When the Mustang was unveiled in the Spring of 1964, Ford Motor Company called it a 1965 model to emphasize its newness. There had been some question in the minds of many whether it was really going to be all new, or whether it would be a special-bodied Falcon. Advance leaks of details about dimensions and power-plans contributed to the impression of a Falcon-Mustang relationship similar to Volkswagen-Karmman Ghia.
Once the engineering story was available, however, in the form of the final metal-and-rubber cars, there could no longer be any such question. The car was distinct from the Falcon, though it uitilised major Falcon components, and in the higher powered versions it was indeed closer to the Fairlane. As engine size went up, Fairlane drive-trains were automatically installed.
But there was another question about the 1965 designation that had to await answering at the more traditional announcement time of September. The question concerned engines. During the 1964 model year. Falcons were equipped with either 144- or 170-cu. in. Sixes, both versions of the same block, or, as the top option, the thinwall 260-cu. in. V-8 of Fairlane derivation. The Fairlane, on the other hand,. had as basic engines the 200-cu. in. version of the 6-cyl. block as well as the 260 V-8, but most commonly was built with the enlarged 289 V-8.
For the Mustang, engineers gathered from both parts bins. The standard Six at announcement was the 170, developing 101 bhp at 4400 rpm. Then the buyer had a choice:
The 260 V-8 rated at 164 bhp at 4400 rpm with single 2-barrel carburettor, or the larger 289 which developed 210 bhp at 4400 with a single 4-barrel carburettor. The solid-lifter, 271-bhp version of the 289 was not immediately available and did not become so, in fact, until late in the summer. That one was, for all practical purposes, an actual 1965 model since its availability hardly preceded that of the new models in the other Ford lines.
It was when the 1965 announcement circus was underway, however, that it became evident two special Mustangs now had a place in the specialized car category. The dropping of the 260 engine from production (for all Fords) and the substitution of the 200-cu. in. Fairlane Six for the Mustang meant only one thing: 260 Mustangs and 170 Mustangs were now collectors' items, or if you will, "Classics."
How did it happen that the Mustang could be classic-ized between April and September? Many factors were involved, but the basic decider was public demand. The 289/210 Mustangs were far and away the leader in buyer orders during the hectic time following April when production fell so far behind sales. Dealers originally had a "market mix" which researchers had determined would handle most-on-the-spot buyers, and they did. So many buyers were left standing in line after the initial shipments had been snapped up that production wouldn't keep pace. But, in concert with the initial concept of tailoring their own car to their own specifications, they were ordering 289 V-8s. There was a concurrent under-current of scepticism about the adequacy of the 170 Six, although they were being ordered at a rate about equal to the 289s.
So, Ford acted by dropping the 260 and 170, substituting a 2-barrel 289 of 195 bhp (later 200 bhp) and the Fairlane 200, still with single throat carburettor and 120 bhp. Thus were two classics born.
It's all a little sad, in a way. Both of the classic Mustangs were highly satisfying and pleasant vehicles, fitting ideally into their predetermined niches in the Mustang picture. Car Life editors tested the pair in Dearborn before introduction day and came away convinced that they performed with the best Detroit has brought out. The report stated the cars "may well be, in fact, better than any domestically mass-produced automobile on the basis of handling and readability and performance, per dollar invested."
Only one of the five pre-production cars which CL tested had the 260-cu. in. V-8 and Cruise-0-Matic, and it was fitted with the normal off-the-shelf suspension components. Handling characteristics had that typical Ford feel which is to say, confidence-inspiring if a bit nose-heavy until the car was pressed. Then, when deliberately stormed too fast around the Dearborn test track handling circuit, with its series of turns of lessening, radii, the Mustang came into its element. So long as power was judiciously applied, it seemed to lift its nose and negotiate the bends in a perfect drift. Only minor steering corrections were necessary to maintain this attitude, despite road surface irregularities; body lean (and hence adverse tire scrub) was at a minimum.
The margin between drift and broadslide, of course, is as narrow as a tug on the steering wheel, but not once was the car's attitude anything but the former while at speed. On the other hand, the ploughing of understeer caused some worry as to whether the road would be wide enough when the same circuit was attempted at lesser velocities. At such moments, however, throttle-induced oversteer (with two aboard) quickly righted the wrong.
Even to those conversant with Ford Fairlane and Mercury Caliente handling, such characteristics with the stock, general-purpose underpinnings on the Mustang were exhilarating. It was obvious that the car had borrowed more suspension from those two than from the Falcon, though its dimensions had led some (including us) to expect the Mustang to be merely a Falcon Sprint "special."
There should be little doubt that the special handling suspension options could produce a nearly optimum vehicle for serious, European-style rallying and American-style road racing. Aiding and abetting this fine edge of handling excellence, of course, was the selection of wheel and tire options available when the car was ordered.
Straight-line performance of the car was expected to be brisk and our test figures show that it was. But the biggest surprise to our testers was the performance of the 6-cyl. basic Mustang. This car, which had differing spring rates at each wheel (for engineering tests) and thereby was eliminated from handling considerations, demonstrated a lurch off the line that was startling, in view of the engine's marginal performance in earlier Falcons of our acquaintance. ,
The performance improvement must definitely be attributed to the 3-speed automatic transmission. Hooking this transmission to the engine rather than the Falcon 2-speed proves the truth of that old adage: "If it won't go, gear it." Here is a car that, while designed for the little woman with its economical Six and efficient automatic, avoids the stigma of underpowering by a most effective utilization of available torque.
Best balanced of the Mustangs tested was the 260 with automatic. With the 2-barrel carburettor and 3.00:1 rear axle ratio, it should return quite acceptable fuel mileage figures to a vast segment of car buyers. Had it not been equipped with air conditioner, its performance figures would have been more inspirational.
With all the emphasis on go-power, the brakes assume greater importance. Here again, it seems that more development work is in order. The "disc brake option, which hadn't materialized at the time of the test, was expected to bring this characteristic up to the standard set by the rest of the design. The CL decelerometer registered stopping powers in the 18-21 ft./sec./sec. range, that vast average for all domestic cars, but some insight into the problem may have been lent by Executive Engineer Jack Prendergast in one of the design objectives involving brakes was pedal pressures at 0.7 G stopping power. Once this pressure (65 Ibs. for the Six, 72 Ibs. for the V-8) was achieved, further development on brakes apparently ceased. Hence these cars and by inference other domestic cars are engineered only to provide 0.7 G (which translates into 18 ft./sec./sec. stopping rate on the decelerometer) as a result of a ratio established by an engineering and cost per unit minimum.
Steering on the test cars was quite precise, but the purists will still feel that the faster ratio remains too slow. An annoyance was the deep-dish steering wheel, projecting too far toward the driver's chest, even with the seat at its most rearward notch.
These Mustangs have had a significant effect on the domestic automobile scene, more so perhaps than had they incorporated revolutionary concepts. They stood as the culmination, the sum total of 35 years of development, executed with an awareness of the proper order of motoring requirements.
But our testers made one error in judgment then. The Mustang 260, they reported, "will undoubtedly be the hottest-selling combination, providing as it does quite respectable acceleration and performance for the minimal extra cost of V-8 and automatic." The ever-fickle public outwitted us as well as the Ford marketing planners, plunking down even more cash to opt for the highest power they could get for their Mustangs. One result was a serious shortage of 289 engine blocks, which persisted through the end of 1964. Another was the determination to accept less-desirable weight balance in return for accelerative performance by rejecting the 260. And, of course, there was the result of creating a Mustang Classic.
Mustang - A Complete Guide: Car Life special edition, 1965