Classic Cars Image Gallery
Classic Cars Image Gallery

Early Mustang ads naturally played up the hardtop's low $2368 base price. See more pictures of classic cars.

1965, 1966 Ford Mustang Overview

As the launch of the 1965 Ford Mustang approached, Ford was confident its new sporty car was on target. Its job now was to let the country know about this new kind of car. The introduction of what popularly would be known as the 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang was an encompassing and brilliant marketing blitz. America had scarcely seen anything like it.

With the curtain poised to rise in early 1964, Dearborn marketers shifted into overdrive to get the public ready for Mustang. Though Ford previewed the showroom model at a January 1964 press conference, it put the information revealed under an "embargo," meaning reporters weren't supposed to go public with it before a date Ford had set. This tactic is still widely observed in various industries, a sort of cat-and-mouse game between manufacturers and the Fourth Estate.

The Big Day ArrivesThe weeks leading up to Mustang's debut saw big stories in all sorts of places: Business Week, Esquire, Life, Look, Sports Illustrated, U.S. News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal -- and, of course, almost every "buff book" car magazine. Finally, the wraps came off. On April 16, Ford presented its new baby to some 29 million TV viewers, buying the 9 p.m. slot on all three networks. Friday, April 17, was the public rollout. That morning, 2600 newspapers ran announcement ads and articles while the Mustang was revealed to opening-day visitors at the New York World's Fair.Ford invited some 150 journalists to the unveiling -- and some sumptuous wining and dining. The next day, it set them loose in a herd of Mustangs for a 750-mile cruise to Motown. "These were virtually hand-built cars. Anything could have happened," a Ford official remembered. "Some of the reporters hot-dogged the cars the whole way, and we were just praying they wouldn't crash or fall apart. Luckily, everyone made it, but it was pure luck."

©2007 Publications International, Ltd.Ford Division chief Lee Iacocca, Ford Motor Co. chairman Henry Ford IIand Eugene Bordinat check out the Mustang.

The publicity blitz didn't end there. A flood of print and TV advertising insured that almost everyone in America knew the "unexpected" Mustang had arrived. Ford also stoked public interest with numerous promotions and events. A highlight was getting Mustang named official pace car for the 1964 Indy 500. Though a white convertible with blue dorsal racing stripes led the field on Memorial Day, Ford built another 35 ragtops and some 195 hardtops decked out in the same regalia. The convertibles were later sold, the hardtops given away in dealer-sponsored contests.

It all added up to a not-so-small fortune, but the money was well spent. Mustang caused more excitement than any Ford in a generation. It surely provided a welcome mood lift for a nation still coming to terms with the assassination of President John F. Kennedy the previous fall.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

The Mustang convertible struts its stuff in one of two photos used for announcement-week ads.

America Catches Mustang Fever

Public reaction to the 1965 Ford Mustang was beyond even Ford's expectations, and "Mustang Fever" was soon a national epidemic.

One trucker was so distracted by a Mustang in a San Francisco showroom that he drove right through the window. A Chicago dealer had to lock its doors to keep people from rushing in and crushing the cars -- and each other. A Pittsburgh retailer hoisted his only Mustang on a lube rack, only to find crowds pressing in so thick and fast that he couldn't get the car down until suppertime. Another dealer found itself with 15 customers wanting to buy the same new Mustang, so the car was auctioned. The winning bidder insisted on sleeping in it until his check cleared.

It was the same story everywhere. And why not? Mustang looked sharp and was priced right. The hardtop started at just $2368 f.o.b. Detroit, a fact naturally trumpeted in early advertising. Dealers couldn't get cars fast enough. Early models sold at or above retail -- with very unliberal trade-in allowances.

Though first-year sales were originally pegged at 100,000 units, Ford chief Lee Iacocca upped the estimate to 240,000 as announcement day approached. But even that proved conservative. Ford needed only four months to move 100,000 Mustangs. By mid-September 1965, the total was 680,989, an all-time industry record for first-year sales, though a 17-month model "year" helped. The millionth Mustang was built the following March.

