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Ford Mustang Mk I

Must Have A Mustang Published: 18th Jul 2011 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Mustang Mk I

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any Shellby or 390GT
  • Worst model: Six with a three-speed
  • Budget buy: Six-cylinder fastback
  • OK for unleaded?: Will probably need an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm: L4610 x W 1734
  • Spares situation: Superb and usually fair value
  • DIY ease?: Excellent, with simple mechanics
  • Club support: As good as they can get
  • Appreciating asset?: Yes, but don’t delay
  • Good buy or good-bye?: A US car ideal for the UK
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If you’re after an American classic that’s okay on our roads, and not in your face, then it’s time to saddle up!

Pros & Cons

Looks, image, manageable size running costs, superb parts supply appreciating asset
Sluggish ‘six’, mostly LHD, rust worries, sloppy handling, expensive to properly restore

Mustang is the original Pony car, still the fastest selling car of all time. More importantly, it’s probably the most socially acceptable American classic this side of the pond, thanks to its understated styling. Even those who steer clear of Yank classics make an exception for the Mustang. What made the Mustang so popular – apart from those great looks of course – was that there was a model to suit everybody. Running gear options ranged from the 170ci straight-six engine through to the 289ci V8, with either four-speed manual or automatic transmissions, while there are fastback, coupe or convertible body styles. Successive generations of the Mustang never quite matched the original, which is still the version to own. Prices increasingly refl ect this.


Launched at New York’s World’s Fair on 17th April 1964, the Mustang (named after an American Prairie wild horse, hence the Pony logo connection) was an instant best seller. Cunning marketing, of a type never seen before, provided the blueprint for user-chooser car buying ever since. An amazing 22,000 orders were placed for the Mustang on the very fi rst day of the show. It was hoped that sales for the fi rst year would be around 100,000 but in fact 418,812 were sold and the millionth car was built in 1966! Ford’s General Manager Lee Iaccoca, who took over the post in 1960, is recognised as being the ‘Father’ of the Mustang. The fi rst concept model emerged in 1962 and this was a two-seater convertible with a mid-engined Ford Taunus V4. This was later followed by a Mustang 2 concept, and fi nally the 2+2 production car.

Featuring unitary construction, independent front suspension, a live axle and semi-elliptic rear springs, the Mustang was essentially a re-bodied Falcon saloon, and the 2+2 coupe became the most popular selling ‘Stang. The fastback body styling arrived in 1965 and all cars came with standard or deluxe vinyl trim. Pony interiors featured running horses embossed on the backs of the seats, and engine options ranged from a straight-six to V8’s of 289ci (the solid-lifter High Performance K-motor) up to a 390ci. Changes to the car weren’t many. The GT and Shellby Cobra (GT350) arrived in the mid 60s, while a slight re-skin for the fastback gave it a fresher face for ’67. The Cobra range was bolstered by the awesome 355bhp 428ci GT500. A year later a full fat 390bhp 427ci (seven litres!) tune came on stream with – thankfully – disc brakes – as standard.

Steve McQueen drove a 390GT in Bullitt of course. However, not to outdone by the factory, Carol Shelby then launched the daddy of them all – the GT500KR. Another restyle for 1969 saw the Mustang become too bulky and lardy, while a Grande luxury version saw the car become soft in its advancing years (fake wood, vinyl roof etc). The Boss 302 fastback, with its 400bhp, redressed the balance – a good thing as Carol Shelby had dropped his hot-rod range. Sadly, as the 1970s dawned, the Mustang was losing some of its charm. The 1971 line up saw the car a lot bigger and more than 500lb heavier than the lithe original, while increasing detox equipment hindered performance, despite a fancy Mach1 moniker.

In late ’73, the car gave way to the meek and mild Mustang II generation – and the Mustang was never quite the same again. It’s a measure of the “Mussy” that, across the pond, one sold for a million bucks a few years back. A thriving aftermarket scene now sees old cars modded with new up-to-date mechanicals. The Mustang story has come almost full circle in its neigh on 50 year history, as the current model looks (and feels) much like the original.


