Donald N. Frey dies at 86; one of the fathers of the Ford Mustang

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Donald N. Frey, one of the fathers of the Ford Mustang and later president and chief executive of Bell & Howell, died March 5 at an Evanston, Ill., hospital after a stroke, said his son Christopher. He was 86.

Frey was the product planning manager for the Mustang, a sports car launched with equal parts fanfare and trepidation at the 1964 World’s Fair in New York. He conceived the prototype in 1962 and wrung a go-ahead for production out of Henry Ford II.

The Mustang, of course, was one of the great successes in automotive history, and Frey became a revered figure among its many devotees.


Frey left Ford in 1968, in part because of differences with Ford executive Lee Iacocca. He worked as president of General Cable Corp. before joining Bell & Howell as president and chief executive.

During his 17 years at Bell & Howell, he steered a sweeping transformation of a company still known for film and microfilm as the video era dawned, said William J. White, Bell & Howell’s chairman and chief executive from 1990 to 1998.

He initiated ground-breaking moves into video cassettes for movies in the 1970s and CD-ROM information systems in the 1980s.

“It was changing the emphasis from technologies that were dying to technologies that were emerging,” said White, like Frey a professor of industrial engineering and management sciences at Northwestern.

His work at Ford and Bell & Howell, as well as his teaching and research at Northwestern, was recognized in 1990 when he received the National Medal of Technology (now the National Medal of Technology and Innovation) from President George H.W. Bush.

Frey left Bell & Howell in 1988 as it was taken private by Texas investor Robert Bass. He began teaching full time at Northwestern’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science.


Born in 1923 in St. Louis, Frey served in the Army during World War II and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Michigan. He earned his doctorate in metallurgical engineering in 1951.

Besides his son Christopher, Frey is survived by his wife, Kay; another son and three daughters; a brother; and nine grandchildren. He was divorced three times.