A genuine American idol, the original Ford Mustang is still at the top of many classic car aficionado’s wish lists to this day. We look into buying the legend...
One of the most iconic cars of all time, the Ford Mustang was all things to all men when it debuted in 1964, offering real presence and plenty of horses to boot. In the first year of production, Ford sold more than 400,000 Mustangs, with a million sales reached by the end of the second year. For that pure Mustang experience, you need to go for one of the first-generation cars, built between ’64 and ’73, so that’s what we’re concentrating on here.
1965 Ford Mustang 289
Power (bhp@rpm) 271bhp@6000rpm
Torque (lb ft@rpm) 312lb ft@3400rpm
Top speed 120mph
Gearbox 3-speed auto
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
BODYWORK & CHASSIS
The Mustang’s chassis compares favourably with its contemporaries. Even so, all that grunt can still catch out an unwitting driver, particularly with the V8 models. Look for poorly-repaired accident damage – ill-fitting panels and bumpers are common telltales. Rippled metal under the bonnet also gives the game away, especially at the base of the suspension towers.
Rust can also be a problem, especially if previous repair work wasn’t up to scratch. Be especially wary of patched-up convertibles, as they have a more complex sill construction. Open-tops are also most likely to suffer from rotten floorpans. The driver’s footwell is prone to filling up with water and rusting beneath the carpets. New panels are available, but sheet metal is often used to make a swift repair. The bulkhead can also rot, as the air vents at the base of the windscreen can fill with water, leading to rusty carnage within. Most outer panels are available, although pattern parts can be fiddly to fit, so buying decent quality examples makes sense.
Neither the straight-six nor the V8 are stressed units, so they tend to go on forever if looked after. Leaks, blown gaskets and thick black oil are signs of neglect. Valve-seat recession is the first sign of wear on six-cylinder engines, but if cared for, this shouldn’t occur for at least 150,000 miles. V8s also last pretty much indefinitely, provided they haven’t been tuned and thrashed to within an inch of their lives.
The most common issue with Mustang engines is overheating, again due to dodgy maintenance. Make sure the radiator fan shroud is present, otherwise the radiator won’t get the flow of air it needs. Replacing the standard cast-iron manifolds with tubular items also raises temperatures under the hood.
Ford’s C4 three-speed automatic transmission was the most commonly used unit on Mustangs. Parts are easy to find, but check the transmission fluid – if it’s black or the level is low, then the ‘box is on the way out. The three-speed manual unit suffers from worn synchromesh and bearings, but again, most parts are available. Ford junked cable-driven and hydraulic clutches for the Mustang, fitting a mechanical unit instead. It’s reliable and strong, with the added bonus of being relatively cheap to fix.
Steering boxes are fairly hardy, but if it is worn beyond repair then new ones are available. Uneven tyre wear could be down to the suspension being out of kilter. If all is well on that score, then check the ride height – a sagging rear end suggests the rear leaf springs are due for renewal.
All interior and exterior trim is available new, so the only worry on that score is the depth of your pockets. If the seats have seen better days, hang on to the original foam. New covers tend to be fiddly to fit to new foam bases, as they often don’t stretch enough. Seat frames can break, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble tracking down replacements.
Chrome trim quality was never that good when new, so don’t be put off by reproduction items – the fact that they are much cheaper than NOS items should compensate for any drop in quality.
Steve McQueen, the undisputed King of Cool, drove a 1968 Mustang GT390 in Bullitt. The car chase in that movie was over nine minutes long and earned Frank P Keller an Oscar for film editing, with the Mustang playing a starring role. You don’t need to be a movie star to look sharp in a Mustang though – buy wisely and you’ll have one of the coolest cars on the road.