Ford Tearing Down Mustang Birthplace

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One Millionth MustangThe focus this year has been on preserving one of the world auto industry’s greatest artifacts, the Ford Piquette plant in Detroit, historically the second Ford Motor Company facility and birthplace of the Model T.

Meanwhile, almost behind our backs, a significant and seemingly modern building, the 1958 Ford Division building at Rotunda and Southfield in Dearborn — near Ford’s World Headquarters and the Henry Ford Museum — is about to be torn down.

According to Ford Land Development, the building — known in recent years as the QMP Building for the quality, manufacturing and purchasing offices it housed — has been vacant since the first of the year and will be razed before this year’s end. FLD said it would save millions of dollars in annual operating expenses by moving the personnel in those offices to vacant space in other nearby buildings and demolishing the 45-year-old structure.

There are no plans to build anything else on the site.

In the meantime, to save mowing maintenance dollars on the 65-acre site, the lawns have been planted with — are you ready for this? — sunflowers. Some other lawns near the parent company’s headquarters are similarly planted, according to FLD, to save money and provide a habitat for birds. Green indeed. Well, yellow and green when the sunflowers bloom.

Cradle of the Mustang

Nevertheless, the soon-to-be-history Ford Division office was the Cradle of the Mustang, arguably Ford’s most significant product of the second half of the 20th century.

When the Ford Division building was erected, it represented the cutting edge of industrial office building architecture, with great expanses of hallways and long window walls. No one thought of energy conservation then.

It was also a time when Ford Division — like Mercury, Lincoln and, yes, Edsel — was virtually a complete automobile company unto itself, with a full range of staff, sales, marketing, product planning, engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing activities. It thus mirrored GM’s car divisions whose histories, however, dated to when each WAS a separate company.

But almost simultaneously with Ford Division occupying the then ultra-modern building, Ford Motor Company began feeling the shock waves of the Edsel failure. Within a few months, the other separate divisions were eliminated and consolidated, and all the company’s engineering, purchasing, and manufacturing became centralized.

Still, it was in this building in 1962-63 where the Mustang was visualized by Lee Iacocca and his “band of brothers” as a sporty spinoff of the Falcon compact economy car. By 1966, Ford Division celebrated the sale of the first million Mustangs with an ingenious aerial photograph of the building with a layout of Mustangs signifying “1,000,000” in the parking lot.

Ford Division offices transferred out of the building in the late 1970s to Henry Ford II’s brainchild, Renaissance Center on the Detroit River in downtown Detroit. When Ford sold RenCen to General Motors in 1996, such Ford Division offices as remained — sales, marketing and finance — returned to new offices on the Ford “campus” surrounding the company’s Headquarters in suburban Dearborn.

What of the many other “modern” but inefficient buildings built by Ford Motor Company in the Fifties, such as the same World Headquarters (1956), one-time Lincoln Division at Wixom (1956 also) and numerous structures in the Research and Engineering Center (1953 and later)? They’ve either been updated or — possibly — await the hangman.

Ford’s 1928–1956 headquarters on Schaefer Road near the Rouge, later the home of Lincoln-Mercury and then Parts & Service Division, was razed in 1997.

But that was a REALLY old building by American standards. Tearing down a 1958 building in 2003 must make many people wonder what gives. Answer: nothing is sacred and every penny counts these days.

Could GM’s 1950s-decade Tech Center buildings be next under the noose?

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