Editor's note: In an earlier version of this story, the name of Ed Jolliffe, owner of Gorno Ford in Woodhaven, Mich., was misspelled.
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. -- Before Ford decided to take the next-generation Mustang global, the company had to search for the soul of its celebrated nameplate.
The debate came down to a very narrow view of the Mustang vs. a broader definition, says Jim Farley, Ford's global marketing chief, a Mustang fanatic who loves to rip around a track in Ford's pony car.
The question: Is the Mustang purely a guy's go-fast car, or can it appeal equally to women and men?
"We did a lot of research and asked ourselves a lot of questions," Farley says. "We came to the conclusion at the end of the day that Mustang is a quite broad American idea of self-expression. Whether you drive a V-6 convertible or GT500 or you have base V-6 that you customize, everyone's Mustang dream is a little different."
With that clarified, Ford is embarking on a historic year of change. The Mustang celebrates its 50th anniversary in April -- and Ford already is stoking enthusiasm online with car giveaways. Ford is also readying a new kind of Mustang for global sale, adding an independent rear suspension, turbocharging and right-hand drive for markets such as the United Kingdom and Japan.
Farley is Ford's Mustang fan-in-chief. He raced his 1965 Mustang Shelby Cobra to a second-place finish in a race for 1963-65 GT cars over 2,500cc in the Monterey Historic Races this month, posting the fastest lap time in his race at the Mazda Raceway at Laguna Seca.
Asked where Mustang might succeed in Europe, where other American sports cars such as the Chevrolet Corvette, have sold in low numbers, he replies: "It's not a Harley-Davidson idea of customization and American. It's a quite aspirational thing for Europeans and people around the world."
Farley won't say what Mustang he's referring to. After all, carmakers don't talk about future product. But the sixth-generation 2015 Mustang has been spotted on the road. And that car should arrive sometime around the 50th anniversary of its launch at the New York World's Fair April 17, 1964.