By on December 3, 2009

'65 Mustang six

Freedom. Does any other word better sum up the aspirations of the sixties? And does any other image convey it better than a wild mustang running free? The symbols of the ’58 Thunderbird and the ’65 Mustang are perfect reflections of the profound changes that took place in the seven years between them. Flying, even the T-Bird way, is intrinsically exclusive. But running free with your mane trailing in the wind? Now that was a truly democratic and affordable dream, just like the Mustang.

The Mustang was the first baby-boomer mobile. Even if they were too young to buy them, the boomers’ influence on the market and their parents was undeniable. Youth and freedom were now the predominant cultural themes, and Lee Iacocca had the brilliant solution to bank it. The Mustang was the breakthrough of style and image over function, at a bare bones price. And although its time at the top of the pop hits chart was rather brief, its influence was enormous. The Mustang became an icon of American culture globally, and changed the word’s automobile market permanently. Youthful freedom and sportiness, real or pretend, seemed to lack borders or a sell-by date.

CC 12 079 800Conceptually, the Mustang had two significant sources of inspiration: the ’55-’57 two-seat T-Bird, and the ’61 Corvair Monza. Ford had a hard time letting go of the sports car theme, and played with various concepts ever since the ’58 Thunderbird sprouted a rear seat and a paunch. Budd, who had supplied the body for the two-seat ‘Birds, pushed a Falcon based update, the XT-Bird, using the old body dies. Wisely, Ford forged ahead with the goal to create a fresh, youthful and affordable sporty car, but with four seats.

The process that got them there, Project Allegro, resulted in some intriguing prototypes, and of course the two-seat mid-engine Mustang I. What its purpose was in incubating the final Mustang is a little vague, given how far it strayed from the definitive configuration. But it generated buzz and got the Mustang name imprinted. But the 1963 Mustang II was the real thing, almost. It gave a clear indication what Joe Oros’ styling crew was up to, minus the chopped top (like every concept ever) and pointed front end.

What really made the Mustang feasible, and madly profitable, was the Falcon. Its dubious underpinnings were lent to a raft of hum-drum compact and mid-sized Ford products, thanks to its many virtues like low cost and…low cost. But the resulting Mustang’s rock-bottom price was revolutionary, and had an explosive effect. A six cylinder coupe like this one was priced at $2368 ($16k adjusted), all of $47 more than a Falcon six coupe. In dollars per inches of hood length, it was a steal.

In the Corvair Monza’s best year, 1962, Chevy sold some 140k of the pioneering bucket-seat coupes. Although Ford hoped to do a bit better than that, actual demand exceeded supply by a 15-to-1 ratio. Almost 700k Mustangs were sold in its extended first model year. Nothing like it has ever happened before, or since. It was the automotive equivalent of the Beatles. If you were alive then, you’ll never forget the Mustang mania that swept the land. If you weren’t, I can’t do it justice with words. You either experienced the sixties, or didn’t.

CC 12 082 800If not, you might be tempted to think of first generation Mustang dynamic qualities in terms of its current iteration, or the mythical Shelby GT. Don’t, because it really wasn’t very sporty at all, unless you were among the few to check all the right (expensive) options, or shelled out for the Shelby. Think Falcon, with a long nose and a lower seating position. In Gene Bordinat’s own words: “the Mustang was a secretary’s car”. And every secretary had one or was waiting in line for one.

I can’t find the production breakouts, but I’m going to guess that close to half of ’65 Mustangs came with the six. Reality check: 101 (gross, about 88 net) hp from the 170 CI (2.8 liter) wheezer, if your ‘Stang was built before 9/24/64. Those that held out, or were forced to wait ‘till after that date were rewarded with its 120 hp 200 CI (3.3 liter) successor. Teamed with the automatic, it was a cruel abuse of the term “sporty”. The sole exception to six malaise was the 200 with the optional four speed stick and manual steering. That combination, ideally with a set of aftermarket Michelin or Pirelli radials and a quartet of Koni shocks, yielded a distinctly continental flavor and actually handled, unlike the the under steering front-heavy V8.

Our featured car is obviously a six from the tell-tale four-bolt wheels. There are actually some very redeeming features about these six-banger Mustangs, the biggest one being that they’re still out on the streets and in decent shape. Most V8s are either restored or retro-rods tucked in their garages, or the abused victims of various ill-advised and under-funded hot rodding attempts and now rotting away in a side yard. The only gen1 Mustangs still at work on the streets of Eugene are several of these sixes, and all in a similar state to this one: essentially original and reasonably well cared for, if not exactly pampered. And not insignificantly, they’re all sticks.

CC 12 080 800Mustang sixes had a cult tuning following, from the get-go. I remember as a kid reading a contemporary account of the legendary Ak Miller modifying one to ever hotter stages; the final version had four SU or Keihin side-draft carbs and pulled some 200 horsepower on the dyno. I’ve always had a fascination with inline sixes and the tuners that purposely set themselves the challenges of its limitations. Today, on the pages of www.fordsix.com, all manner of collective knowledge on uncorking power out of these fairly rugged mills is on tap. There’s even a new custom made aluminum cylinder head that has the potential to generate 350 ponies from a normally aspirated small-block six.

