The former 2015 Mustang Chief Engineer reflects on a new documentary
By Steve Turner
Photos by Steve Turner and courtesy of White Horse Pictures
If you are an ardent follower of the Mustang, there’s no doubt you know the legend of the 2015 Mustang. The creation of the 50th Anniversary pony car was eagerly anticipated and thoroughly covered, but until now you only knew part of the story. Thanks to a new documentary, titled A Faster Horse, you will get an inside look at the development of the all-new Mustang.
For most of us the car is the finished product, but for Team Mustang, they live and breathe every millimeter of the car. From a fastener that’s too short to a vibration in the steering wheel, they have to make the sum of the parts into a new version of an icon that must be accepted by one of the most dedicated fan bases in the automotive world.
As you will see in the film, the focal point of that pressure is the Mustang’s Chief Engineer. As many of you know, from the swan song of the S197 platform through the birth of the thoroughly modern S550, the man at the bull’s eye of the pressure was Dave Pericak, who has since moved on to become the director of Ford Performance. It is said in the film that successful Mustang Chief Engineers are promoted and those that are unsuccessful are asked to “do something else.”
By the measure of the finished car and his subsequent promotion, we would have to say that Dave’s tenure in the driver seat was a success story, but it was not without its trials and tribulations. We had the opportunity to chat with Dave about his supporting role in the film—the 2015 Mustang is the real star—and his directorial role in the car’s creation.
For a taste of what the film is like, you can watch the trailer here…
Of course, for a company that keeps its future product shrouded in secrecy, the first challenge to making such a film is to allow outsiders with cameras into the process. It’s not a decision that was taken lightly, but Ford had its customers in mind when it decided to open its doors to a film crew.
“For us this was the first time we’ve done something like this, so it was a bit difficult. Ultimately we came to the decision it was the right thing to do. But 50 years of Mustangs, as you know, Steve, that only happens once,” Dave told us. “We know that our customers have been faithful to the brand and the company so long, that we felt that it was important give everyone a behind-the-scenes look at what really happens to bring a car to life and really give everyone the opportunity to enjoy and experience what it meant to bring that product to the market. It was just really knowing how much our customers would enjoy the story, we felt it was important to do it.”
Naturally, when you bring cameras into Ford’s hallowed halls to record the very thing that the company tries to keep under wraps, people are a bit hesitant at first.
“You know, when the cameras first came onboard, people were obviously a bit uncomfortable and uneasy. We were doing some very secretive meetings and typical things that you do when you are doing a new product that are very sensitive topics. People were nervous and weren’t sure what they could and couldn’t say. We sort of had to get everyone’s head around the fact that you need to forget the cameras. It’s easier to say than it is to do, but, believe me, when the cameras are with you every day, it doesn’t take too many days before you say ‘Forget the cameras, I have a job to do,’” Dave explained. “After a little while, we didn’t realize the cameras were there and we just did our work. I think that’s part of what comes through in the movie. What you see is it was truly behind the scenes. There was nothing that was engineered for the cameras. There is no Hollywood. That’s real, raw footage that they are filming. It truly is the real deal.”
“…Where they took that shot where I said ‘You are freaking people out with these cameras,’ we went into the assembly plant and they were pretty freaked out thinking ‘Why are all these cameras here?’ Dave added. “It was quite an entourage of cameras that were following us around all day long.”
What those cameras were able to capture illuminates just how difficult it is to create a new vehicle, and how much pressure is put on the Mustang’s Chief Engineer.
“… You never really understand the magnitude of it until you really are doing it. I appreciated the responsibility. I hope I did the fans and the company proud, and I hope I was able to lead the magnificent team of people who were able to deliver the car,” Dave elaborated. “It is a lot of pressure, but at the end of the day someone has to be a leader. I was glad I had the opportunity to do it. I’ll never forget it. It was the high point of my career, but I really do hope that everyone understands that the pressure was felt by the entire team.”
