Godfather of the Mustang and the Minivan
Hal Sperlich was the chief architect behind two of the most significant American cars ever built; the Ford Mustang and the Chrysler minivan. A native of Detroit and Saginaw, Michigan, Sperlich earned a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Michigan before joining the U.S. Navy. He would land a job at Ford in 1957 as a product planner and quickly began to develop his ability to recognize future vehicle trends.
Sperlich realized as early as 1960 that downsizing was the future of automotive design, and wanted to develop a small car that appealed to the youth market. His recipe was to create a stylish car with seating for four that could be ordered with a number of different options, but was also affordable. Sperlich convinced Ford management to let him lead a team to develop this car and the project would eventually produce the Mustang. The Mustang’s combination of good looks, personal customization, and low price struck a chord with American buyers. Over 400,000 units were sold in its first year, setting a record as the world’s fastest-selling car, and created a new “pony car” segment. After the Mustang, Sperlich turned his attention to other projects. He wanted to create a fleet of small, efficient, front-wheel drive cars, and even had an idea for a compact “people mover” called the “Mini-Max”. However, he was unable to convince Ford’s senior management that this was a worthwhile pursuit.
Sperlich joined Chrysler in 1977 as chief product planner. At Chrysler, Sperlich was free to explore new innovations, and directed Chrysler’s engineering staff to develop a front-wheel-drive platform that became the “K-Car”. The K-Cars were very well-received, and helped bring Chrysler back from its first bankruptcy. The K-platform also provided the basis for Sperlich’s compact people mover and spawned the Chrysler minivans. Thanks to its immense passenger-space and tidy exterior dimensions, the minivan became a sales sensation. Like the Mustang, it also launched an entirely new vehicle segment. Sperlich retired from Chrysler in 1988, having created an amazing array of legendary automobiles.