If the V8 Mustang is getting short shrift here, well, there are plenty of places to go for that. Or maybe I’ll find a decent V8 fastback to inspire me for a follow up. For some reason, I equate that body style only with the V8. Let’s just say the popular 200 hp 289 CI (4.7 liter) mill made the Mustang reasonably peppy, even with the all-too typical Cruise-O-Matic. But the heavier V8 and automatic combo most likely meant power steering; well, by then you might as well have been driving a Fairlane. Never mind the crappy little drum brakes. Sure, the hi-po 289, heavy duty suspension and brakes were all available, but none too common with the primary target Mustang clientele. The freedom to go fast wasn’t free, or even cheap.

Mustang mania lasted about as long as Beatlemania; by 1969, sales had crumpled by 50%; and by 1973, barely 130k of the oversized draft horses were sold. Until it found new purpose and rejuvenation in its Fox-body reincarnation, the Mustang muddled along under the weight of the seventies like so much of  sixties’ exuberance.

So were the Mustang’s brief and glorious revolution anymore lasting than the SDS or Tim Leary? It single-handedly created a lasting genre that is showing surprising strength again today. Sedans never again had the same prominence post Mustang fever. Credit the overwhelming success of the “stylish” Olds Cutlass coupe during the late seventies and early eighties to ex-Mustang buyers. By then they just needed a bit more room for their growing waistline, and that padded vinyl landau roof was just the latest suburban mania. Anyway, relating to the image of a galloping wild horse was just harder to do after a long day at work and the longer commute home; the Cutlass coupe was comfort food to the Mustang’s lean horse-meat chops.

There will never be another ’65 Mustang for the same reason there will never be another Beatles. We’ve fragmented into way too many niches: psychographic, demographic, psycho, and just plain old graphic; your galloping wild mustang is now my political cause. Freedom has become a loaded word. And it’s neither quite as democratic nor as affordable as it once used to be.

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82 Comments on “Curbside Classic: Five Revolutionary Cars – No. 4 – 1965 Ford Mustang...”


  • avatar
    05gt

    the first generation Mustang is my favorite of them all. looked great inside and out

  • avatar
    Stingray

    Of the early Mustangs, as with the following… I like the Fastback ones. On the first gent they look really nice.

  • avatar
    folkdancer

    Thank you.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Be honest. Raise your hand if you were one of the numerous rapscallions that brutally assaulted the written “FORD” logo script across the hood and altered it to “DORF.”

    Thought so.

    Get off my dirt (too lazy and cheap to plant a lawn).

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    Although I was six years short of a drivers license when the Stang was introduced I remember well its popularity and riding in a distant cousin’s convert. There was a magic that car created that hasn’t been seen since. Good article, didn’t realize they sold that many of them the first year.

  • avatar
    educatordan

    Thanks for this blast from my past too.  I was born in 1977 but my father has owned a 1968 Ford Mustang Convertible since 1979 when he bought it from his MIL after his FIL died.  Dad’s is a HIPO 289V8 with a cruise-o-matic, aftermarket tach, and an 8-track.  It’s a base model with every option except the GT and Pony Packages, I live 2000 miles away from him now, but thanks for giving me an excuse to give the “old man” a call. 

  • avatar
    trk2

    But the heavier V8 and automatic combo also meant power steering
     
    Not true, my ’66 mustang with the 289 is stock with the automatic and no power steering or power brakes.

  • avatar
    fincar1

    My take on the Mustangs ended up being “glorified Falcon” too. I looked at them and Malibu SS’s, and got a Barracuda. Sure, it looked like the Valiant it was derived from, but didn’t pretend not to. In late 62 I was looking at 1963 Falcon Sprints and was ready to buy a 4-speed hardtop, but got laid off. That postponed the new-car buying plans for two years until we moved and both got good jobs. I do have some preference for fastbacks, and of the early Mustangs the 67-68 fastback was my favorite.

  • avatar
    rtt108

    Wow .. my first car.  Except mine was green inside and out.  Straight 6 with the 3spd and all (I remember my shifter knob was black though?).  Very close to the grey car pictured.  

    Out of curiosity, when did they switch from 4 to 5 lug rims?  I think the 5 lug rims were on the v8 version, but my 65 6-cyl had the 5 lug rims?  Was that a 64-1/2 to 65 change, or a mid year change in the 65 production.

  • avatar
    Paul Niedermeyer

    Four lug wheels for sixes, five lugs for V8s, all the way through ’66 at least; possibly ’67 -’68 too. If you had a six and five lug wheels, either your memory is playing tricks, or someone went to considerable effort to change it out.

  • avatar
    trk2

    I think it’s also notable to point out that the heaviest of the first generation mustangs (V8 Convertible) was only 2800 lbs.  The V8 hardtops were around 2600 -2700 lbs, within spitting distance of today’s Miata (2450lbs).  The inline 6 Mustang also checked in around 2450lbs.

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      That is notable.  What would the new Camaro weigh if it were a 3/4 scale copy of what it is now?  Smaller, ligher, faster for sports and muscle cars I say!

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      A Civic Si Coupe weighs 2900#, that might be the size of a 3/4 scale Camaro

    • 0 avatar
      sacrat

      During tech inspection at a race event I was surprised to discover that my “oversized draft horse” (Paul’s term) 1971 Mustang Grande weighed only 3150 pounds (minus spare tire). My 2009 Hyundai Sonata 4 banger weighs about 100 pounds more! Cars were definitely simpler then. I also owned a 66 Coupe, 66 Fastback, and 68 convertible in the eighties and nineties and had great fun travelling to events with the local Mustang Club (Alberta, Canada) . Thanks for the great article Paul…

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean23

      And what’s really embarrassing is my 1995 Mustang Cobra Hardtop Convertible weighs a staggering 3500 lbs with the fiberglass top on it. Stock it pushed 250 HP and 305 torques through a 9″ inch positrack rear end.