To Dearborn's delight, most of these sales were "plus" business, with fully 53 percent of trade-ins being non-Ford products. Even better, the average 1965-66 Mustang left the showroom with a healthy $400 in options, contributing to gross profits for Ford Motor Company estimated at $1.1 billion for those two model years. Casting a glow over the entire Ford line, Mustang was largely responsible for lifting the division's market share from 20 percent to 22.5 percent by 1966, a sizable gain.

Magic for Everyone

Despite this runaway success, some automotive experts could muster only qualified enthusiasm for the Mustang. After all, wasn't it basically a humble Falcon beneath that striking exterior? Perhaps, yet somehow it didn't matter, certainly not to buyers. "That was the magic of this car," Ford chief Lee Iacocca said later. "It stood out, yet it was everyman's car." He might have added that women loved -- and bought -- Mustangs as much as men did.

Mustang's early sales pace was too much for Ford's River Rouge plant, so production was added at two other factories.

Advertising was quick to play on the car's wide appeal by sketching stories of fictional wallflowers transformed into swingers once they owned a Mustang. Typical of the approach, a fetching lady in a toreador outfit was pictured with a hardtop coupe above these words: "If they're still waiting for Agnes down at the Willow Lane Whist and Discussion Group, they'll wait a long time. Agnes hasn't been herself since she got her Mustang...[It's] more car than Willow Lane has seen since the last Stutz Bearcat bit the dust. (And Agnes has a whole new set of hobbies, none of which involves cards.) Why don't you find out if there's any truth in the rumor -- Mustangers have more fun?"

Another ad told the tale of "Wolfgang," who "used to give harpsichord recitals for a few close friends. Then he bought a Mustang.... Sudden fame! Fortune! The adulation of millions! Being a Mustanger brought out the wolf in Wolfgang. What could it do for you?"

The cars claimed to work these life-changing miracles were divided between the "1964 1/2" hardtops and convertibles produced through August 1964 and the "true" '65s built from then on. Among the latter were the 2+2 fastbacks that arrived at dealers on September 9, 1964, when the formal '65 model year began. Incidentally, Ford officially regarded all these cars as '65 models but has usually used 1964 in dating Mustang anniversaries since.

The cars claimed to work these life-changing miracles were divided between the "1964 1/2" hardtops and convertibles produced through August 1964 and the "true" '65s built from then on. Among the latter were the 2+2 fastbacks that arrived at dealers on September 9, 1964, when the formal '65 model year began. Incidentally, Ford officially regarded all these cars as '65 models but has usually used 1964 in dating Mustang anniversaries since.

If these cars could indeed rejuvenate moribund personalities, perhaps it was because they could be molded to fit a variety of personality types. On the next page, discover that Mustang's magic had a lot to do with how easily it could be optioned from mild to pretty darn wild.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars

Mustang caused more buyer excitement than any Ford in a generation. Terrific styling was one big reason.

The 1965 Ford Mustang

Though the original 1965 Ford Mustang used many Falcon components to achieve a low base price, the new coupe was rather more than just a slicker version of the workaday compact. Of course, Mustang looked far sportier than the Falcon. But it also ushered in an era of automotive personalization that was key to its success.  

Sure, Lee Iacocca, the "father" of the Mustang, and the engineers he directed liked to talk of significant mechanical and technical advancements in "weight control" made possible by "platform construction," basically a modified unibody.

As one brochure stated: "The Mustang with its galvanized structural members and torque boxes is designed for strength and rugged support of both chassis and body components. The uninterrupted tunnel which runs straight through the center of the platform from the toe-board to the rear axle kick-up gives firm support, and the whole structure is reinforced by a practical use of ribs and reinforcements." Even so, the convertible required quite a bit of additional bracing to keep body flex tolerable.

