When the Mustang launched in 1964, the buzz and excitement surrounding the pony car was on another level. Its debut at the Ford Pavilion at the New York World’s Fair was covered by three TV networks and watched by nearly 30 million viewers. It even made the cover of Time and Newsweek. Unsurprisingly it was at the centre of much excited order-placing at Ford dealerships across the US and went on to become one of the most iconic cars of all time. Lee Iacocca, the then vice-president and general manager of Ford, felt a sporty, affordable sportscar would be just the ticket, what with baby boomers getting their driver’s licences, and he was right. It attracted 680,989 buyers in its first year.
Over 50 years have passed since then, but the hoopla was reignited when the opportunity to drive a 1965 model with the legendary 289 V8 presented itself earlier this month. Finished in an impeccable bright red paint in which you could see clear details of your reflection, and dripping with chrome, I knew before I even turned the little key that this would be nothing short of exhilarating. It was — and the lack of power steering made it equally exhausting. This was never meant to be a car for the ordinary man — your middle name was likely Testosterone if you bought a Mustang. Comparatively, today’s car is far more civilised and easier to live with, but it seriously lacks the charm of the first gen, which even received glowing praise from ace racing driver Dan Gurney. “This car will run the rubber off a Triumph or MG,” he famously said. It was for the serious enthusiast, demanded a strong pair of hands and rewarded those with a lead foot. Oh, and the soundtrack was about as raucous as it got.
While sitting in traffic surrounded by Toyotas and Nissans, the deep rumble emanating from the chrome tips of this pony has drivers of those mere transportation devices looking enviously on. And when the lights turn green… I’m left with a face as red as the car. Yes, this one has a 289 (4.7-litre) and back in the day, it was a must-have for those wanting high performance. It did the trick then and induced wild smiles when you floored the throttle, but it hasn’t stood the test of time. Being outpaced by a Camry with a fella behind the wheel who isn’t even trying is a far cry from those tyre-shredding images we have in our minds of these legendary street machines. This once mighty V8 mated to a three-speed auto is lacking firepower (it had 200 horses when new — it’s got to be down to about 100 now…) but it makes up for that with style. And it’s oozing with it.
This was never meant to be a car for the ordinary man — your middle name was likely Testosterone if you bought a Mustang.
With a passenger compartment that’s been slid as rearwards as possible, it has those classic long-bonnet and short-deck proportions. However, the muscular little body and taut character lines are let down a tad by the phoney scoops behind the doors, but that’s the only gripe with the otherwise gorgeous exterior. As for the red-and-white leather cabin, it’s minimalist (the instrumentation is limited to a 120mph speedometer, fuel gauge, water temperature indicator and oil pressure warning lights) and ever-so-stylish. However, the steering wheel is too close to my chest and the skinny plastic rim too slippery to be able to wrestle with any haste.
The ride is wallowy and it has a tendency to float when being driven hard, but that’s to be expected from all cars built in Detroit during the Sixties. They were so simple under the skin — as is this. It features the common welded-up platform-type chassis that houses the motor and attaching points for the suspension, the front being an independent unit with a beam axle located by semi-elliptical leaf springs at the rear. Pop the bonnet and instead of being met with an engine cover hiding all the oily bits, you’re greeted with a bay housing a four-barrel Edelbrock carb atop a blue block nestled between two chrome valve covers. It’s ideal for showcasing at car meets, and as a matter of fact this ’65 Mustang is one big red show-off and a real pleasure to cruise in.
They say you should never meet your heroes. Well, this was never one of mine (I’m a GM kind of guy) but it’s so engaging, vociferous and ultimately fun that it’s become one now. Collectible cars should be produced in fairly small numbers to make them exclusive, desirable and valuable — but this doesn’t apply here. Tons of these were made and it’s still ever-so-popular. Having spent a day with one, it’s easy to see why.
— With thanks to Nostalgia Classic Cars for the loan of the 1965 Ford Mustang. For more information, head to nostalgiaclassiccars.ae/en.