      Interesting the comparison between the Gen I and Gen III Fox bodies. Both were meant to be affordable secretary cars based off a throwaway platform (Fox body was the Fairmont). The Gen III beater was the 88-90 2.3L four banger LX, very comparable to this straight six.

  • avatar
    geeber

    Thank you for a great article, Paul. You should write for Collectible Automobile or Hemmings Classic Car, as you do a great job of putting these vehicles in the proper historical context, which is much more interesting than reading a recitation of trim levels and engine options for each model year that those publications too often feature.

    The six-cylinder version is the perfect choice for this article. Too many people today refer to the original Mustang as a MUSCLE car. It most definitely was not – that was the role filled by the Pontiac GTO. What made the Mustang a huge smash were the six-cylinder and base-level V-8 versions.

    This lingers today…it’s not uncommon to see brand-new six-cylinder Mustangs driven by secretaries (coupe) or older couples attempting to recapture their youth (convertible). That is why the Mustang has stuck around. The basic versions make the car feasible. If it were strictly a muscle machine, it would have gone the way of the early 2000 F-bodies (and the current Camaro may face the same fate, once the initial demand is satisifed) or the revived GTO.

    By the way…any chance there is a suicide-door Lincoln parked on the streets of Eugene? Or even a mid-1970s Cutlass Supreme coupe? Would love to read your take on those two…

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      Thanks, Geeber. I’m trying hard to stay away from fact regurgitation. It’s everywhere, a few mouse clicks away.
      I have several Cutlasses from which to work with; so stay tuned for that. So far, I’ve struck out on the Lincoln, but I know I will find one eventually.

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      If I buy any pony car it will be the V6 version, I have no need for the tire screeching 0-60 in 5 seconds or less V8 version and I would really be buying a pony car just for the looks.
      The current Camaro’s great V6 engine might keep it around for a bit longer.

    • 0 avatar
      dolorean23

      Seriously, have you thought to put together some of these into a coffee table type book?

  • avatar
    GoHuskers

    I own a 1964 1/2 Mustang (production unit #5563), Wimbledon white exterior/Daytona blue interior, built in Dearborn on March 30, 1964, delivered to Dallas. A fun toy for summer days. Original factory AM radio, 1 speaker & six cylinders who keep plugging away. The only spoiler for this fun are the right wing blowhards that dominate the AM spectrum.  But a smooth roadway, all windows down, wing vents extended, (the radio off, or the iPod on) along with sun and warm breezes blowin in  – - one has all the elements of a great retro experience. Youth recaptured or not….

  • avatar

    My father had one of these, in a sort of cobalt blue. I was born in late ’63 and rode home from the hospital in the VW Beetle that my parents traded in on a brand new “sixty-four and a half” Mustang. My earliest coherent memory is from standing on the transmission tunnel of that ‘Stang.

    “I don’t know why that memory remains lodged so well in the crevices of my grey matter, but it is all there. The smell of the nearly bullet-proof thick vinyl seats. The pebbly texture of the material covering the transmission/driveline tunnel that made such great friction with the soles of my footy pajamas. How the front seats came up to shoulder-blade height on my parent’s backs. My mom’s red hair and floral-print clothes. My dad’s slick jet-black hair and white short-sleeved shirt. The center console of the Mustang laid out before me, shifter waiting to impale me like a speared fish should we collide with something. I can still see the details of that car’s interior; the chromed horn “bar”, really a three-pointed star, with concentric arrayed holes, overlaid on the blue plastic steering wheel. The raised center of the wheel with its running pony under “glass”, with the raised handle-like protrusions around the edge that just begged to be grabbed and turned. The oblong curved rectangular shapes of the dashboard that hung over the same rectilinear yet rounded shapes of the glovebox and instrument cluster, the latter with that uniquely Detroit speedometer with the numbers arrayed fan-like left-to-right, orange indicator swinging. Circular dials anchoring either end of the speedometer. Groovy climate-control levers that looked like the throttles of a Boeing 707.
    The perspective from that perch, from the height of a two-year-old, meant that my parents were giants. Towering above my full height, even while sitting. Looking UP to see their faces. Faces in the full bloom of youth, my father was thirty-one, my mother twenty-eight years old. Both younger than I am today, by a fair margin. In a lot of ways that is how I still see my parents in my mind’s eye. I can only hope my kids have a similar mental frame grab of me from the early 90s. Today my parents are in their seventies and if I haven’t seen them in a while it is always a short, sharp shock to my vision to see them as they are today. No longer young, and certainly NOT giants. For me however it is always that view from the back of the Mustang that is “mom & dad” to my brain.
    Imprinted like a baby bird, it is forever how I see them.”

    Thanks for the memories Paul.

    • 0 avatar
      GoHuskers

      Thanks for sharing your warm memories Chuck…

    • 0 avatar
      educatordan

      Thank you for the memories too Chuck.  My dad has had his Mustang so long I can’t remember him not owning it.  God I have sooooooo many memories of him and then he and I working on that car, father and son.  It’s the ONLY thing I want from him in his will, that 1967 Mustang.  (Crap, I’m tearing up.)

