I raise the memory of the fourth-generation Mustang because I recently happened across a trio of pre-production designs that I’d somehow missed when Ford resurfaced them back in 2013. These will not be new to the Mustang faithful, but they’re nevertheless interesting to pore over, because nothing’s more fascinating than what could’ve been.
You may already know that the SN95 was an unplanned project for Ford. Back in the late ’80s, the automaker was so confident in the new Probe that it intended to quietly retire the Mustang with the third-generation Fox-body model. Even worse, it did not expect people would be all that sad about it.
That, of course, did not happen. Once Ford learned love for the Mustang was still strong, engineers had to more or less work with what they had in the Fox platform, while designers did what they could to dress those old bones up in a fresh, forward-looking way.
That resulted in three exterior proposals – named “Jenner,” “Schwarzenegger” and “Rambo” – ranging from friendly to aggressive in appearance. The Schwarzenegger, seen above, ended up getting the green light, and the production Mustang we got closely resembles this concept save for a slight tweak to the lower front fascia.
As for the rejected designs, they look so vastly unlike each other that they may as well have come from different brands. In the Jenner pitch we see the rounded surfaces and general inoffensiveness that would come to define much of the Blue Oval’s lineup in the ’90s, with cars like the “Ovoid” Taurus and Escort ZX2. It was even more reserved than the production SN95.
That said, now that we’ve got some distance from a time when every new car looked like this, I really dig the Jenner design. It has a little bit of Cadillac Catera / Opel Omega in the headlights. There’s subtle athleticism in the way the hood blends into those flared fenders, which, coupled with that single, unbroken cut line reaching from the decklid through the profile, all combine for a very clean and handsome, if restrained look.
Rambo, on the other hand, looks like an alien reptile moments before it lunges at you. It’s much busier and borderline silly, with “teeth” below the fog lights and a gap between the trailing edge of the side windows and B pillar, hinting at a second pair of vents. That tiny spoiler bridging those two gigantic wraparound taillights would’ve been extremely unusual for the time as well.
This one’s more liftback than coupe, and far less pedestrian than the other two proposals. As much as I appreciate the simplicity of the final SN95 that we eventually got, the Rambo concept ascribes a sense of urgency and importance to the Mustang, as if Ford was taking aim at the more raucous and sinister Dodge Viper. I wonder what the pony car might’ve evolved into today if the fourth-gen model looked like it.
In the end, Ford management decided to pick the middle-of-the-road Schwarzenegger proposal – the sort 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 best?