More obvious was how dressy even a basic Mustang seemed compared to the typical Falcon, thanks to standard front bucket seats, vinyl interior, full carpeting, and full wheel covers. As planned, the "starter" powerteam comprised the 170-cubic-inch Falcon inline-six-cylinder engine sending 101 horsepower through a three-speed manual floorshift transmission. It was a good combination, capable of returning up to 20 mpg. But who cared when gas cost a quarter a gallon? A car this sporty just had to have a V-8.

Even no-frills models were quite dressy, as vinyl bucket seats and carpeting were all included.

There were four to choose from. The base option was a 260-cubic incher ($75) offering 164 horsepower with two-barrel carburetor and a bore and stroke of 3.80 3 2.87 inches. Next came a 289 with a 4.00-inch bore and either 195 horsepower with two-barrel carb ($108) or 210 with four-barrel ($162). The top option was a four-barrel "Hi-Performance" (HP) 289 with 271 horsepower, yours for $443. For the "true" 1965-model-year Mustangs, the 170 six was replaced by an improved 200-cubic inch unit with 120 horsepower, the 260 V-8 gave way to a two-barrel 200-horsepower 289, and the four-barrel 289 was tuned up to 225 horsepower.

Except for the HP V-8, all Mustang engines could be ordered with a three-speed manual transmission, a Borg-Warner T-10 four-speed manual ($116 for sixes, $76 for V-8s), or Ford's three-speed Cruise-O-Matic automatic ($180/$190). The four-speed was a "mandatory option" with the HP, a profit-boosting tactic then popular in Detroit.

The HP came with a 3.50:1 rear-axle ratio and was the only engine available with the "short" (high-numerical) gearing favored by drag racers (3.89:1 and a tight 4.11:1). Sixes came with a 3.20:1 axle, two-barrel V-8s a 2.80:1 gearset, and the regular four-barrel V-8 with a 3.00:1 cog.

Light and Lively V-8s

All Mustang V-8s used the efficient "thinwall" design inaugurated for 1962 with the 221-cubic inch Fairlane unit. The nickname referred to the advanced casting techniques employed to make these engines the lightest iron-block V-8s in the industry.

Shared features included full-length, full-circle water jackets; high-turbulence, wedge-shaped combustion chambers; hydraulic valve lifters; automatic choke; and centrifugal-vacuum-advance distributor. Four-barrel engines achieved their extra power via higher-flow intake systems, more aggressive valve timing, and increased compression, all of which dictated premium fuel.

The four optional V-8 engines ranged from a 164-horsepower 260 to a potent 271-bhp 289, shown here.

The Hi-Performance 289 naturally went further. Besides tight 10.5:1 compression (vs. 8.8 or 9.0:1), it benefited from a high-lift camshaft, solid valve lifters, chrome-plated valve stems, free-flow exhaust, and low-restriction air cleaner.

For those who didn't order (or couldn't get) the HP V-8 and later wished they had, Ford dealers soon offered a slew of bolt-on performance enhancers. Many were marketed under the Cobra banner, a canny move, as the same basic engine already powered Carroll Shelby's fierce Cobra sports cars, already making their mark. As one ad urged: "Mix a Mustang with a Cobra for the performance rod of the year!"

A good starting point was the big-port aluminum manifold available with single four-barrel carb ($120), triple two-barrels ($210), or dual quads ($243). A "Cobra cam kit" ($73) delivered the HP's solid lifters and camshaft, a "cylinder head kit" ($222) the HP heads, big valves, and heavy-duty valve springs. An "engine performance kit" combined those two packages with matched pistons ($343). Other over-the-counter goodies included a dual-point Cobra distributor ($50), heavy-duty clutch, dual exhausts (where not already stock), and engine dress-up kits with plenty of gleaming chrome.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles.

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

"Rally Pack" gauges, a padded dash,  and sun visors were all extra-cost items,although Ford made the adjustable driver's seat standard.

