OG pony, dissected
Ford blew up the internet in November when it unveiled an all-electric, sport utility at the Los Angeles Auto Show and said it was naming this vehicle, uh… Mustang. Mustang Mach-E to be specific.
Mustang? The original pony car? The sexy fastback that a turtle-necked, sport-jacketed King of Cool double-clutched and flogged in Bullitt? The car that revived affordable American performance in the late 1980s and 1990s? The car that Carroll Shelby tuned up and renamed, creating a legend, second only to the Cobra, in the 1960s and again in the 2000s? That Mustang?
Yep, that Mustang. Its name now also applies to a generic football-shaped, hatchback, battery-powered vehicle with a tablet computer hanging off the dashboard where the center stack should be. You have our condolences. Take solace in the fact that the actual Mustang still exists and is arguably greater than ever.
And what about that car that we all know and love: The original Mustang? It, too, survives in great quantities and remains approachable and affordable. The 1965-’66 Mustang might be one of ultimate gateway drugs into the American collector-car hobby. There are likely several for sale within easy driving distance of your doorstep right now in various states of tune: restored, modified, driver-quality, half-assembled, stalled project, etc. Parts for these cars are not a problem. They’re plentiful and affordable, thanks to the perennial popularity of Ford’s first sporty coupe (and convertible).
Ford is leaning heavily on the Mustang legend to make its new EV a success but, at the outset, the pony was hardly a sure thing. Credit for the concept goes to a 36-year-old Lee Iacocca, then general manager of Ford Motor Company’s Ford division. Iacocca believed that the Blue Oval needed a fun, right-sized car that could woo 18- to 34-year-old buyers into showrooms. This was uncharted ground in 1960, when long, finned leviathans, dripping with chrome, were roaming the highways of America. Ford, too, was fresh off the Edsel failure and company brass wasn’t eager to take risks.
According to a 1974 account of the Mustang’s origins in Hemmings’ Special Interest Autos (Issue #24, September-October), Iacocca trotted out the idea of developing a new youth-market car at a meeting of the Fairlane Group, an eight-member committee of Ford officials and people from the company’s ad agency. (So named because it convened once a week at the Fairlane Inn Motel on Michigan Avenue in Dearborn, Michigan.) The group’s members initially liked Iacocca’s plan and tentatively called it Project T-5.
By August ’62, some fresh designs for the Mustang were ordered up, all adhering to a few commonsensical—almost Henry Fordlike— principles: a base price of $2,500, a weight of 2,500 pounds, four seats, an overall length of not more than 180 inches, bucket seats, a floor shift, and use of Falcon mechanical components that were already in Ford parts bins. It also had to be sporty and highly customizable, with a long list of options and accessories.
A competition among Ford’s designers produced a vehicle called Cougar that looked strikingly similar to the first production Mustang. It was low and racy with a long hood and short trunk.
Iacocca lobbied Ford brass for more money so that he could build this new car in two assembly plants: San Jose, California, and Dearborn, Michigan. Meanwhile, the unbelievably tight one-year and six-month time clock was ticking, and Iacocca’s team had to drive full-throttle to get a prototype up and running.
Speeding the process was the heavy reliance on Falcon chassis and drivetrain components. But the Mustang was different: longer, lower, and wider. The new car’s name had changed throughout the design process, from Allegro to Avventura to Cougar. But the name Mustang stuck when a prototype was tuned up for show-car duty and named Mustang II to make a connection between this car and the Mustang I that made the car show rounds a year prior.
The all-new Ford Mustang famously bowed at the World’s Fair in New York on April 17, 1964. In a forward-thinking marketing move, Ford arranged to have a new Mustang at every one of its 8,000-plus dealers so that customers could see the car firsthand as news spread from New York.
Ford’s media department also worked overtime making sure that journalists were provided embargoed information about the car in advance of the official launch, as well as given seat time in the cars.
Prior to the World’s Fair announcement, Ford also ran Mustang TV commercials on all three networks, took out full-page ads in newspapers nationwide, and put Mustangs on display at hotels and airports.
The result was like a case study in successful marketing: Ford dealers took more than 20,000 orders for new Mustangs the day that it first went on sale. If there was a problem with this, it was only that Ford never anticipated such strong consumer demand. Dearborn estimated that it would sell about 100,000 Mustangs annually, but by the end of 1964, Ford had already surpassed that target. By the time the Mustang had been on sale for a full year, 419,000 had been sold.
Today, there’s no bad time to lasso a first-generation Mustang of your own. Here are a few tips to help you in your search.
The Mustang is a unit-body car with box-section front and rear side rails tied into boxed rocker panels, connected by five crossmembers. Up front, full-depth side aprons are welded to the cowl and firewall as well as the side rails. The hardtop and convertible use the same construction, but the open-top car incorporates heavier-gauge underbody members to compensate for the lack of a roof. The front rails are tied into the rockers and floorpan with torque boxes designed to keep the front end from twisting. Ford used zinc coating on the main underbody members and applied zinc-rich primer to the more rust-prone areas. A metallic zinc coating was also used on the front and rear side rails, the rocker panels, as well as the front and rear valance panels. Rust, nevertheless, is the arch enemy of early Mustangs. The floors and cowl are all susceptible to corrosion, as are the front torque boxes and the rockers—all of which can make the car unsound. Other areas of concern include the lower portions of the fenders, lower portions of the doors, rear wheel openings, and rear wheel houses. Every panel needed to rebuild a Mustang body is reproduced—not just the exterior sheetmetal, but the skeletal bits as well. There are also complete convertible and fastback bodies being stamped out. Coupes are the lowest on the totem pole in terms of value, so the cost of embarking on an extensive body rebuild can quickly exceed the car’s worth. There are plenty of solid original and well-repaired cars out there, so shop for the best example you can afford. The data plate near the driver’s door latch can help you authenticate a car’s body type, color, trim, and more. (There are a multitude of books and websites that can help you decode the tag.)
