Classic Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang (1965)

BUYER’S GUIDE

Ford Mustang (1965-1973) Review

Iconic looks, fuss-free fun and that all-American styling make the first-generation Mustang a sure-fire classic anyone would love to own…

What Is It?

An American icon, the Mustang was born of typical Ford pragmatism with its combination of desirable looks, smart marketing and shared components to help keep it affordable. First revealed to the public in April 1964, the Mustang promised buyers “low initial cost, coupled with high-style, easy and precise handling, excellent ride, a host of options, and a choice between high performance and compact car economy.” And still does.

Originally available in Hardtop or Convertible form, the Ford Mustang launched with a range of engines and transmissions going from easy-going six-cylinders to feistier V8s, up to and including the ‘Hi-Po’ version of the 289cu in (4.7-litre) motor further tuned by Shelby for the GT350. With the iconic Fastback completing the line-up Ford then flooded the market with endless options, limited editions and model year updates and by 1966 it had sold its millionth example.

Over the following years the changes came thick and fast, the Mustang grew in size, gained bigger and bigger engines and iconic new models like the Mach 1 and Boss were introduced. While it was never officially sold in Europe there are plenty of these first-gen cars here, and a strong network to support them.

Corrosive Areas

Front scuttle and bulkhead

Rear chassis rails

Lower door edges

Checklist

  • Learning the Mustang lingo and doing your research is a necessary first step if you’re to pin down the age, body style and type of car you’re after
  • Remember that American convention typically assigns a model year that appears ‘newer’ than the car’s actual vintage, so, for instance, a ‘1967’ car could actually date from 1966 – in most cases model year is the more important consideration when refining your search
  • The huge interchangeability of parts and American tuning culture means that, 50-plus years on, the chances of finding a truly original car will be slim, though the VIN plate’s options codes will reveal much about the ‘correct’ spec to those who can decipher them
  • Chasing rare and original cars is probably best left to the true enthusiasts and refining your search to fundamentals like the age range, engine, transmission and body style you want is probably the best start
  • The first phase of gen one Mustang production runs from the ‘1964-and-a-half’ models through to 1966
  • The much coveted ‘K’ suffix on the VIN was for 289 V8s with the 274PS (202kW) K-Code Hi-Po engine
  • For the 1967 model year styling was updated, the car grew in size to accommodate big-block engines and the range of models increased further – concave rear lights and the narrower grille are among the more obvious changes
  • From the 1969 model year the looks changed again, with a more pronounced snout and rear-set headlights; the car also gained size, weight and some iconic new models such as the Boss and Mach 1
  • The final phase of first-gen production came in 1970 and is perhaps the biggest departure from the original look, with a longer nose, recessed full-width grille and chunkier, more square-cut rear quarters; size and weight also increased considerably
  • Mechanical simplicity and the fact most components are under stressed counts in the Mustang’s favour
  • V8s are typically durable and can rack up big mileages but check for obvious issues like signs of overheating, contaminated coolant and suchlike; minor oil leaks are par for the course but significant ones are a sign work may be required
  • Brakes and suspension components are simple and easy enough to replace; sloppy handling can usually be attributed to worn bushings, links and other service parts
  • Transmissions range from three-speed manuals on earlier six-cylinder cars to four-speed manuals on most V8s; versions of the three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatics are also common on all variants
  • Early drum-braked cars without power assistance can take some slowing; discs and servos are common upgrades both now and in period
  • Rust is common throughout the car, even those from ‘dry’ West Coast states; check every inch, blocked drains in the front cowl common and leading to structural corrosion in the front bulkhead – water carefully poured in through the vent should dribble out via the drains, not into the footwell.

How Does It Drive?

Given the huge range of variables in terms of engines, transmissions, specs and tuning upgrades both in period and added later the Mustang driving experience is hard to pin down precisely. The condition of the car you’re considering will play a big part, too. At heart these are simple cars mechanically and in character, though, and the basic rule of thumb is that the later the car the softer, heavier and more ‘American’ it will feel given the Mustang inevitably gained weight and complexity as the years went on.

