Nearly 80 years ago, in the clear summer skies above our island, the Ford Mustang was being created. This is the story of some surprising co-incidental connections and links between the automotive industry, some extraordinary people and locations, which might add a certain dynamic to your holiday reading. So sit back and relax whilst I take you on an extraordinary journey of fun facts that will keep you amused.

My story began when one of my friends took delivery of the latest Ford Mustang. I ride off an R1250 GS BMW motorbike, so I am hard to impress with anything that takes up a lot of room on the road. The engineering behind it is something else, but before you start yawning and fall asleep, you might be interested to know that the Ford Mustang, even though having a horse emblem on its nose, is not in fact inspired by horses at all.

All Goes Back to the 1940s

Back in the 1940s when Europe in general and your parents, their parents and grandparents were fighting for your very existence some of them would have witnessed dogfights over our cities as we fought for our very survival. The noise they would have heard was that of a Rolls-Royce in full battle cry driven by our young and often terrified RAF combatants up against hellish odds.

Up there in the sky above were two luxury car makers and John Moses Browning of machine gun fame in full voice. Apart from Rolls-Royce, Marc Birkigt, another Swiss-born Spanish resident and latter-day luxury automotive engineer developed a deadly 20mm cannon capable of inflicting great damage on the fortified German bombers. So, despite Swiss neutrality, it was definitely all kicking off up there as we might say today. The sound of gunfire mixed with aircraft engines must have been amazing.

Industrial-scale Aircraft Production

The big problem was keeping up with demand, and war is the perfect growth driver. So Ford motor company stepped in. They started building B-24 bombers (see image below). With their mass production expertise they contributed directly and indirectly to nearly 10,000 aircrafts. Henry Ford was not wildly keen on fighting the Germans. He had substantial assets in Germany which, although limited damage and for the most part kept producing (in many cases we would have rather they didn’t), managed to contribute to both sides. They were reading between the lines, stuck amidst a rock and a hard place.

B-24 bomber

B-24 Bomber

How Memphis Belle Came into Play

About this time the film “Lady for a Night” came out. It starred John Wayne and Joan Blondell. The story was located in Memphis and featured a paddle steamer called the Memphis Belle. Meantime Robert K Morgan was about to name his  Boeing B-17F Flying Fortress, of which he was the captain, The Margret Polk after his girlfriend back home in the States. Thankfully, he decided to put it to the vote of his crew, who fortuitously elected the “Memphis Belle” as the name, after the film prop, as I doubt the ‘Margret Polk’ would have quite the same appeal. In the film the Sally B (B17 – still flying) doubled for the Belle. It lives at Duxford these days and needs a lot of money to keep it flying. It is a film star in its own right having starred in about eight films. At the end of the war, Boeing took over the various brands and businesses involved in the war effort to become the company we know today, more or less.

Memphis belle

Memphis Belle © Manassehkatz

Mustang Sally, The Song

A bit downriver on the Mississippi from Memphis there’s another city called Clarksdale. It is home to Bonny “Mack” Rice, the man responsible for Mustang Sally, a song about the Ford motor car of the same name.

Mustang P-51 or Hawker Hurricane?

Mustang III at Hucknall 1943

Mustang III at Hucknall 1943

The first prototype of Ford Mustang is accredited to John Najjar, an inspiring designer who also worked on the Batmobile. Ford had built bombers and tanks in the war effort and John was particularly impressed with the WW2 aircraft, the Mustang P51. The early versions bore an uncanny resemblance to a British fighter aircraft Hawker Hurricane morphing into the Spitfire. Not surprising really, because it wasn’t until they put a Merlin engine modified for the new aircraft that P51 outperformed all expectations and became the most successful escort fighter plane of the war. It undoubtedly escorted the Memphis Belle.

Hawker Hurricane

Hawker Hurricane




I think there is a resemblance between the Mustang and the Aston Martin. Since Ford used to own them, then maybe that is not too much of a shock.

Is Mississippi the Key?

So the tenuous link seems to be the Mississippi. That was the inspiration for the aircraft, which later inspired a songwriter and performer to write about a car, which was made by a manufacturer whose designers were flying machine enthusiasts all driven by British engineering under desperate circumstances in a bid for personal survival. Without their combined efforts, your holiday may have been a very different turn of events. So next time you see the car, the song or the film, think about that. Have a great time!

Written by Material Handling Correspondent Paul Casebourne.

Cover Image © Avi Richards