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.