Remembering Donald N. Frey - Designer of the Mustang

Remembering Donald N. Frey - Designer of the Mustang

Donald N. Frey

The members of the Materials Science and Engineering Department were saddened to hear of the passing of Donald N. Frey, one of its most famous alumni. Dr. Frey was the engineer who headed up the design and development of the Ford Mustang, the sporty, stylish and affordable "muscle car" that Ford Motor Company produced in the mid 1960s.  The MSE Department has chosen the event of his passing to inaugurate a series of web monographs highlighting the careers and achievements of some of our distinguished alumni.

Donald Nelson Frey was born on March 13th 1293 in St. Louis, MO and grew up in Waterloo, Iowa, where his father was the chief metallurgist at John Deere.  He went to Michigan State University for the first two years of his college career and then left to join the war effort, First by working for Packard Motors on a Packard version of the Rolls-Royce Merlin aircraft engine that was used in later models of the Spitfire and Hurricane aircraft that served the British Royal Air Force so well during the Battle of Britain.  Later he joined the US Army and served as an officer until after the end of  the Second World War.

After his discharge from the Army, he earned a bachelor's degree in Metallurgy, a master's degree in systems engineering and a PhD in Metallurgy, all at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.  He stayed at Michigan to teach in the department, but left to manage the metallurgy department at Ford Motor Company's laboratory in Dearborn, Michigan.  It was while he was at Ford that he worked on the design and production of the Ford Mustang, at first clandestinely, as Henry Ford II had rejected its development, since the Ford Edsel had been such a huge failure and Ford believed the Mustang would suffer a similar fate.  Eventually, Henry Ford was convinced to approve the project and Frey was put in charge of the project, being warned that he would be fired if it failed!  Ultimately the Mustang was a huge success and was brought to market much more cheaply than several other models of the time (e.g. the 1965 Ford Galaxie).

Frey was also involved in the four-door Ford Thunderbird (the 5th generation), a dashboard stereo tape-deck, and an innovative station wagon tailgate that swung out like a door  as well as down like a tailgate.   He was later worked on the development of the Ford Bronco.

Frey left Ford in 1968 to become president of General Cable Corporations.  In the 1970s and 80s he was chairman of Bell and Howell, transforming the company by refining its core business and focussing new technologies like video cassettes and CD-ROM information systems.  Other achievements in Frey's career include receipt of the National Medal of Technology and being a member of the executive board of the World Bank. He was, however, proudest of helping to introduce safety improvements like disc brakes and radial tires to Ford cars.

After Bell & Howell Dr. Frey became a professor and researcher at Northwestern University, in the Industrial Engineering and Management Sciences (IE/MS) Department.  In 1992 the Materials Science and Engineering Department of the University of Michigan acknowledged Dr. Frey's achievements by awarding him the Alumni Society Merit Award.  Dr. Frey passed away on March 5th 2010 in Evanston, Ill, his home.  He was 86 years old.  At his death Mr. Frey still owned an original Mustang that his son, Christopher, said he liked to drive fast.