1965 Mustang Options

Deciding on a powertrain was just the first step in personalizing a Mustang in its inaugural 1965 model year. Further down the long options list were power brakes ($42); power steering ($84); tinted windshield ($22); the same with tinted windows ($31); 14-inch whitewall or red-band tires (to replace 13-inch blackwalls); spinner wheel covers ($18 the set); and 14-inch wire-wheel covers ($46).

Minor items like backup lights and padded dash and sunvisors are common standard equipment now, but cost extra then. The priciest single option was air conditioning at $283 (but not available with the HP V-8). Also on the menu: a "Rally-Pac" tachometer and clock in a small pod atop the steering column ($69); deluxe steering wheel ($32); sports center console ($52); pushbutton AM radio with antenna ($59); rear-seat speaker ($12); a vinyl roof covering for the hardtop ($76); and power operation for the convertible top ($54).

Then there were option packages to grapple with: handling suspension (V-8s only, $31); Visibility Group (remote-control driver's-door mirror, day/night inside rearview mirror, two-speed electric wipers and windshield washers, $36); Accent Group (pin striping and rocker-panel moldings, $27); and Instrument Group (round speedometer and four smaller dials including oil-pressure gauge and ammeter, $109).

Added in September were Kelsey-Hayes front-disc brakes ($57 and well worth it), "Equa-Lock" limited-slip differential ($43), "spider-web" styled-steel wheels ($120), front bench seat ($24), and a $165 GT Group comprising the disc brakes, grille-mounted driving lights, special badges, and rocker-panel racing stripes like those on Ford's GT40 endurance racer. A bit later on came the Interior Décor Group, the so-called "pony interior" now highly coveted by collectors. This $107 package bundled the GT gauge cluster with woodgrain appliqués on dash and door panels, a simulated-wood-rim steering wheel, door courtesy lights, and -- the main attraction -- unique duo-tone vinyl upholstery with a herd of running horses embossed on the upper seatbacks.

For the "true" '65s, Ford added a standard adjustable front passenger seat, an alternator to replace the generator -- and the snazzy 2+2 coupe. Several names had been considered for the last, including GT Limited, Grand Sport, and even GTO. But 2+2 was apt, as the semi-fastback had even less rear passenger space than other Mustangs.

For the "true" '65s, Ford added a standard adjustable front passenger seat, an alternator to replace the generator -- and the snazzy 2+2 coupe. Several names had been considered for the last, including GT Limited, Grand Sport, and even GTO. But 2+2 was apt, as the semi-fastback had even less rear passenger space than other Mustangs.

The 2+2 semi-fastback coupe had single windows ahead of gill-like vents, a feature exclusie to that optional body style.

There was compensation, however, in greater utility via an optional rear seatback and trunk partition that could be dropped down to form a usefully long, flat load floor. The racy roofline incorporated gill-like air vents instead of windows in the rear quarters, part of a flow-through ventilation system. The 2+2 also stood apart by omitting the dummy-scoop rear fender trim, as did cars with pin striping and/or the GT package.

There was compensation, however, in greater utility via an optional rear seatback and trunk partition that could be dropped down to form a usefully long, flat load floor. The racy roofline incorporated gill-like air vents instead of windows in the rear quarters, part of a flow-through ventilation system. The 2+2 also stood apart by omitting the dummy-scoop rear fender trim, as did cars with pin striping and/or the GT package.

It all seemed a perfect match between car and customer. But as you'll see on the next page, the reviews were mixed from those paid to look beneath the shiny surface of a car.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars

The "true" 1965 convertible carries the highly desirable GT Equipment Group with grille-mounted driving lights, special emblems, racing stripes, and more.

Criticism of the 1965 Mustang

The options list for the 1965 Ford Mustang covered all the bases. It helped give the car its wide appeal and was a big reason why sales took off so quickly. Perhaps more than any car before it, a Mustang could be equipped to reflect an individual owner's precise tastes and budget -- provided he or she was willing to wait for their dream to be built.