Chassis and Brakes
The Mustang rides on independent front suspension with coil springs, upper and lower control arms, and an anti-roll bar. The front coil springs and hydraulic tubular shocks are mounted on top of the upper control arms while strut rods help locate the lower control arms. Reinforced towers flanking the engine bay serve as mounting points for the upper arms and house the coil springs. Variable-rate, semi-elliptic leaf springs soak up the bumps in the rear, damped by staggered hydraulic shock absorbers. Drum brakes were standard issue: 9-inch drums for six-cylinder cars, 10-inch with V-8s. Power assist was an option. Manual front disc brakes became optional during the ’65 model year on V-8 cars and were included with the GT Equipment group. Also part of the GT package: heavyduty suspension and a 22:1 steering ratio— the Special Handling Package. “K-code” Mustangs, those ordered with the 271-hp engine also received the Special Handling Package.
When looking at any Mustang, carefully inspect the front suspension towers, as well as the tops of the side aprons for cracks and rust or signs of repair. The Mustang’s front and rear “frame” rails are also susceptible to rust, so check closely for signs of patching or attempts to hide deeper problems with body filler and spray undercoating. Like the body, every portion of the Mustang’s chassis is repairable, replaceable, or can be modified and updated with more modern components. Rebuilding a chassis from the ground up can get expensive and labor intensive, so consider shopping for a sound car that’s been unaltered, or a car that’s already had some good-quality work performed on it.
Early 1965 Mustangs (popularly known as 1964½) were offered with a 101-hp 170-cu.in. straight-six—also available in the Falcon— as the base engine. A two-barrel, 164-hp 260 V-8 was optional, followed by a four-barrel 210-hp 289 and the 271-hp High Performance (K-code) 289 with 10.5:1 compression, a manual choke, solid lifters, and dual exhaust. In August ’64, the Mustang’s engine offerings were upgraded: a 200-cu.in. six was the base powerplant; the 260 was phased out in favor of a 200-hp two-barrel 289 V-8; and the output of the four-barrel 289 was upped to 225 hp.
A three-speed manual with a floor shift was the base gearbox and a four-speed manual was optional, as was the Cruise-O-Matic automatic transmission. The 271-hp 289 was available only with a four-speed manual until 1966, when the automatic was paired with the Hi-Po V-8.
The 8-inch axle was standard issue on Mustangs, except for cars with the 271-hp 289—those were teamed with a 9-inch axle.
If authenticity is a priority, you’ll want to check the casting numbers and date codes on the engine and the ID codes on the transmission and axle. Correct carburetors, exhaust manifolds, distributors, and accessories are all important and can be expensive, as well as time consuming to track down later. If driver-quality is your goal, it’s easy and inexpensive to keep any early Mustang running like new. Mechanical arts are plentiful and simple to locate, plus the knowledge base for Fords of this (or almost any) vintage runs deep.
Mustangs came standard with “2+2 seating” that included bucket seats up front and a rear bench—a center console was optional. For an additional $24.42, buyers could have a full-width front seat with a center armrest. Upholstery was available in all vinyl as well as fabric and vinyl. Mustang floors were covered in nylon-rayon deep-pile carpet. An Interior Decor Group (typically referred to as the “pony interior”) added embossed duo-tone vinyl seat trim and wood-look trim on the dash and console, as well as a woodgrained deluxe steering wheel, plus a five-gauge instrument cluster. The door panels were also unique to the Decor Group, with molded-in arm rests and courtesy lights on the bottoms of the doors. The pedals, too, received some bright trim around the outer edges when the Decor Group was ordered. Part of the GT Equipment Group was the five-gauge instrument cluster set in a black vinyl background, for a racier look than the Decor Group’s woodgrain. Rally Pac clock and tachometer could also be ordered across the board. In ’65, there were two of those: “high profile” for the standard instruments and “low profile” for the five-gauge setup. In 1966, the sweep-needle base-level cluster used in ’65 was dropped and the five-gauge cluster became standard issue.
There’s no reason to ride around in a Mustang with scruffy interior these days. Complete standard and “pony” interior packages are available, as are instrument clusters, bezels, and more. There are also dozens of options for personalizing and modernizing the cockpit of your early Mustang with air conditioning, power windows, Bluetooth receivers, etc.
Do recent developments in the Mustang lineup have you yearning for a simpler time? Then look no further than a 1965-’66 Mustang. Coupe, convertible, or fastback, it’s one of the most accessible American collector cars in history.
WHAT TO PAY
PARTS PRICES (COUPE)
|Bumpers (front and rear)||$200|
|Floor (one piece)||$372|
|Pony interior kit||$882|
|Steering box (22:1)||$300|