As a kid of the ’90s, I fundamentally believe that the best looking cars resemble a bar of soap. That’s why the original SN95 Mustang – not the “New Edge” update (what wasn’t extremely New Edge-y, let’s be honest) – has aged so beautifully in my eyes. I suppose my opinion is partly a reaction to the increasingly restless behavior of passenger cars over the past 20 years, but that’s neither here nor there.
I’m bringing back memories of the fourth generation Mustang because I recently came across a trio of pre-production designs that I kind of missed when Ford resurfaced them in 2013. These won’t be new to Mustang faithful, but they’re interesting to think about nonetheless, because nothing is more intriguing than what could have been.
You may already know that the SN95 was an unplanned project for Ford. In the late ’80s, the automaker was so confident the new probe that it intended to quietly retire the Mustang with the third generation Fox body model. Worse, it didn’t expect people to be so upset about it.
Of course that didn’t happen. Once Ford learned that the love for the Mustang was still strong, the engineers more or less had to work with what they had in the Fox platform, while the designers did what they could to reframe those old bones in a fresh, forward-thinking way to wear.
That led to three outside suggestions named “Jenner,” “Schwarzenegger,” and “Rambo” — ranging from friendly to aggressive in appearance. The Schwarzenegger, pictured above, eventually got the green light, and the production Mustang we got is very similar to that concept, save for a slight change to the lower front fascia.
As for the rejected designs, they look so different that they might as well be from different brands. In the Jenner pitch, we see the rounded surfaces and general blandness that would define much of the Blue Oval lineup in the ’90s with cars like the “Ovoid” Taurus and Escort ZX2. It was even more restrained than the production SN95.
That said, now that we’re some distance from a time when every new car looked like this, I really dig the Jenner design. It has a bit of Cadillac Catera/Opel Omega in the headlights. There’s subtle sportiness in the way the bonnet blends into those flared fenders which together with that single uninterrupted cut line running from the boot lid through the profile all make for a very clean and attractive if understated look .
Rambo, on the other hand, looks like an alien reptile just before it pounces on you. It’s far busier and borderline goofy, with “teeth” under the fog lights and a gap between the rear edge of the side windows and the B-pillar suggesting a second pair of vents. That tiny spoiler bridging those two gigantic wraparound taillights would also have been extremely unusual for the time.
This one is more liftback than coupe 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 gives the Mustang a sense of urgency and importance, as if Ford were aiming for the grittier and more sinister Dodge Viper. I wonder what would have become of the pony car today if the fourth generation model had looked like this.
In the end, Ford management settled on the middle 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 best?