Some Assembly Required: Displaying The New Mustang 1,000 Feet Above Manhattan

As the world honours 50 years of Ford Mustang, what better way to celebrate one of the most iconic car brands than putting it back on top of one of the most famous buildings?

When Ford and the Empire State Building decided to display a new 2015 Mustang convertible on the 86th floor observation deck, Ford turned to a longtime supplier for the unique expertise required to make this happen.

Ford Motor Company and Michigan-based DST Industries have been collaborators for nearly six decades. In 1965, the only other time in the Empire State Building’s 83-year history that a car was displayed on its open-air deck, a DST crew was on hand to show off that Mustang convertible.

“This week, the band is getting back together as Ford and DST bring the all-new Mustang to the Empire State Building to honour 50 years on sale,” said Dave Pericak, Mustang chief engineer. “We’ve taken the new Mustang to new heights of technology and refinement, so we decided to take it to new heights literally for this celebration.

“When we sat down to start plotting this out in mid-February, everyone quickly realized that some old-school craftsmanship would be needed to successfully place this car more than 1,000 feet above the crowded streets of Manhattan,” said George Samulski, manager, Ford North America design fabrication. “The deck is too high to reach with a portable crane from the street, and the spire that towers more than 400 feet above that narrow deck makes helicopter delivery impossible.”

The only other car display on the Empire State Building observation deck happened in October 1965, when a crew from DST, including retired technician Claude Cochran, sliced a Mustang convertible so that it could be fit into the elevators of the building.

Following a site inspection in New York to measure meticulously all of the elevators and doors, the engineering team in Dearborn sat down with a scale model the new Mustang and drew lines on it to represent where it should be cut. The Empire State Building is a historic landmark, with original art deco wood and brass trim in the elevators, so it was crucial to ensure plenty of clearance.

“The only real problem we had in 1965 was the steering wheel,” said Cochran. “When we tried to roll the middle section of the car with the windshield removed into the elevator, the top of the wheel stuck out a bit too far through the door, so we had to tip the cart a bit to get it in.”

In preparing for the 2014 event, the team worked with two early prototype Mustang convertible body shells. The car that would ultimately make the trip to New York was completely stripped down and the surface cleaned up to make sure everything looked perfect before it was sectioned and painted.

The second body was used as a donor by the metal fabricators to determine where to make the cuts and to fit a custom-built tubular steel subframe that would hold all the sections together. The fabricators built custom rolling carts and wooden crates for each section.

Getting from the loading dock to the observation deck requires riding a freight elevator and two separate passenger elevators. A wood mock-up of the smallest elevator was built in the workshop to verify everything would fit. Each of the loaded carts was then weighed to ensure everything stayed within the weight limits of the elevator and the observation deck.

“The observation deck is open to the public from 8am to 2am, leaving our crew with only a six-hour window to get everything out onto the deck and to get the car assembled,” said Pericak. “Before we shipped the crates to New York, the crew spent several days practising the entire assembly process – timing everything down to the minute – much like a NASCAR or Formula One pit crew.”