    • 0 avatar
      bugo

      I rode from Arkansas to New Mexico via Colorado standing between the seats in my dad’s 66 coupe (which he still has) on the transmission tunnel. Ah, the seventies when safety was just a theory.

  • avatar

    The original was an absolutely fabulous piece of styling, both inside and out, and as revolutionary, in terms of its quality, as the car’s price. It created an awful lot of cognitive dissonance in my 11 year old self, which worshipped GM, the One True Car Company. I must say, though, the back seat of Simon Floss’s (father of one of my schoolmates with whom I carpooled) original Mustang was cramped, even for a kid, and the six mated to a slushbox did not feel nearly as peppy, nor as well put together as had the Mustang’s predecessor, a 1960 Valiant–another, even more revolutionary piece of styling imo.

  • avatar
    Robert.Walter

    Nice story Paul.

    As I understand it, you have captured a true 64 1/2 model here … the honeycomb grille is the give-away … for ’65, as it was explained to me, the hexagonal openings gave way to rectangular slots…  if true, and unmodified, the give away would be the generator bolted to the 6-cyl … Mustang only finally got an alternator in ’65!

    Also, when you speak of radials, were they even available then?  Thought the first OEM use of radials in the states was Ford with the MkIII (Michelin) … Funny related story here, from my long-dead neighbor, and friend, Dick Rader, a Ford brake engineer (and himself, up until his death, the owner of 3 ’65′s (including one, with a siezed engine, which he rescued from a wrecking yard near the Ford proving grounds in Nevada) … Story goes, in preparing to launch the MkIII with the Michelin radials, they needed someone from the inside to manage the project (engineering, tuning, supplier interface, etc.)… they sent an engineer from Ford France S.A. to Dearborn… at some point, he turns in his expense reports to his American supervisor… the supervisor was aghast… the French engineer had put the charges of a prostitute into his expense report… he called the Engineer in and asked for an explanation… the engineer said something to the effect:  “You brought me here far from my family to work on this project, I’m a French Man, why are you so surprised?”   No word on if the expense was repaid.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      I was referring to aftermarket tires and shocks.

    • 0 avatar
      Russycle

      I believe the  rectangular mesh grill started with the 66, the hex grill carried through ’65.  Always liked the hex better.  I believe you’re right about the generator.

    • 0 avatar
      fincar1

      When I was looking to improve the handling of my then-new Barracuda in early 1965, radials were just beginning to be available. I found a set of Michelins that were barely big enough for the V8 4-speed car; they weren’t even black, but very dark brown, and had almost a truck-tire hum at speed. They did help the cornering though. Afaik that was well before any US cars could be had new with radials.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      Russycle: The 66 had horizontal bars, not rectangles or honeycomb

  • avatar

    Great read.  The first gen mustangs have always been one of my favorites and you’ve done a great job of describing it and the times.   One of my won-the-lottery or kids-have-left-home fantasies is to modernize a v-6 coupe.   Maybe one day.

  • avatar
    carguy

    Great work Paul and thanks for putting the classic Mustang six into its proper historical context.

  • avatar
    superbadd75

    Very nice read, as always Paul.

    I never really got into the 1st gen Mustang coupes very much, and the fastback was an improvement, but still didn’t really “do it” for me, style-wise. My favorite was always the ’69/’70 fastback, particularly in Mach 1 or Boss form. I thought it was just an aggressive looking car, and the interior seemed to envelop you, unlike the larger greenhouse of the early cars. That said, I would love to have witnessed the release of that first Mustang, as it was the birth of a new category, the creation of something different. There are very few cars today that have a buzz about them when they’re released, and certainly none that match the excitement that the Mustang created. My personal Mustang experiences have been my parents’ Mustang IIs (a red 4 speed coupe and a green automatic fastback), a black ’86 LX convertible, and our white ’09 5M V6. I can’t imagine the auto world without a Mustang. Even in the most basic form, they’re more fun than a boring econobox for the same dough.

  • avatar
    FreedMike

    Freedom has become a loaded word.
    I was waiting for “Freedom’s just a loaded word for nothing left to lose”. Or maybe “Freedom’s just a a loaded word for someone else’s rant.”

    A little nod to Janis Joplin now and then can’t hurt. :)

    Great piece, Paul. I wish I’d been around for the initial stages of Mustang mania, but unfortunately, I was breast feeding at the time. My mom had a yellow ’67 with a black vinyl roof, and one of my first memories is of that car.

    The first ‘Stangs that really made an impression on me were the late-60s models, like the Mach 1 and Boss 302, and for some reason, I have a major soft spot for the ’72 fastback (probably because my dad took me along when he was considering trading the bumblebee ’67 for a ’72 fastback – the one on the showroom floow was a red Mach 1, just like the one James Bond drove in “Diamonds Are Forever”). Then, of course, came the gussied-up Pintos of the mid-70s.

    To this day, I still lust after a Mustang, prehistoric rear suspension and all. There’s a red ’10 GT at my local Ford dealer with the glass roof, power dome hood and rear quarter window louvers that I’d surgically remove my right pinky to put in my driveway.

  • avatar
    C. Alan

    I had a lot of fun a few years ago working on a ’67 mustang.  The one thing that impressed me about the car was how incredibly simple the car is compared to modern cars.  I loved the fact that you could pull the engine with nothing more than a cherry picker, and basic hand tools.  I also came to appreciate the fit and finish of modern cars after spending many an hour re-aligning doors and fenders on that car.