Does the Mustang go as good as it looks? Probably not. If you are used to today’s Euroboxes, then a Mustang will come as a bit of a culture shock. Mustang has often been compared to our Capri when it comes to driving. You have to remember that these cars are coming up to the big 50 and are pretty basic in design – while the Falcon was never the greatest handling car of all time! Handling is somewhat soft and soggy, but most cars were back then. Also, the tail can be slip-slidey in the wet. A well maintained car will handle decently enough, especially with new
springs, uprated dampers, bushes, front disc brakes, radial tyres etc. However, the worst aspect, and one that really tells the Ford’s age, is the steering. As with so many classics, without PAS it can be heavy at slow speeds, and with assisted steering it becomes very light and woolly. It’s the sheer amount of slop (from new) which can be a shocker.

Power-wise, only certain Mustangs are race horses. Entry models relied upon a 2.8-litre straight six and these naturally are the least loved, but this means ‘bargain’ if you are not performance mad. These are as brisk as a Fiesta diesel (or and old Zodiac) but okay for cruising and, if in good tune, will eke out over 20mpg. All V8s will hit 60mph in under nine seconds, with top ones being Ferrari-quick, plus they boast a soundtrack only a Yank V8 can create. On the other hand, economy can barely scrape into double fi gures.

Less than 10 per cent of Mustangs boasted four-on-the-fl oor boxes, the bulk of them being three-speed autos, with the remainder suffering the wide-ratio three-speed manual which is not a pleasing experience. A ride in a Mustang is an experience however but one best savoured from the front (unless you fi nd the rarest of them all – the bench-seated option) as the rear isn’t as inviting as it looks. Not many UK mags tested this Ford whennew and you get the feeling that, on skinny 700 x14 cross plies and drum brakes, they were brave souls! When Motor tested the top 4.7-litre 271bhp V8 back in November ‘64 it clocked 60mph in just 7.6 seconds, topped 125mph, and said that, thanks to absurdly low gearing (19mph/1000rpm), that fi rst gear need never be used.

The magazine naturally loved the V8 performance but said the handling and the drum brakes weren’t up to it, the latter fading “on a twisty country road using full power between the corners.” Costing around £2400 back then – some £300 more than the 4.2 E-type, Motor concluded that, “The Mustang may fi nd a ready market in this country but in the face of domestic competition it will probably need some refi nements to justify its import-loaded price.” But it was “great fun to drive with a surplus of power always available…” You don‘t say!


Just checking the websites associated with Mustangs will give you a much better idea of what can be done. Rack-and-pinion steering is becoming more the done thing, as it improves the ship-atsea tiller – but costs some £2000. More modern brakes are available, while the simple suspension (a known wear point) can be stiffened by using uprated springs and dampers and a thicker front anti roll bar. Actually, this spec apes the Special Handling Package option which was offered, although the ride will suffer as a result. However, it‘s a worthwhile trade off for enthusiasts. Most go-faster folk will go the V8 route, where more than 500bhp can be eked out. Tuning gear for the ’six’ is more limited although, for ’65, the engine was boosted to some 120bhp. Conventional head tuning and a less restrictive carb/exhaust should liberate a fair bit more.Two good mods for all Mustangs are electronic ignition and an uprated radiator. Interestingly, although the car looks made for big boots, it’s generally accepted that there’s little to gain going wider or lower than normal 195 x 14. Period cross plies are great for drag strip starts… and visiting the scenery backwards on a wet night!


The days of cheap Mustangs to simply smoke around in are almost over because prices have continually risen over the past fi ve years, meaning that basket cases can change hands for £4000 or so. According to specialist Bill Shepherd of Surrey (01932 340888), values have increased on average 20 per cent a year and his company is now buying cars back what it sold them for! The Mustang expert adds that £15,000 is now the minimum to pay for a decent car. There’s quite a few in the UK so don’t buy in haste. The least loved six pots are the cheapest and, quite frankly, if all you want is to own a Mustang, they make the wisest buys, being cheaper to run than a Capri 3-litre. You may just be lucky to fi nd a 289 V8 coupe for under £12,000, but budget for £15,000- 20,000. A superb matching numbers ‘K’ code fastback GT will be £40,000 depending on originality, condition and options, a good convertible can also bust the £20,000 barrier. A 1966 Shelby fi rst rate show car will be £100,000 plus easily, and a 1965 GT350R will be a £250,000 touch – or Aston DB money!

