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.
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 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."
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.