    BTW, all 1st and 2nd gen mustangs had either an 8″ or 9″ rear end.  The i6 cars had 8″ rear ends with 4 lugs, and the V8 cars had the 9″ rear ends, and 5 lugs.

  • avatar
    wgmleslie

    My first car was a  <a href=”http://smg.photobucket.com/albums/v224/tiltedkilt/?action=view&current=1965Mustang.jpg” target=”_blank”><img src=”http://img.photobucket.com/albums/v224/tiltedkilt/1965Mustang.jpg” border=”0″ alt=”Photobucket”>1965 Mustang</a>.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Great writeup.  I owned a 68 6 cyl hardtop.  3 speed stick, manual steering and brakes.  But it had the cool hood-mounted turn signal lights!.  Lime Gold Metallic (an approximation of which reappeared on the 2005) with a black vinyl roof and black interior.

    I remember reading that the 6 cyl Mustang was unique among 6 cyl ponycars as having many components designed around the 6, rather than just taking the car and sticking a 6 in it instead of the V8.  The Mustang 6 was lighter than its contemporaries and was sprightlier than its competitors.

    That 200 ci 6 was a sweetie.  Mine was a very nice driving car.  Max speed was 90.  This I know.   I also know that this was the car that gave rear drive a bad name in the snow belt.  EVERYBODY I knew with a Mustang or a Cougar could get stuck in a half inch of snow.  These cars were also terrible about door locks and latches freezing in cold weather. 

    I have to say that there are not very many cars that come out of the box with virtually perfect styling and proportion.  The early Mustang is one such car.  Every line was just right.  This was a car that looked right on everyone, from secretaries to secret agents (James Bond drove one during a scene in one of the early movies). 

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      You’ve jogged another memory. The Mustang appeared in the Bond film Goldfinger. If I recall correctly, the movie was released about the same time the car officially debuted, so this was quite a coup for Ford.

      This is also the movie that features the suicide-door Lincoln Continental sedan being crushed into a cube at the junkyard. The crushed Lincoln – along with several gold bars and the body of the dead mobster who was shot inside the Lincoln before it was crushed – are then placed in the bed of a 1964 Falcon Ranchero, which manages to drive away without so much as a sagging rear spring! But reality has never been a hallmark of the Bond films…

    • 0 avatar
      FreedMike

      Geeber – don’t forget the T-bird that Felix Leiter drove…and by the way, if you look closely, they removed the engine from the Continental before it was crushed. Unfortunately, Mr. Solo was not…

    • 0 avatar
      jpcavanaugh

      geeber, I had to get home and ask my teenage Bond expert, but I was thinking of Thunderball, where one of the beautiful women had a sky blue 65 hardtop and Bond drove the car really fast.
      You are right about Goldfinger – I always cringe when the Continental gets crushed, then laugh when the 55oo pound Lincoln drops onto the 3500 pound Falcon like a styrofoam cube (which it probably was).

    • 0 avatar
      geeber

      I believe that there was a 1964 Thunderbird in Goldfinger…it was driven by the American agents trailing Bond when he was in the U.S. When Bond is at Goldfinger’s Kentucky horse farm, he is driven away in a 1964 Country Squire.

      Yes, I’ve wasted far too much time watching Bond film reruns…

  • avatar
    Monty

    Thank you so much, Paul. Brings back great memories.

    My cousin Geri and I screaming “MUSTANG!!!” at the top of our lungs everytime we saw one of them on the highway, finally driving my father to the breaking point, wherein he pulled over on the side of the 401 Highway, just outside of Oakville or Oshawa, and hauled us out of the car and threatened to leave the two of us there if we continued screaming.

    My brother and I getting mad at our youngest uncle because he bought a stupid Barracuda instead of the Mustang we wanted.

    Our friend’s mother trading in a Chevelle convertible for a Mustang (hardtop, sigh) in ’65 was a cause for much joy and revelry amongst the neighbourhood boys.

    It is almost impossible to convey the impact that the Mustang had, unless you were alive at the time, and only people who were also alive then understand. It was truly a revolutionary car. Yes, many “secretaries” drove Mustangs, and lots of suburban moms as well, but lots of “cool kids” had them, whether in strippo or HiPo variants didn’t matter. It was, after all, a Mustang. 8 year olds didn’t care if it was the small displacement v8 or the 6 with a slushbox, it was a friggin’ Mustang. It looked unlike any other car on the road, and to this day I can still distinguish between the various models and assorted trims from a distance.

    Oh, and another thing, I don’t get the hate for the Falcon underpinnings. IIRC, the Falcon underpinned the Comet, and was to be the base for a new smaller Edsel, and a version of it was also the mid-sized Fairlane and eventually it became the Maverick and then eveolved into the Granada. Ford successfully utilized that platform for over two decades, and those 170 cid and 200 cid straight sizes were a marvel of durability.

    Of course this was the same company that gave us the Econoline, the Mustang, the Thunderbird (post ’58) and the marvelous Lincoln Continental 4 door convertible. Sadly, Ford lost their way in the 70′s, foisting upon us the Mustang II, the LTD II, the miniature Thunderbird, and all sorts of other frankensteins from the design studio. Who can forget the garish Ford Elite? I’ll never be able to wipe that memory clean, sadly.

    45 years later the original Mustang 2 door coupe looks surprisingly fresh. Ford knew how to hit a homerun back then.

