Mustang designer Gale Halderman passes away

Gale Halderman, original designer of the Ford Mustang, stands in his personal museum in Tipp City, where much of his Ford Motor Co. memorabilia is displayed. Photo by Jimmy Dinsmore
Gale Halderman, original designer of the Ford Mustang, stands in his personal museum in Tipp City, where much of his Ford Motor Co. memorabilia is displayed. Photo by Jimmy Dinsmore

Tipp City native drew first sketch of original Ford Mustang, worked 40 years at Ford

Gale Halderman, one of the last remaining original Mustang legends, passed away April 29 after a short battle with liver cancer. He was 87.

Gale was a friend of mine. He and his entire family are like my family. So I’m typing this with tears in my eyes.

Gale was one of the most interesting people I’ve had the privilege of knowing. His cousin James Halderman, professor emeritus from Sinclair College, and I chronicled Gale’s life’s story in “Mustang by Design: Gale Halderman and the Creation of Ford’s Iconic Pony Car.” It was enriching and enjoyable to get to work so closely with them both, and I learned so much from the project.

Gale was the main designer of the original Ford Mustang. It was his sketch that was chosen by Lee Iacocca to become the 1965 (1964.5, if you will) Mustang.

Just being known for that alone makes Gale a legend of popular culture and car history.

But his legacy goes beyond that. Gale worked 40 years at Ford Motor Co. as a designer and design executive. He worked alongside every single major name in Ford’s history (Henry Ford II, Hal Sperlich, Lee Iacocca); he was even Bill Ford Jr.’s boss at one time.

Gale is beloved at the “Blue Oval.” Heck, he was beloved by nearly everyone in the Mustang community.

Every car club, every collector, every person who ever got joy from the iconic Ford Mustang owes thanks to Gale for creating such an amazing, beautiful car.

Halderman Barn Museum

After retirement, Gale turned his family barn and Tipp City property into a museum dedicated to car design. This museum is a Miami Valley hidden gem.

Gale, being the humble person he was, didn’t center the museum around his career and his accomplishments. Rather, the Halderman Barn Museum was turned into a homage to all things car design.

With a few Mustangs and other Ford vehicles inside the museum, the primary focus is on the walls which have sketches, designs and concepts Gale collected throughout his illustrious career. Many were from designers Gale helped hire or he found to be very talented.

Photos of Ford legends are scattered throughout. In short, the Halderman Barn Museum is a must-see location for all Ford fans, and anyone with an appreciation for automotive history, because Gale has a major spot within automotive history.

There’s a giant Mustang logo emblazoned on the side of the barn you can see driving along U.S. 40; it makes for a great beauty shot as it showcases each person’s pride in his or her pony car.

The barn has hosted many car outings and car clubs. With a gleam in his eye and a great smile, Gale would speak to visitors with stories of his time at Ford.

His daughter will still keep the barn open for the public to enjoy and as a car club destination, but they do ask for privacy at this time.

Halderman’s legacy

The story of how Gale drew the winning sketch for the Ford Mustang is unremarkable. Late at night on his kitchen table and knowing there was a big meeting the next morning, he sketched his idea for Iacocca’s concept car.

It had to be exciting and sporty. It had to appeal to both men and women. It needed to have a long hood and a short deck. Many designers at Ford Motor Co. were making submissions for this project. Gale and his boss, Joe Oros, teamed up to create their vision.

Oros’s design ideas were displayed on the passenger side of their clay model; Gale’s was displayed on the driver’s side. Iacocca came around to look at it. His cigar twirled in his mouth, which Gale said was always a good sign.

Iacocca proclaimed he liked Gale’s design the best. The still-unnamed Mustang project was approved, with Gale’s concept greenlighted.

Some of Gale’s concept can still be seen on today’s Mustang: the side scoop and the three-slashed taillight.

Now with his passing, I’ll think of my friend even more when I see a Mustang, or hear the roar and growl of one of the most iconic cars in American automotive history. His spirit lives on in each Mustang on the road.

I thank Gale for all he did for the Mustang community, for being a role model on how to be humble and kind. As talented of a designer as Gale Halderman was, he was an even better person.

Gale leaves behind three daughters, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. But for everyone who ever met him, they felt like he was part of their family, too.