Pre-1967 cars will feel the most physical to drive, especially without power steering or – in some cases – servo assistance to the brakes. By European standards even these early cars will feel pretty big and vague in standard trim, though they can of course be much improved with correct set-up and, by the time you get to the V8, you have the basis for a proper muscle car experience.

Opinions vary but, while more powerful, by the time you get to the big-block cars you’re in a running battle between horsepower and weight, which isn’t to say the sheer grunt of a 427-engined car won’t be fun. Six-cylinder cars will be pretty leisurely and perhaps better suited to a convertible, ditto three-speed autos. As proven on race tracks the world over, meanwhile, a 289 with four on the floor and a proper set-up has the potential to keep pace with anything else from the period.  

What’s Good?

Then and now the Mustang is a feelgood car for both occupants and onlookers, and the kind of thing to put a smile on the face of anyone who sees it. The spirit of mid-‘60s optimism and easy-going American pop culture permeates its looks and manners, meaning a drive in a Mustang will always be something to celebrate.

Whichever body style you go for there’s space to share the experience with family and friends, so it’s a sociable classic as well. Mechanical simplicity is another point in its favour, Ford’s policy of using shared parts from across its huge range of regular cars meaning spares should be relatively easy to source (albeit from overseas, potentially) while the under stressed, no-nonsense design of most components means the Mustang is inherently tough.

With a suitably raucous V8 engine it’s also going to be a hoot every time you fire it up, that soundtrack all part of the experience. You may not be the fastest classic on the block, but you’ll likely be turning the most heads and cracking the biggest smiles.

What’s Bad?

Ford’s policy of constant model year upgrades, the huge choice of specifications, the options packages and the culture of customisation can appear intimidating for those taking their first steps into the muscle car realm. Indeed, the jargon and buzzwords Mustang aficionados bandy about can sound like a new language entirely and, with it, the fear of getting caught out feels very real. For all the knowledge and enthusiasm for the cars here in Europe now there’s also the fact you’ll likely be either buying or dealing with people on the other side of the Atlantic at some point in your ownership, which can add to the intimidation factor.

As for the car itself there’s the obvious fact you’ll have to be happy with left-hand drive, accept American fuel consumption figures are going to be expensive and also the fact that, by the time you get to the late ‘60s and early ‘70s versions, you’ve got something that will feel very big, heavy and potentially out of place on British roads.

Which Model To Chose?

Much of this will be down to personal taste and the kind of image you’re going for. Driving purists may dismiss the later cars as more show than go but, for others, a late, big-block Mach 1 or Boss in a suitably ‘70s colour may have kitsch, chest-wig appeal that transcends any dynamic flaws. And if you’re going to do it you may as well go big or go home.

For a Mustang to enjoy on British roads we’d probably be tempted by an earlier car, on the basis it’s a more manageable proposition. A big-block is all very well, too, but the revvier, oversquare 289 ‘Windsor’ V8 is lighter on the nose and probably the more entertaining car on our narrow, twisty roads.

Convertibles have their fans but a hardtop can be cheaper to buy while the Fastback is arguably the definitive Mustang shape and the one most people crave. An original Shelby GT350 would obviously be top of most people’s lists but these are now properly valuable and expensive cars so, for something to actually drive and enjoy, a regular pre-‘67 289 GT and a few sympathetic period upgrades like disc brakes and – perhaps – power steering would seem a pragmatic choice.

Specifications – Ford Mustang GT (1966)

 

Engine

4.7-litre V8, petrol

Power

274PS (202kW) @ 6,000rpm

Torque

423Nm (312lb ft) @ 3,400rpm

Transmission

Four-speed manual, rear-wheel drive

Kerb weight

c. 1,400kg

0-62mph

c. 8.6 seconds

Top speed

c. 120mph

Production dates

1964-1966 (Entire production run 1964-1973)

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