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Mustang, The 20 Year History
Editor's note: Several people have asked for a story that talks about the history of the Mustang Motorcycle. Here is a story that was written in Cycle World Magazine by Jon Thompson in 1986.   

Say the word Mustang to most people today, and they'll probably think you're talking about a 1960s pony car. But long before Ford Motor Company's runaway sales success was even a gleam in Lee Iacocca's eye, another Mustang had been a reality. This one was the two-wheeled brain-child of engineer John Gladden, whose Glendale, California, company manufactured aircraft parts during World War II.

When the war came to an end and Gladden had to figure out what to do with his now-quiet plant, his thoughts turned to his favorite pre-war activity: motorcycles. What was needed, Gladden decided, was an inexpensive, lightweight bike that could serve as a transition between a motor scooter and a full-sized motorcycle.

Gladden laid out the plans for the first Mustang with the assistance of engineer and fellow motorcycle enthusiast Howard Forrest, who was participating in the design of a new air-cooled, single-cylinder industrial engine to be build by Gladden. The bike, scheduled for sale in 1945, was to be powered by a 125cc Villers two-stroke Single. A few of these machines, called the Colt, were produced, but with limited availability of the British-built Villers engines prompted a redesign of the Colt to accept Gladden's own engine.

The result was the Model 2, which became available in the fall of 1947. It featured a single cylinder, 320cc side-valve engine, a three-speed Burman transmission, a tubular front fork, a solid rear suspension, disc wheels and 4.00x12 tires. Mustangs also placed well in the lightweight division at the Catalina Island Grand Prix, ridden by Fulton, Jim Phillips, Tom Bizzari and Ed Kretz, Jr.

The little bikes were active at drag strips, as well; and in the hands of a racer named Tom Beatty, a highly modified Mustang routinely turned 90 mph, with clocking in the low-12-second range.

By the 1960s, Mustang had an expanded model line. There was the basic, front-suspension-only, solid wheel, three-speed Pony, backed up by the Bronco and the Stallion, which sported wire wheels and front brakes. Top of the line was the Thoroughbred, with a swingarm rear suspension and a Burman four-speed transmission. The company was also building three-wheelers that were widely used as delivery and parking control vehicles.

Sales of early Mustangs were limited to California and its adjacent states, but the company's sales efforts eventually reached the Midwest and the South, with factory reps stopping at motorcycle, scooter and bicycle dealerships to hawk their wares from the back of trucks loaded with demo bikes and spare parts.

Though the marques continued to sell well in the early 1960s, the clock was running. Gladden continued to rely on the British-built Burman transmission, a steady supply of which became impossible to obtain. But by then, Honda's toehold in the American Motorcycle market, was so strong that Gladden's simple little post war design didn't have a chance. As a result, though new Mustangs were sold through 1965, the last machine rolled off the company's Glendale production line in 1963.

Original Mustang Shop Tour

Here's a look at the Mustang shop on Concord Ave. Jim Cavanaugh, Mustang Production Manager, talks about the different areas of the plant and how they were used.

R & D department. The engine lathe was the only general purpose lathe available, used mostly by Howard Forrest on his projects. Chuck Gardner also used it. I used it to correct the transmission parts. I also had to use it every day to custom machine fit almost every front axle to fit correctly inside the front fork tubes. If the axle was too long or too short the fork tubes would bind and not operate smoothly. If Chuck or Howard was using the lathe, I had to wait my turn and production would suffer. On the other side on the wall (not shown) by the lathe was the engineering drafting table. The desk of course was all the office that the department had.

Work bench in the R & D department. You will note the gas welding set at the end. There you can see bins for hardware to supply in process projects. Usually Howard and Chuck had to share this area.


The engine block processing area. All the equipment was dedicated to a given machine function. Some of the machines were custom built by manufactures and some were converted from conventional machines. There were many operations before an engine block was finished. I can still remember every operation and I did every one over time. The most interesting machine and the one I hated the most was the "rock crusher'. It was the first operation whereby you would load the raw engine block into one of the eight stations on the vertical turret of this huge machine. this machine would plane the head gasket surface and the base gasket surface. As one station would be operating, you would unload a station that was done and quickly load another raw block in it's place. You had to be quick and position it correctly and wrench it down tight all the while another was in process. After a couple of hours, the operator would look like he worked in a coal mine. No protection was worn. Sneeze or blow your nose and it would show a lot of black cast iron dust!

Another view of the engine block processing line. Some of the smaller machines on the right was for processing the aluminum connecting rod.

Mr. Harry Mann grinding the crankshafts. Harry was very unusual. He worked standing on his feet all day, grinding all the diameters of the crankshaft including the connecting rod journal (stroke). Harry would sneak off several times during the day and go between the two buildings where he had his "bottle" of hooch, take a couple snorts and go back to his machine. He rarely made a mistake or scrapped a crankshaft. Not shown is the crankshaft processing area. I remember too well the "Low Swing" lathe that machined the rough dimensions that were finally ground to size by Harry. Chuck was the only one who could set up the "Low Swing". There was another machine that roughly machined the crankshaft throw, also finished to size by Harry.

Front of the shop by the office toward the rear where you can see the crankshaft grinder. However, that is not Harry Mann operating the grinder. I seem to remember Harry got sick or retired and a young man replaced him. Behind him you can see the special rack cart for the crankshafts in process. To the right out of view, is the many machines for the engine block processing.

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