And, in A Faster Horse, you do get to see Dave interact with a broad range of the people responsible for creating the 2015 Mustang.
“That’s the one thing that people understand when they start the film. Mustang is not about one person or even a handful of people. It takes thousands of people to make the car come to life, and I think what is great about the film is it gives some insight into each and everybody that does participate and how important their roles are,” Dave confessed. “I always say that I am like the quarterback of a football team. I get the undue acknowledgement or whatever you want to say. I don’t deserve what I get. There is a huge team behind the Mustang that makes it all come to life. I think that’s what’s really special about this film. There are a lot of hardworking men and women that love the car just as much as the people who buy it.”
Of course, it is the leader of the team that will ultimately take the blame if the product doesn’t deliver, so the person in that seat does earn the positive attention if they succeed.
“I know they are focusing on the Chief Engineer. I know it makes the story. Like I said, I’m kinda like the quarterback of the football team. Everyone likes to talk about the quarterback, but there are a bunch of linemen and running backs and wide receivers,” he explained. “So I think it serves the movie well to focus on a character, but I hope it comes through that pressure was felt by everybody. We had the responsibility of delivering the 50th Anniversary Mustang. That just doesn’t happen, but once in a career.”
Like riding the wild horse that its name evokes, manning the engineering helm of the Mustang is typically a short but difficult tour of duty. Now that Dave has survived the task he is able to reflect fondly on this historic run with Team Mustang.
“… You are on seven days a week, almost 24 hours a day, and at the end of the day when you can see the pride in the company and then you go to the Mustang customer events—whether it be the Woodward Dream Cruise or a Mustang club show—people name their cars and they want to tell you every story about it and they want to thank you for what you’ve done,” Dave explained. “Those are the things that are the most rewarding. It’s not the paycheck and it’s not the necessarily a pat on the back from our leadership team as much as it is to look in the employees’ eyes or the people who drive the car and know that you made a difference. That’s really what keeps you going.”
Despite some premature hesitation based on rumors and illustrations floating about the Internet, the 2015 Mustang has proven a success that appeals to its core fans, but has definitely attracted new customers as well.
“I’m very pleased with where we are at with this car and with the reception and the sales figures that its had. Globally it’s just been amazing. That’s one of the things that really resonates with me. When you are pushing the envelope of a new car, you want to set yourself up for the next generation. You want to do something that’s different, but you can get yourself into trouble quickly if you walk too far away from what people think a Mustang is,” he said. “The team found a great balance. We pushed the boundaries. We put a new face on it. We gave it a bit of a different and more modern look, but at the end of the day, she’s a Mustang and people love it.”
In the end, the creation of the 50th anniversary Mustang was definitely a milestone worth capturing on film. It is both a moment for the ages and an impressive feat of engineering, but ultimately it was a labor of love for Dave and the entire team.
“The one thing that’s great about Ford Motor Company is that we do work at a company, but we work for a family. We work for the Ford family, and they are an active part of this company. When Bill Ford turned to me at Charlotte and said ‘Thank you and thank you from my family.’ It really meant a lot,” Dave said. “The pressure was on from our customers, and, yes, the world was watching, but we had Ford family that we needed to make sure was proud of the car that is most known for being a Ford—the Mustang.”
Of course, given his co-starring role with the Mustang; we’d be remiss if we didn’t ask Dave if he was up for appearing in another documentary based on one of the many vehicles he is now charged with developing for Ford Performance.
“If in fact it makes sense, just as we thought it did for the Mustang—where the benefit is for the customer or people to be part of something very special—absolutely I would,” Dave concluded.
It would be great if Dave shows up in another movie, but for now we have A Faster Horse to enjoy. We will have our review of the movie posted soon, but the movie is playing in theaters for one night on Thursday October 8, and it will be available via Vimeo on-demand the following day. For more, you can visit the film’s official site right here.