Ford Mustang on Empire State building

Mustang on top of the World

An American icon on the top of the World’s Tallest Skyscraper, the Empire State Building, in 1965.

The Ford Mustang has been on top of the Empire State building twice in its fifty-six-year run of continuous production. In 1965, the Ford Mustang was the hottest selling car in the United States, in the throes of its record setting first-year run of around 420,000 units after an extensive advertising campaign. In October 1965, Robert L. Leury, general manager of what was then the world’s tallest building hatched the idea of displaying the iconic sports car on top of the iconic Manhattan landmark on its 86th floor observation deck. If successful, this would be the first car and also the largest and heaviest object ever displayed there.

While the Mustang had undergone extensive engineering to get it road ready, it was not designed to travel within the Empire State Building. Officials at Ford agreed and dispatched a crew to take careful measurements of the skyscraper’s doors, hallways, and elevators. The crew determined that a convertible fifteen-foot long Mustang could be disassembled into four main sections along with other necessary parts, thereby enabling it to take the seven-foot tall elevators to the observation deck. Once unloaded from the elevator, the crew would reassemble the car to overlook the New York City skyline from the 86th floor. This was no simple task, so three “dry” runs were conducted at Ford facilities in Dearborn, MI. 

At 10:30 p.m. on October 20, 1965, eight Ford crewmembers in crisp white overalls began disassembling a white Mustang convertible outside the Empire State Building on 33rd Street. Everything was going according to plan, until the crew realized that the steering column was a quarter-inch too tall for the elevator despite the planning. After the crew was able to improvise and maneuver the steering column to fit, all parts of the Mustang were transported to the 86th floor. The Mustang was completely reassembled outdoors on the outdoor observation by 4:30 a.m. and ready to be photographed by a helicopter. Not yet finished, once the photograph was taken, the crew took the car apart again and reassembled it for the second time inside the glass-enclosed observation area surrounded by the outdoor deck.

Visitors to the Empire State Building were pleasantly surprised as well as delighted to find the Mustang taking in the scenic view with them. Many assumed that the car had been lifted there by helicopter rather than transported through the elevator. The Mustang stayed there for five months until March 16, 1966, when it was disassembled for the final time and removed from the building. The feat was so popular and such a part of Mustang lore, that it was recreated for the Mustang’s 50th anniversary using a 2015 Mustang GT. The Mustang has been the most popular sports car in the United States since its debut in 1964, successfully using its storied history to keep it relevant for contemporary audiences.