Yet your custom carriage needn't cost a king's ransom. Even easily tempted spendthrifts were hard-pressed to push delivered price above $3000. With so many ways to go, a Mustang's personality could range from mild to wild, Spartan to sybaritic, anything you wanted -- which explains why initial press reviews were no less varied.

To be sure, the car had some built-in flaws. Few testers faulted the styling, but many griped that the steering wheel was too close to the driver's chest and the interior too snug for the exterior size. As Motor Trend noted: "Five passengers can fit, but the fifth one usually sits on the others nerves." Road & Track carped about the sparse, Falcon-sourced instrumentation and flat bucket seats.

Some reviewers criticized the Mustang for its tendency to "float" at touring speeds.

Most all reviewers hurled barbs at the fade-prone drum brakes, slow steering (even with available "fast" ratio), and especially the standard suspension. R&T was particularly critical in its initial test of three base-chassis hardtops: "The ride is wallowy, there's a tendency [to float] at touring speeds, and the 'porpoise' factor is high on undulating surfaces....The Mustangs we tested [were] indistinguishable from any of half a dozen other Detroit compacts. There's just nothing different about it in this respect. And this, we think, is unfortunate."

As for straight-line performance, R&T's 210-horsepower 289/four-speed car did about what the editors expected: 0-60 mph in nine seconds (vs. 11.2 for an automatic 260), a standing quarter-mile of 16.5 at 80 mph, 110 mph all out, and 14-18 mpg.

As the voice for what Ford chief Lee Iacocca termed "the sports-car crowd, the real buffs," Road & Track was harsher on the Mustang than most other publications. Yet even R&T allowed that any shortcomings had to be weighed against the low price. And the magazine did find a few things to cheer, including, perhaps surprisingly, good workmanship. "The car is...trimmed and neatly finished in a manner that many European sports/touring cars would do well to emulate."

Styled-steel wheels were among the many options.

The thing is, R&T became downright enthused about the Mustang once it tested a Hi-Po V-8 model equipped with the inexpensive handling package. The editors went out of their way to praise the chassis upgrades, which included stiff springs and shocks, larger-diameter front anti-sway bar, 5.90 3 15 Firestone Super Sports tires, and quicker steering ratio (3.5 turns lock-to-lock vs. nearly four). "The effect is to eliminate the wallow we experienced...and to tie the car to the road much more firmly....There is a certain harshness to the ride at low speeds over poor surfaces, but this is a small price to pay for the great improvement in handling and roadholding." Acceleration was naturally better too, R&T getting 8.3 seconds 0-60 mph.

Sports Car Graphic also tested an HP Mustang, but with the tight 4.11:1 axle that delivered 7.6 seconds 0-60 and a slightly faster quarter-mile than R&T posted. Motor Trend, which traditionally favors Detroit cars, loved every Mustang it tested, even an automatic-equipped six-cylinder job that needed a lengthy 14.3 seconds 0-60.

The HP Mustang got a glowing endorsement from none other than ace race driver Dan Gurney, whose mount reached 123 mph and consistently beat a similarly equipped Corvette in quarter-mile sprints. "This car will run the rubber off a Triumph or MG," he wrote in Popular Science. "It has the feel of a 2+2 Ferrari. So what is a sports car?" Clearly, the right options could make a Mustang fully worthy of that term.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

Bowing in January 1965, the GT-350 was a special high-performance 2+2 conceived and built at Ford's behest by Carroll Shelby of Cobra sports-car fame.

The 1965 Shelby Mustang

During the Ford Mustang's highly successful initial model year, an even more exciting and capable model premiered at California's Riverside Raceway on January 27, 1965. Though created by Carroll Shelby, the GT-350 was instigated by Lee Iacocca, who wanted a Corvette-beater for Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) B-Production racing. The idea was to give every Mustang a "competition-proved" aura in line with Ford's "Total Performance" racing and ad campaign, then nearing high tide.

