A person or thing regarded as a representative symbol of something: “this iron-jawed icon of American manhood”.
In terms of iconic esteem and revere, there are few people that live up to the status of an iconic automobile…in my opinion of course 😉 Seriously….if on some idle Thursday I happened upon Tom Hanks and Oprah Winfrey walking hand in hand down my street directly in front of a parked Ferrari F40….theres a good chance that my complete disregard for them would seem quite rude as my attention would be rightfully placed on the Italian. Like people, iconic cars transcend generations….but unlike people, you don’t need to know that much about them to appreciate their beauty. Well, if we’re talking swimsuit models I suppose my entire point is shot. Nonetheless, an icon of the automotive world hits on a more surface level….the styling, sounds and allure that its presence conjures up(even at a stand-still) is what makes a car legend.
Few cars have established icon status like the Ford Mustang. Granted, its not Italian so its not as flamboyant and sexy. Its not German either so the refinement and clockwork engineering isn’t what makes it turn heads. It is however, an American muscle car with the balls and styling attitude to back it up and if you have ever had the opportunity to hear what that sounds like……its all you’d ever need.
These cars don’t just appear….there are people that are inevitably involved in their conception. Leonardo Fioravanti dreamt up the Ferrari F40, Rudolf Uhlenhaut envisioned the Merc 300SL, and the classic Shelby Mustang was the product of John…..Chun?
The designer of one of the most iconic American muscle cars was in fact, a man from North Korea. John had left North Korea after the war at his fathers request to peruse an engineering degree in Seoul. After that, he made his way to California where he worked as an auto mechanic while attending design college and struggling through English classes. At a job fair held at the school he was offered a job and recruited and simply told to report to Ford Motor Co. The only thing he was told was that Ford was interested in creating a spin-off performance edition of the Mustang and had hired on Shelby to work on the project. Johns expertise with cars made him well suited for the design task. While he was familiar with the engineering aspect, his renderings were compiled based on a natural instinct of what he knew would work if he was going to need to piece it together himself.
John’s boss, Carroll Shelby would routinely stop in and ask to see what he had come up with. On a few occasions John recalled Shelby asking to borrow a few of the renderings but never returning them so he had to start over each time. Not bothered in the least by this, John enjoyed working for a visionary like Mr. Shelby. His ideas for the 67 stuck, as did his work on the 68 and 69 models.
The car was beautiful but it never found its stronghold in the car market due mainly to its price tag which outweighed the base model Mustang by almost two thousand dollars. Shelby then lost its lease on the hanger and John was offered a spot at Ford to which he declined in leu of an offer from Chrysler. John stayed with them for three years before he was approached by Tonka toys who wanted to add an auto designer to their team. Calling him everyday for 3 months, John finally gave in and went to Tonka in Minnesota.
John and his wife now live in Mound, MN where they run a small diner, the Chun Mee Restaurant in Delano (Map). Consulting and designing on the side since his time at Tonka, John even had the unique opportunity to consult with designers of Korean based auto manufacturer, Hyundai which adds an interesting full circle twist. People travel over to hear his story and meet th man behind the machine.
The article I gathered most of the information in this post was published in the Star Tribune by Jeff Strickler who conducted the research and interview materials. (LINK) Great article, great designer and an all-time great car that should now remind you that behind every icon is a unique story that built a legend.
Go Baby Go!