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Ford Mustang

Saddle up Published: 20th Apr 2012 - 0 Comments - Be the first, contribute now!

Ford Mustang

Fast Facts

  • Best model: Any Shelby or 390GT
  • Worst model: Six with a three-speed
  • Budget buy: Six coupe
  • OK for unleaded?: Will probably need an additive
  • Will it fit in the garage? (mm): mm: L4610 x W 1734
  • Spares situation: Superb and good 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 iconic American classic that’s not too outlandish, with sensible running costs and is well suited to our roads, then it must be a Mustang!

Pros & Cons

Looks, image, manageable size, running costs, superb parts supply, appreciating asse +-
Sluggish ‘six’, rust worries, original lighting rather dim, expensive to properly restore

Mustang is the original Pony car, the fastest selling car of all time, a record that has yet to be beaten! 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. Its historic significance, not only as a meteoric success within the Blue Oval stable, but in milestone cars of the era is immeasurable.

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 three and four-speed manual or automatic transmissions, while there’s fastback, coupe or convertible body styles. Indeed, there was such a vast range of option packages available, buyers could tailor cars to their own requirements, and very few ever left the showrooms as stock.

Successive generations of the Mustang never quite matched the original, which is still the version to own, the purest in form, the most collectable and sought after, and prices increasingly clearly reflect 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 nothing short of sensational and was an instant best seller. Cunning marketing, of a type never seen before, provided the blueprint for user-choosers ever since. It was an instant hit, with an amazing 22,000 orders being placed for the Mustang on the very first day of the show. It was hoped that sales for the first 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 and the first concept model emerged in 1962. It was a twoseater convertible with a mid-engined Ford Taunus V4, later followed by a Mustang 2, and finally the 2+2 production car. Featuring unitary construction, independent front suspension, a live axle and semi-elliptic rear springs the Mustang was essentially a rebodied 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 much meatier 390ci.

Changes to the car weren’t that many. The GT and Shelby 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 but, not to outdone by the factory, Carol Shelby then launched the GT500KR, standing for ‘King of the Road’.

Another restyle for 1969 saw the Mustang become a tad too bulky and lardy, not to mention putting on weight, while a Grande luxury version saw the car get a little soft in its advancing years (fake wood vinyl roof etc.), although the Boss 302 fastback, with its 400bhp, redressed the balance – good thing, too, as Carol Shelby dropped his hot rod range by now.

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 car was never the same again. Paradoxically it sold rather well, keeping the name of the breed alive during the doldrum years, and without it, then this iconic classic would have simply died!

It’s a measure of the “Mussy” that across the pond one sold for a million bucks a few years back. The thriving aftermarket scene has led to the ever increasing trend of modifying old cars with new up to date mechanicals.


Does the Mustang go as good as it looks? Not always! If you are used to today’s Euroboxes, then a Mustang will come as a bit of a culture shock, and some models border on being a tad harsh. Mustang has often been compared to our Capri when it comes to driving and you have to remember that these cars are coming up to the big 50 and pretty basic in design - while the Falcon was never the greatest handling car of all time either!

Handling is somewhat soft and soggy – but they all were back then and of course the tail can be slip-slidey in the wet. A well maintained car will handle quite decently enough. The secret is in the set-up, and fitment of good quality springs, uprated dampers, bushes, front disc brakes, and quality radial tyres will pay dividends.

However, the worst aspect, and one that really tells the Ford’s age, is the steering. As with so many classics, without power it can be heavy, especially when parking, though with assistance steering becomes lighter.

Power-wise only certain Mustangs are race horses. Entry models relied upon a 2.8-litre straight six and these are naturally the least loved but this means a bargain if you are not performance mad, and they’re reasonably economical, too. These are as brisk as a Fiesta diesel (or and old Zodiac) but more than okay for cruising and if in good tune can eke out up to 25mpg on a good day.

All V8s will hit 60mph in under nine seconds, with top ones being Ferrari quick, plus they boast the most mellifluous burble only a Yank V8 can create. On the other hand, economy, with 390ci and 428ci engines, can just scrape into double figures. Consider junking that tired worn out old carburettor for a new one, in order to extract mpg to the max.

Less than 10 per cent of Mustangs boasted four-on-the-floor, the bulk being three-speed autos, with the remainder the wide-ratio three-speed manual - not a pleasing experience.

A ride in a Mustang is an experience but one best savoured from the front, unless you find the rarest of them all – the bench-seated option. Though it can be a tad cramped in the back, it’s comfortable enough, with early cars having improved legroom over later models.

Not many UK mags tested this Ford when new and you get the feeling that, on skinny 700 x14 cross plies and with drum brakes, they were brave souls! When Motor tested the top 4.7-litre 271bhp V8 back in November ‘64 it clocked 60 in 7.6 seconds, topped 125mph and said that, thanks to absurdly low gearing (19mph/1000rpm) first gear need never be used. It loved the 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 find a ready market in this country but in the face of domestic competition it will probably need some refinements to justify its import-loaded price.” But it was “great fun to drive with a surplus of power always available…”


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-at-sea tiller – but it costs some £2000. More modern brakes are available, while the simple suspension can be stiffened by using uprated springs and dampers together with a thicker front anti roll bar. Actually, this spec apes the Special Handling Package option when it was offered, although the ride will suffer but it‘s a worthwhile trade off.