Shelby laid down the specifics in the fall of 1964. SCCA required that at least 100 cars be built to qualify as production, and Ford sent that many 2+2 fastbacks to Shelby's small facility in Venice, California, for conversion. The first dozen GT-350s were hand-built by Christmas, the remaining 88 by New Year's Day (a feat that much impressed SCCA officials).

Shelby laid down the specifics in the fall of 1964. SCCA required that at least 100 cars be built to qualify as production, and Ford sent that many 2+2 fastbacks to Shelby's small facility in Venice, California, for conversion. The first dozen GT-350s were hand-built by Christmas, the remaining 88 by New Year's Day (a feat that much impressed SCCA officials).

Each GT-350 started as a white fastback supplied with the Hi-Po V-8, four-speed gearbox, a stouter rear axle from the big Galaxie, and no hood, grille, side trim, or wheel covers. Shelby muscled up the engine to 306 horsepower via a "hi-rise" manifold, larger carburetor, free-flow exhaust, and other changes.

Additional component upgrades included Koni adjustable shocks, a bigger front sway bar, rear torque arms (added to lessen axle hop in hard takeoffs), Shelby-cast 6 x 15 alloy wheels, 7.75 x 15 Goodyear Blue Dot performance tires, larger brakes with sintered-metallic friction surfaces, and fast-ratio steering on relocated upper-suspension control arms. A hefty steel tube was added to bridge the front shock towers to lessen body flex in hard cornering.

Shelby installed a fiberglass hood with functional air scoop and competition-style tiedowns and applied Ford-blue racing stripes above the rocker panels and atop the hood, roof, and deck. Inside were three-inch competition seatbelts, mahogany-rim racing steering wheel providing more arm room, and steering-column-mount tachometer and oil-pressure gauge.

Omitting the rear seat in favor of a spare tire saved weight -- and helped the car meet racing rules.

To meet racing rules for "sports cars" (defined as two-seaters), the stock rear seat was omitted and the spare tire lashed in its place, though Shelby offered a different bolt-in bench seat as an option.

As planned, there was also a race-ready GT-350R. This used basically the same high-tune 289 as competition Cobras, which meant 340-360 horsepower. A low-restriction side-exit exhaust system helped, as did replacing the front bumper with a fiberglass airdam containing a large central air slot.

Also to save weight, the gearbox got an aluminum case, plastic replaced glass for door and rear windows, and the cockpit was stripped down to a single racing seat, roll bar, and safety harness. Super-duty suspension and tires were naturally included, and a "locker" differential was installed. A few GT-350Rs were built with all-disc brakes and ultra-wide tires under flared fenders.

The street GT-350 was priced at $4547, about $1500 more than a standard V-8 Mustang. A real sizzler, it could storm 0-60 mph in around 6.5 seconds, hit 130-135 mph, and make genuine track-star moves. The R-model was even faster -- and at a nominal $5950 an incredible bargain for a showroom car that could race straight to victory lane.

Though no GT-350 was easy to drive, orders quickly overwhelmed the small Venice shop, prompting the newly formed Shelby American, Inc., to move into two huge hangars at nearby Los Angeles International Airport in the spring of 1965. Model-year production totaled 562, of which an estimated 25 were racing versions.

The desired Corvette-beater featured a 306-bhp "Cobra-tuned" V-8, along with bigger tires, wheels, and brakes.

Mustang seemed born to race and did so even before it went on sale. In late winter of 1963-64, Ford prepped several hardtops for the European rally circuit. The effort was sincere enough, but the team's only major win came in the Tour de France, where Peter Proctor and Peter Harper finished one-two in class.

Mustang was more successful in drag racing, where 2+2s stuffed full of Ford big-block 427 V-8s racked up numerous wins in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) A/FX class and, less often, as "funny cars." Ford itself jumped in for the '65 season, fielding wild "altereds" with two-inch-shorter wheelbases. And not unexpectedly, GT-350s tore up the tracks -- and more than a few Corvettes -- winning the National B-Production Championship three years running (1965-67).