    • 0 avatar
      Paul Niedermeyer

      No hate for the Falcon underpinnings; the were what they were: very simple and modest. No effort at precision, like rack and pinion steering, better brakes, etc. By this time, things like that were being done by Ford in England with their excellent Cortina.

    • 0 avatar
      superbadd75

      You know what’s funny, Monty, kids still seem to love Mustangs. When we bought our 2009, we still had an SLK in the garage. The kid across the street never once even seemed to notice that Benz, but the first time I pulled the ‘Stang out on a Saturday morning to wash it, his eyes got wide and he yelled to his mother, “Wow, that’s a cool car!”. It was kind of cool, and I was glad to actually see a kid with at least some interest in cars. I guess Mustangs just have that special something.

    • 0 avatar
      Monty

      Yes, the Falcon underpinnings were what they were, a ridiculously simple arrangement, and until pollution controls were mandated, a beautifully simple car to repair.  Although we never had a Falcon (not that my dad didn’t try to convince my mother to get one, but a wagon just wasn’t “sporty” enough!), we had a 1970 Maverick, with the 200 cid I6 and the slushbox, and I learned how to replace a flywheel, timing chain, transmission, starter, brakes, and all other manners of repairs. The Mustang, at least the first two generations, was simple to repair and because the Falcon, Comet and Fairlane shared so many mechanical parts, the parts were cheap and easy to find (and still are today).

      For it’s day, that little I6 was pretty peppy, even with the automatic. No power steering, no power brakes, the strippo versions are what I like the best. If I was to look for a vintage car again (I’ve had enough to know that they’re a money pit) I would look for a first or second gen Falcon, Comet or Mustang. Simple yet striking styling, easy to find parts, simple to work on and cheap to buy (even the Mustang, unless you’re looking for a V8 or a convertible or any of the perfromance iterations).

  • avatar
    Ralph SS

    Another excellent article.  Thanks.
    So…five revolutionary cars.  And three of them are Fords?

  • avatar
    Russycle

    My first car was a 15 year old ’65, blue with white top, 289 and Cruise-0-Matic.  When I bought it the accelerator linkage was screwed up, the gas pedal wouldn’t budge unless you really got on it, then it would drop to the floor, with an accompanying surge of acceleration.  Perfect for a 17-year-old kid.  Took me half an hour to figure out the problem and fix it.  I bought it from a GM dealer, I think the fact that their mechanics couldn’t be bothered to fix an obvious safety issue forever tainted GM for me.  That and the crappy cars they sold in the 70s.
     
    The drum brakes on that car were something.  Twice I had a full load of passengers, coming down long, steep hills, and overheated the brakes to the point that they did nothing to slow the car.  Made for an evening never to be forgotten, luckily we made it unscathed both times.
     
    The thing was incredibly easy to work on.  Wouldn’t mind having one with a hot 6 and 4-wheel discs.

  • avatar
    Stingray

    An SUV has to be in this list. I guess which one will be: Jeep Wagoneer or Jeep Cherokee (XJ).
    I hope it’s the XJ.
    And, even if there was no CC clue, I got the Nº 4 on the T-Bird article =)
    Or is it going to be the 86 Taurus?

  • avatar

    Though I am far too young to have been around to witness the excitement this car generated, my mother had a ’69 and she still talks about it today.  She loved it and crashed it into a snow bank after a night of drinking, totaling it.  But just for her to talk about a car the way she does says something special about it because for the most part she could care less what she drives.  Though she has been talking lately about wanting a Miata.  I guess my mom is a closet car geek.

  • avatar
    mtymsi

    The first car I bought was a ’67 hardtop 289 2bbl 3spd man in 72. Fun car for a 17 year old. Coincidentally I looked at my new 2010 GT coupe at the dealership today which I’ll soon be taking delivery of. Looking forward to it!!

  • avatar

    I think one of the reasons the Mustang sales fell so far is that the style went down the toilet. The tweaking for ’67 wasn’t bad–more masculine, but otherwise similar–but after that, there hasn’t been anything near as nice as the original until the current iteration.

    • 0 avatar
      davey49

      The hated 1974 Mustang II sold triple or more of the previous generation.
      I do agree on the styling, now I almost think that the Mustang wasn’t produced from 1971-2004 and that 2005 comes after 1970.

  • avatar
    LectroByte

     
    I’ve owned two 65′s, and they couldn’t have felt more different.  Both V8s, one more luxury-styled with an automatic, power steering, power brakes, and the very rare bench seat option.  I am not kidding.    It was not a bad driver, but could have used AC.
    The other was a stripper that must have been special ordered, it had a V8, 4 bbl, 4 speed, some crazy rear axle ratio (3.73?) and that’s it.  Didn’t even have backup lights, power steering, ha, forget it.  By the time I bought it, the engine had been warmed over a little more with a cam and headers, but the original non-boosted power brakes and suspension were lacking.
     
