Millions of passionate fans are waiting for the all-new 50th anniversary Ford Mustang that will go on sale as a 2015 model next year.
One thing's certain: Whatever Ford does, some of them will hate it.
"There's a fervent debate about the next Mustang," said Matthew Anderson, transportation curator of the Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Mich.
People come to the Henry Ford every day for a look at the first Mustang ever built. Rumors that Ford would ditch tradition for a radically new look infuriated some last year.
"The challenge is to address buyers who are old enough to understand the design of the original, and younger ones who don't have any connection with that car," said design consultant David Rand.
"If you create a car that appeals to both, you've got a hit on your hands."
Only a handful of people within Ford know what 2015 Mustang will look like, and Ford's not talking. The automaker won't even confirm the all-new Mustang is coming, though everybody knows it is.
"There's a lot of excitement, but at this point we know very little," said Brian Godfrey, general manager of Pat Milliken Ford in Redford, Mich.
The Mustang community, which includes owners, car clubs and a Facebook page fast approaching five million likes, is abuzz.
"People come in and ask about the next Mustang every day," said Jim Stevens, a salesperson at Royal Oak Ford in Royal Oak, Mich. "A lot of people want the older look, but plenty of others are looking forward to a new appearance."
The mere hint the Mustang would abandon its traditional looks for styling like Ford's new Fusion, Focus and Escape set off a firestorm last year.
"The car must have some visual heritage," said Jim Hall, managing director of 2953 Analytics in Birmingham, Mich. It could be anything from a chrome Mustang badge to a profile that mimics an earlier design.
"The design will be determined by who the target market is and what Ford wants the car to be," Hall said.
Ford has hit the reset button on the Mustang's design a couple of times before.
"The 1965 Mustang is an icon. It's hard to think of another car that's so recognizable," Anderson said. "It's like a pilgrimage for some people to come and see Mustang No. 1."
The '65's design theme evolved through a couple of other classics before running aground with the Mustang II in 1974.
The 1979 Mustang that design ace Jack Telnack created bore no resemblance to the widely reviled Mustang II. The '79 set the tone until 2005, when the current generation artfully modernized elements of earlier Mustangs.
"Ford's done a fairly good job evolving the appearance of the Mustang," said design consultant David Rand. "The current model has visual ties to the original, but they're not literal. I wouldn't call it retro, but it has historic connections."
Regardless of what people call the 2015 Mustang's design, some will hate it, and they'll be loud. The Internet has given everyone a voice and made feedback much faster than when the '65 Mustang became a hit, Anderson said.
"It's always difficult to evolve a classic design that has retro elements," said Peter Davis, chief designer at Tata Technologies. "The last couple of Mustangs have been very successful, but at some point you have to depart from the formula. That really stirs a designer's juices."
The secret to the 2015 Mustang's success may lie in how designers combine elements that make it recognizable as the latest version of a classic, with new touches to keep it fresh.
"We've heard from people both ways about retro versus modern," said Roger Barton, general manager of Reineke Ford Lincoln in Findlay, Ohio. "No matter what it looks like, some people will hate it. The one thing that's certain is that there's massive interest, because it's an all-new Mustang."
Ford will unveil the 50th anniversary 2015 Mustang late this year or early in 2014. It will come from the Flat Rock assembly plant where the current model is built.
"I expect a lot of changes, but a design that will clearly grow out of the current car," said Mike Rey, president of the Mustang Owners Club of Southeast Michigan. "It won't be some far-out European-looking car."
-- Detroit Free Press