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Mustang's father leaves strong legacy

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Mustang's father leaves strong legacy

Ford engineer from 1950-68 also oversaw birth of CD-ROM

Scott Burgess / The Detroit News

Donald Frey's legacy spans generations.

It began in 1962, when as a Ford Motor Co. vehicle line executive, Frey followed his kids' advice to create a car young people might enjoy.

"I clearly remember sitting around the dining room table and my kids saying, 'Dad, your cars stink. They're terrible. There's no pizzazz,' " Frey said in a 2004 interview with Northwestern University's magazine.

So Frey pitched the idea of sporty coupe with a pony on the grille to Henry Ford II. "He told me, 'I'm going to approve your Mustang, and it's your ass if it doesn't sell,' " Frey said.

Less than two years later, Frey rolled out the 1964 ½ Ford Mustang at the World's Fair in New York. It was a home run.

Frey owned one of the original Mustangs until his death on March 5 in Evanston, Ill., following a stroke. He was 86 and is survived by five children.

"For more than a half-century Don Frey demonstrated repeatedly that he was a true engineer," said Stephen Carr, associate dean for undergraduate engineering at Northwestern, where Frey taught for 20 years. "Don saw the important technical challenges, made the key innovations and assured that the enterprise would be a success as a result."

Since the car's unlikely beginnings, Ford has sold more than 8 million Mustangs and the nameplate has become one of the most recognizable for Ford.

Frey began his career at Ford in 1950, and became vice president and chief engineer in 1964. He left Ford in 1968 to become president of General Cable Corp. and then in 1971 became president and chief operating officer of media manufacturer Bell & Howell, based in Wheeling, Ill., where he oversaw the development of the first CD-ROM.

"Don was an extraordinary engineer and businessman," said William J. White, professor of industrial engineering and management sciences at Northwestern. "During his time at Bell & Howell, he successfully repositioned the company from the shrinking microfilm and movie projector business into the emerging electronic era. At Northwestern, Don was a valued colleague who successfully used his industry experience to support his effective teaching style."

Frey's legacy continues at Northwestern, where he was professor of industrial engineering and management sciences until 2008. He began teaching at an age most people retire. Colleagues and students called him the Professor of Reality because of his ability to translate complex ideas and theories into real world applications.

"It is sometimes easy to get lost in abstraction," said Julio M. Ottino, dean of Northwestern's McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. "Having Don at Northwestern grounded us in reality."

Frey's name will live on. In 2001, he created the annual Margaret and Muir Frey Prize, honoring his late parents, which is awarded to undergraduate engineering students for the best innovative problem solving projects.

From The Detroit News:


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