     

  • avatar
    tuckerdawg

    I remember the first time I drove a mustang (model year 96) was also the first time I drove rwd, almost put the beast in a ditch due to my recklessness on a dirt back road…maybe that’s where it belonged

  • avatar
    willbodine

    Timing is everything. The first Mustang was great looking and affordable. Yes, the Mustang Mania occured at the same time as Beatlemania. And for the same reason. The national trauma caused by the JFK assassination the previous Fall sought distraction in mindless obsessions. The Beatles, and the Mustang were at the right place, and at the right time.
    The other happy co-incidence for the Mustang was the arrival of the first Boomers’ drivers licenses.  And a number of mothers-of-grown children and/or divorcees re-entering the job force meant the end of the age of the family car, and the arrival of the personal car. And very often, it was a Mustang or a Beetle that was that personal car.
    I happen to own a very nice, original 64 1/2 Mustang convertible that I bought 25 years ago from my neighbor, the original owner.  260 V8, auto, ps, ps, console and power top. Prairie Bronze exterior, tan interior. Mine was built in Dearborn in April ’64.  Listed at about $3,000. (CA tax and license was $120!)  No back-up lights, and the passenger seat was bolted to the floor (the track mechanism wasn’t ready in April.)

  • avatar
    Dave M.

    foisting upon us the Mustang II, the LTD II, the miniature Thunderbird, and all sorts of other frankensteins from the design studio. Who can forget the garish Ford Elite?

    I understand the anguish, but put it in its rightful ’70′s context and Ford did ok.  The Mustang II was a lucky stroke of market brilliance – the sudden downsizing in the midst of Oil Crisis I.  A wheelbase and body length much closer to the original ’65.
    What the purists howled about was basing it on a modified Pinto chassis and having a 4-cyl for the standard engine.  Again, it vastly outsold the ’71-’73 series.

    Since Ford struck market gold with a Mustang II, hence the LTD II.  Not quite the market appeal.

    As far as the Ford Elite – quite garish it was, and quite the market failure.  For the time capsule, though, it was a lame attempt at competing against the very popular Monte Carlo, which was built to compete against the Thunderbird, which cost much more.  Personally I thought they were great looking…then.

    Strange times indeed.

  • avatar
    James2

    My dad had a ’68 Mustang, 289 V8, 3-speed auto, sky blue… destined to be mine (I hoped) until he totaled it two blocks from home .  Instead, I got an ’80 Mustang that couldn’t hold the ’68′s jockstrap.

  • avatar
    DweezilSFV

    I look at that trim, compact first generation Mustang and the bloated mess of the current one and just shake my head. Ford still doesn’t get it. Yes, the styling is nice but it truly is the “oversized draft horse”, amazingly even moreso than the 71-73. Like a cartoon version of the 69. A shame.
    Reminds me of that old Mustang ad when the major overhaul came out: “It Is What It Was”. Of course. If you’re talking about 1973. 1st Gen: not even close.

    Thanks for the wonderful write up, Paul

  • avatar
    ConejoZing

    There is a rumor that a new V-6 Mustang engine is soon to arrive.  It will supposedly allow up to 30 mpg on the highway.  If that engine can actually do that… that is very good and is a sign that Ford is without a doubt still capable of great things.  Indeed, I have to wonder the tuning potential of such an engine from those stock settings.  I think I read about it in the LA Times.
    Anyway, indeed.  Mustang!  Truly a legend.

  • avatar
    NickR

    Sigh, as a Moparite I am tempted to wring my hands and go ‘Not another ***king Mustang!’  However, it certainly has it’s place in history.  (That being said, please don’t ever write an article on the Chevy 350.  My head will explode.)

    This is one of those vehicles that I think succeeds more based on nostalgia for the times rather the car itself.   I remember back in my mid-20s I was dating this spoiled girlfriend who had got a lo-po 289 Mustang fast back from her dad.  With the auto transmission, it was a complete slug.  My dads Caprice would have crushed it in a drag race. 

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    I think the other inspiration for the Mustang was the Studebaker Starliner coupe, which later morphed into the Hawk.  That was the first popularly-priced sporty coupe in the U.S.  Initially they sold pretty well, suggesting a latent market that Ford was the most aggressive of the Big Three in pioneering.
     
    The spectacular rise of the Mustang really changed corporate thinking.  In the go-go days of the mid-to-late 60s auto execs started to believe that family cars were becoming increasingly irrelevant.  Indeed, AMC — whose biggest success had been with stolid sedans and wagons —  bet the farm on a series of style-conscious coupes:  Javelin, AMX, Gremlin, Matador coupe and Pacer.  Sedans and wagons were half-hearted afterthoughts, like a cramped Hornet four-door built off of the two-door’s low-slung roofline.
     
    In time it became clear that Detroit overreached, much as it had with the tailfinned dinosaurs of the late 1950s.  In the 1970s Chrysler ultimately didn’t survive because of its stylish Challengers and Chargers, but because of the dowdy Valiant and Dart (which effectively inherited the Rambler market AMC had abandoned).  Meanwhile, most of AMCs image coupes didn’t sell so well.  Bye-bye.
     
    All that said, my first car was a used 1965 Mustang.  Stingray silver with a 289, Hurst four-speed and an oooh-gah horn.  Fun car (when it worked).  The Mustang was evidence that Ford was at the peak of its powers in the 1960s.

  • avatar

    My aunt had a ’65 Mustang with the six and automatic.  Was her daily driver for its firts 23 years before she sold it to a guy who loved to restore cars.  Black body, white vinyl roof — before she sold it, the car still ran, but the windshield wipers were toast.  (Not easy to use in NYC weather.)  It was her first car and she almost swore she’d never give it up.  As a kid, I thought it was one of the most beautiful little vehicles on the road.  My folks had a ’68 with the 289 V8 — first car I remember as a child.
    I will always have a soft spot in my heart for those early Mustangs — elegant in their symplicity, beautiful to look at, classic.