Most go-faster folk take 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 widely regarded mods for all Mustangs are fitting an electronic ignition and an uprated radiator, to better cope with hot days and idling in heavy traffic. 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 smoke around in are long gone, because prices have continually risen over the past five years, meaning that basket cases can change hands for £6,000. According to Bill Shepherd of Surrey (01932 340888) values continue to increase on average 20 per cent a year and they are now buying cars back what it sold them for! The Mustang expert adds that £15,000 is now the minimum for a decent car to start making good.

By far the cheapest entry level is a Mustang made between 69-73 where it lost it’s clean lines and put on weight. However even prices of these are beginning to rise. Alternatively a straight-six powered car is the next best bet if your budget is limited, they make the wisest buys, being cheaper to run than a Capri 3-litre in many respects.

You may just be lucky to find 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 £30,000 - £40,000 depending on originality, condition and options, a good convertible can also bust the £20,000 barrier, a 1966 Shelby first rate show car will be £100,000 plus easily, and a 1965 Shelby 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 for your money, is the car original and, if not, how much has it been modified? Indeed, nowadays there aren’t too many cars around that haven’t been altered one way or another, not always a bad thing, depending on the extent, and who exactly completed the work and to what standard? Originality will nearly always be the preference of purists.
  • However, provenance is everything if you are contemplating purchasing an original Shelby Mustang. There are so many clones around that getting the help of an expert in this field is of paramount importance. Seek an owners’ club or specialist for the right advice if you’re unsure.
  • The chassis number is stamped on the LHD inner front wing while other data is fitted by the driver’s door lock.
  • There’s no shortage of Mustangs for sale, so don’t rush it especially considering the myriad of option packs, engines and so on.
  • Mustangs are quite tough but naturally rust is going to be a worry. The good news is that virtually everything you could want to repair or restore a car is available – indeed parts are often a lot easier to get than for British Fords . Even though many parts are of good quality, always budget for reproduction panels requiring some fettling for that perfect fit.
  • The main rot spot is caused by failed windscreen rubbers, leading to bulkhead and floor rot and, thanks to blocked drain holes and air vents, decay on the front inner and outer wings. Floors are available but can cost up to a grand depending upon severity.
  • Another structural worry is the chassis rails and suspension towers 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 difficult 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 the car and check the rear chassis rails where the springs are mounted, to ensure there’s no rot or bodged repairs (common). Boots known leakers.
  • Just behind the pedals on the driver’s side there’s a torque box which can also be susceptible to rot. Front floor pans corrode 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 fitment, look for any signs of previous repairs, body filler and dodgy paintwork.
  • Rear window surrounds on fastbacks can corrode under the chrome trim. Cars that have been in the USA should have both front and rear screens weather sealed when they come to the UK.
  • 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 homespun 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. And the six isn’t a bad choice for lazy cruising either in our mind…
  • Ensure that the original radiator shroud is in place; many owners remove them for ease of access for changing V-belts, but they are vital to maintain cooling efficiency and many Mustangs run too hot as a result.
  • 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 engines can blow so look for the usual clues (rusty stains, oil residue in the coolant etc.).
  • Gearboxes also enjoy reasonable longevity, but a full rebuild will cost around £1000. Mustangs built 1964-1967 will use the robust C4 autobox, the least desirable is the three-speed manual that has poor gear spacing, with first gear high, which can lead to clutch judder.
  • On all cars, 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 sods in operation.
  • The brakes are either all drum or disc/ drum. While not the sharpest of stoppers, if in good order the former works acceptably well. Early models had an integrated drum/ hub assembly but this can be changed to the later separate designs if desired.
  • Early cars with front disc brakes were not power assisted – it was an option with drum brakes only! However, a power servo is available for retro fitting, as the factory servo for the drum brakes system will not fit the disc system.
  • If you want front discs then typically it costs around £500 from Stateside suppliers. The suspension is as conventional as they come and checks are mainly for the usual wear.
  • Interiors are a plastic dream and fairly easy to restore thanks to a brilliant aftermarket in the US. Naturally, with a rag top, check for damp floors and subsequent rot. Hoods aren’t too dear but a full retrim of the interior runs into thousands, especially if you hanker for the embossed ‘Pony’ interiors.
  • Broken seat frames are not unknown but interior parts are easy to source. The electrics, with all but the earliest cars using DC power, are super simple although problems can emerge if the battery is failing.
  • The Complete Book of the Mustang from Motorbooks is surely the most comprehensive tome on the subject and well worth buying as a reference manual. Could save you much time and money.


Thanks to its manageable size and clean looks, the Mustang appeals just as much to us, on 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 being anything less than an odds-on cert in the classic stakes.

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