What To Look For

  • Perhaps the biggest issue is to establish just exactly what you’re getting, is the car original and, if not, how much has it been modifi ed? Indeed, nowadays there are a good many cars that have been altered in various ways, not always a bad thing, depending on the extent, but originality will be the purist preference.
  • Provenance is everything if you are contemplating purchasing an original Shelby, and getting the help of an expert in this fi eld is vital.
  • The chassis number is stamped on the LHD inner front wing, while other data is fi tted by the driver’s door lock.
  • Mustangs are quite tough but naturally rust is a worry. The good news is that everything you could want is available, and most patten parts are of good quality. The main rot spot is caused by failed windscreen rubbers, leading to fl oor rot and, thanks to blocked drain holes and air vents, decay on the front inner and outer wings. Floor sections are available but can cost up to a grand, depending upon severity.
  • Another structural worry is the chassis rails at the front. Look at them, each side of the engine. If they look sad, so will you be, to the tune of two grand if it’s advanced decay.
  • Other common areas to be attacked by the tin worm include the tail light panel, wheel arches, and lower sills. Inner rear wheel arches can be especially diffi cult to repair. Water can also collect through the scuttle and, if the drain tubes are blocked, this will inevitably lead to serious rot. Take a look underneath and check the rear chassis rails where the springs mount.
  • Just behind the pedals on the driver’s side there’s a torque box which can also be susceptible to rot. Front fl oor pans corrode, we know, but don’t forget to look under the rear passenger seats while you are about it.
  • As with any other car, have a look at the panel fi tment, look for any signs of previous repairs, body fi ller and dodgy paintwork. Rear window surrounds on fastbacks can corrode under the chrome trim. Cars that have been in the USA should have both screens weather sealed.
  • The 200ci (2.8-litre) straight-six and 260/289ci V8 engines are generally bullet proof as long as they have been maintained properly. If a 289ci engine is tired, smoking and rattly, a full rebuild can cost up to £3000. The sixes are cheaper and all are easy to care for at home.
  • Has a ‘six’ been converted to a V8? Apart from DIY conversions, many dealers in the US also did this to satisfy demand. However they, even if done well they’ll never be like the real thing.
  • Ensure that the original radiator shroud is in place; many owners remove them for ease of access for changing V-belts, but they defi nitely help improve cooling and cost only £20.
  • The radiator has always been on the small size. An uprated core isn’t a bad move, from the likes of Radtec. Head gaskets on all can blow so look for the usual clues (oil residue etc.)
  • Gearboxes also enjoy reasonable longevity, but a full rebuild will cost around £700. Mustangs built 1964-1967 will use the robust C4 auto-box, the least desirable is the three-speed manual that has wide gear spacing, with fi rst gear high which can lead to clutch judder. On all, check for failing synchros and bearings. The gear change can feel vague if the bushes are shot. The rear axles are so strong that they were used in drag racing! V8s used a larger ‘9inch’ unit. Some cars boasted a limited slip diff; again it’s reliable but can be noisy in operation.

Three Of A Kind

Chevrolet Camero
Chevrolet Camero
One of GM’s several answers to the Mustang, the Chevrolet Camero is the more refi ned alternative, especially the ride which is much more cosseting. It goes and handles better than the Mustang too, although lacks the Ford’s classic status and ultimate performance potential. Parts and specialist help lags the Blue Oval but the Chev is still a relatively easy car to own and run.
Mercury Cougar
Mercury Cougar
One for the posher end of the Ford stable, the Mercury Cougar is better kitted out and only ever came with V8 power, but it looks more garish (especially the frontal treatment). Built on the same platform, but enlarged, it changed its character completely in 1974, after the split with Mustang II. Cheaper than the Ford rival but spares and specialist support not as good.
Plymouth Barracuda
Plymouth Barracuda
This car was actually launched weeks before the Mustang, although the Ford’s style meant that it grabbed all the glory. In concept, the cars were pretty similar and this included engine choice. The car’s biggest change came in 1970 when it gained a new stylish body also shared by the Dodge Challenger and a real powerhouse of a V8. Lacks Mustang’s support in the UK.


Thanks to its manageable size and clean looks, the Mustang appeals just as much to us this side of the pond. Really, a Mustang is no harder or dearer to keep than its UK sibling, the Capri – just a heck of a lot more expensive to buy. But, there again, we can’t see this thoroughbred remaining anything less than an odds on cert in the classic value stakes.

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