  • avatar

    I owned a 1965 Mustang fastback until 2007. I liked the car  but I didn’t like like the car. I bought a 1961 Lincoln but unfortunately I don’t live anywhere close to the greater Eugene area. Here is my only serious adventure with the Lincoln thus far: http://www.mystarcollectorcar.com/2-features/editorials/146-older-but-absolutely-no-wiser.html

  • avatar
    Andy D

    My daily driver a 88 BMW, 528e is basicly  the nearest thing  I  can  find to a 60s  US made,  6 cylinder automatic updated to modern  conditions.  It too, is  easy  to  work on .
    The  I6 is my favorite  engine.  The V8 is a cheap way  to cram 4 more  cylinders under a  4′s  hood.

  • avatar
    rudiger

    As has been said, ad nauseum, the Mustang was a perfect example of being exactly the right car at exactly the right time. The understated, elegant, long-nose, short-deck styling on top of the humble, but competent (for the time) Falcon chassis kept the price down and  made it accessable to a wide market. 

    The Mustang might not have been as practical as something styled more conventionally, but it wasn’t excessively impractical (like a true 2-seat sports car), either. For just a few dollars more than the price of a Falcon, you could have a car that looked a whole lot better and at least gave the appearance of being ‘sporty’ (if not the actual execution).

    It didn’t hurt matters that the competition was hopelessly inept. Chrysler’s lame attempt at disguising the Barracuda’s similiar compact car underpinnings doomed it. Unlike the Mustang, the Barracuda looked for all the world to be exactly what it was – a Valiant with an ungainly glass fastback tacked on.

    Likewise, Nader had essentially obliterated what was otherwise a great-looking restyle of the 1965 Corvair, which had by then moved more into the sporty Mustang market with the advent of the Chevy II taking over GM’s entry compact car field.

    In fact, it’s rather surprising that the 1965 and later Corvair hasn’t yet been a Curbside Classic. It would seem to be a perfect candidate.

  • avatar
    Zombo

    I had three of those in the 70s , a 65 and two 66s – all 289s with autos . The 65 was my favorite – trips to the Jersey shore in barefoot stretched out comfort  with the under dash Pioneer supertuner pounding out the tunes , those were some good times ! Easy to work on with many parts , even the voltage regulator , available cheap at the local K Mart . Crude by today’s standards , but I don’t know any car today with the legroom those cars had for us long legged folk . Some VWs come close , but by and large most of today’s cars are severely lacking in legroom .

  • avatar
    dman900

    As a 7 year old car fanatic, I still remember the sensation the Mustang caused when it was launched. And I remember that 10 years later you could buy a perfectly nice 260 or 289 notchback  for about $500, and a slightly ratty convertible for the same. A friend had a 289 convertible, 3 speed, no power steering, and it was fun to drive in a casual way, but it didn’t really handle or stop, even by 1975 standards.

  • avatar
    happy-cynic

    This series should be required reading for any history or business class!
    There was a lot of optimism in the early, mid 60′s, (Before the Viet Nam war, got real tough, murder of RFK and Martian Luther King Jr.)
    I was a little tyke in the 60′s and loved the Mustang and the Beatles. The closest I got to buying one was in the late 70′s, a friend of mine had a 64 1/2 fastback,green paint, black interior,front disk brakes, flip down rear seat, 289 hi po v-8 and 4 speed stick, all for 400 dollars.   The car needed some carb work, it leaked gas around the manifold , (good times) I was going to move, so I let it slip out of my hands. I pipe dream about buying one for a daily driver.
     

  • avatar

    The six-cylinder Mustang was not agonizingly slow by the standards of contemporary American compacts. 0-60 was maybe 15 seconds with automatic, with a top speed in the low 90s, which was comparable to a 170-engined Valiant or Dart or the base-engine Corvair (or, of course, a Falcon). A 110-hp Corvair Monza or the 225-engined Dart/Valiant was faster, but not by a lot, and it was perfectly adequate by the standards of the time. Since it was, as Paul says, within $50 of a Falcon Futura, if you were comparing it to other American economy cars, it came off pretty well, unless you had a great need for trunk space or rear-seat room.
     
    Even the base 289, which was the most popular engine by far, needed around 12 seconds 0-60, so it wasn’t a ball of fire, either. Image was more important than actual speed.

    • 0 avatar
      rudiger

      Even the base 289, which was the most popular engine by far…Is this correct? I always thought the engine split in the Mustang was, even during the musclecar heyday, around 50/50 between the V8 and 6. In fact, if anything, there have been more six-cylinder sales than V8s. Ford advertises the V8 to lure shoppers into the showrooms, but it’s the lower-performance engine cars that they can actually afford to buy.

  • avatar
    GS650G

    “Might as well be driving a Fairlane”
    Indeed I did. I preferred the Fairlanes because they were the same car with a lower price. Even had the same paint inside. I never cared for the Mustangs, they were too cliche for me. And my Fairlane beat many a Mustang on the street, especially when the other guy didn’t expect a Fairlane to move so quick.

  • avatar
    Buyford

    I love all the mustangs years except the mustang 2, i just bought a ’91 Mustang Convertible V8 H.0.(Arizona car with no rust) i love it..as i am 53 and have always wanted a convertible. But i think i love all the styles from 2000 and up best!.
     
    Bill


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