Mustang was more successful in drag racing, where 2+2s stuffed full of Ford big-block 427 V-8s racked up numerous wins in the National Hot Rod Association (NHRA) A/FX class and, less often, as "funny cars." Ford itself jumped in for the '65 season, fielding wild "altereds" with two-inch-shorter wheelbases. And not unexpectedly, GT-350s tore up the tracks -- and more than a few Corvettes -- winning the National B-Production Championship three years running (1965-67).

On the road, the track, and the sales charts, Mustang was off to a galloping start. The trick now was to keep it fresh without tainting the recipe. Find out on the next page how Ford addressed that sensitive assignment.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

Separate taillamps showed up on prototype '66s in press photos but didn't make production, to hold down prices.

The 1966 Ford Mustang

Typical for a new car in its second year, the 1966 Mustangs weren't greatly changed -- not that they needed to be with sales roaring along.

Thin bars replaced the grille's honeycomb background, and non-GT models discarded the grille's thick horizontal chrome bar and small vertical supports, leaving the galloping horse's "corral" to seemingly float in space. Fuel-filler cap, stock wheel covers, the simulated bodyside scoops, emblems, and nameplates were all revised.

Designers had always wanted three separate taillamps per side instead of a cluster, but though some '66 press photos showed this, the idea was again rejected on cost grounds. Ford did splurge on interiors, though, adding new seat and door trim and, with a nod to Congress, then starting to grumble about auto safety, standard padded dash and sunvisors. It also gave all models the five-dial GT instrumentation in place of the original cluster with its strip speedometer.

Six-cylinder cars went from 13- to 14-inch standard wheels and tires, and all models got new engine mounts to reduce vibration. Engine offerings carried over from the "true" '65s, but options expanded again with the addition of 8-track stereo tape player ($128) and deluxe seatbelts with reminder light and inertia-reel retractors (about $8).

This convertible carries the now highly desirable "pony" interior trim with wood-effect steering wheel and dash appliques, plus underdash air conditioning.

Ford pushed six-cylinder Mustangs more heavily for '66, in part to keep sales going during a temporary shortage of V-8s that occurred during the model run. Highlighting this effort was the Sprint 200, advertised as the "Limited Edition," announced in spring 1966 to mark the first million Mustangs built and sold.

The Sprint 200 was basically a package available for any body style, though most were built as hardtops. The 200-cubic inch six (hence the name) was given a chrome air cleaner with "Sprint 200" decal. Wire-look wheel covers, center console, and bodyside pin striping were also included. In all, it was an attractive package for any buyer, though Ford pitched it mainly to women.

Though six-cylinder Mustangs looked like V-8 models at a glance, there were some technical differences. Chief among them were four-lug wheels instead of five-bolt, nine-inch drum brakes versus 10-inch diameter, slightly narrower front track, a lighter rear axle, and lower spring rates.

There were two other reasons to push sixes for '66. As one Ford executive said later, "We felt there was a need to emphasize the economy aspect at that time. Also, the six-cylinder coupe was by then the only Mustang selling for less than Mr. Iacocca's original target figure."

Not that prices had risen much since introduction. The hardtop had gone up only $4 during '65 and started at $2416 for '66. The convertible, which had listed for $2614 through the entire first year, went to $2653. The 2+2 had arrived at $2589 and was upped to $2607.

Not that prices had risen much since introduction. The hardtop had gone up only $4 during '65 and started at $2416 for '66. The convertible, which had listed for $2614 through the entire first year, went to $2653. The 2+2 had arrived at $2589 and was upped to $2607.

The '66s did get slighty tidier styling around the nose but were otherwise hard to tell from the '65s at a glance.

Predictably, model-year 1966 sales were down on extra-long '65, but for comparable 12-month periods the '66s actually ran ahead by 50,000 units. Model-year sales kept galloping along at close to half a million hardtops, 72,000 convertibles, and 36,000 fastbacks.

Mustang reminded many of certain European tourers, so it was fitting that the car started sale in Germany during 1966. But it couldn't be a Mustang in the land of Bimmers and Benzes, because a local company already owned the name and wouldn't give it up. Accordingly, Ford substituted badges reading T-5, the code name of the original development program, and removed all other "Mustang" labels, though the powerful steed still appeared on the grille and steering wheel.

The cars were otherwise all-American except for minor changes needed to satisfy German regulations. Interestingly, German T-5 Mustang sales would continue until the late 1970s.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars.

A unique black-and-gold exterior marked the 1966 Shelby GT-350H models built for Hertz Rent-A-Car.

The 1966 Shelby Mustang

As a small manufacturer, Shelby American didn't observe strict model years, generally making changes only after parts in stock were used up. As a result, there's no "official" distinction between the 1965 and '66 GT-350s.

However, the first 262 cars designated as '66s were actually leftover '65s retrofitted with the thin-bar grille (also sans "corral"), rear-brake air scoops behind the doors, and Plexiglas windows replacing the roof vents. Subsequent '66s got slightly softer damping and other suspension tweaks, plus the new options of automatic transmission and the stock fastback's fold-down rear seat. Paint colors expanded to red, blue, green, and black, all with white stripes.

More typical of ol' Shel was a Paxton centrifugal supercharger option, available factory-installed for $670 or as a $430 kit. Boosting horsepower by a claimed 46 percent to more than 400, it cut the 0-60 dash to around five seconds. Few were sold, however, and the option was dropped after a single season.

Ford took 936 GT-350H models in 1966, a big boost for Carroll Shelby, but abandoned the unintentional rent-a-racer after one year.

In another interesting move for '66, Carroll concocted the GT-350H -- "H" for Hertz Rent-A-Car. Exactly 936 were built, all finished in black with gold striping and equipped with Select-Shift Cruise-O-Matic. Hertz rented them for $17 a day and 17 cents a mile. Weekend racers eagerly lined up, but their unauthorized track outings made the venture a mite unprofitable, and Hertz bailed out after just one year.

In all, Shelby built 2378 GT-350s to '66 specs, including R- and H-models, plus six prototype convertibles. But profit-minded Ford wanted far more and was starting to pressure Carroll to water down his original concept even more.

Brilliance Bound To Be Copied

Up to now, Ford's spectacularly successful pony car (a term coined by Car Life magazine) had only one direct competitor: the Plymouth Barracuda, a sporty Valiant-based "glassback" that by pure coincidence bowed a month after Mustang. As a Plymouth and a less "special" sportster, Barracuda proved no sales threat.

Privateers and Ford itself fielded wild Mustang dragsters in 1966, as competition was about to emerge.

But Ford knew that archrival Chevrolet was bound to copy Mustang -- probably sooner rather than later. Indeed, many journalists had predicted a whole slew of competitors inspired by Mustang's winning formula. After all, it's axiomatic in Detroit that a hot-seller doesn't go unanswered for long.

But Dearborn had more extensive changes in store for the 1967 Mustangs. The only question was, would they be enough to keep the original pony car ahead of the expected imitators? In the next section, we'll explore how Ford worked to keep Mustang ahead of the pack, and whether it was successful.

For even more on the Ford Mustang of yesterday and today, check out the following articles:

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • It was the right car at the right time, but the Mustang had to await the early 1960s, when a savvy Ford exec realized the Mustang's potential. Learn how Lee Iacocca brought his "better idea" to life in 1965 Ford Mustang Prototypes.
  • By 1967, the original ponycar was no longer the only one and had to fight for sales. 1967, 1968 Ford Mustang details the fresh "performance" look and go-power that made a million-seller even better.
  • The Ford Mustang is central to America's muscle car mania. Learn about some of the quickest Mustangs ever, along with profiles, photos, and specifications of more than 100 muscle cars