From the archives: The 1965 Ford Mustang started a legacy

Will the 2015 pony car be as memorable?

Last updated: September 05, 2014 05:30 PM

1964 1/2 Ford Mustang

Commemorating the 50th anniversary of the iconic Ford Mustang, we have reached into the archives to present our first drive from the July 1964 issue of Consumer Reports magazine (PDF), augmented with test results from the August 1964 issue of Consumer Reports magazine (PDF).

Modern perspective

Looking back, the enthusiasm that Consumer Reports and indeed the marketplace had for the original Mustang is infectious. It is no wonder from this strong start that the pony car became such a fixture on American highways and byways. It is interesting to see how wrapped up the editors were in the smart buying advice, cautioning shoppers against the competition version, later better known as the ultra-collectible Shelby GT350.

Through the ensuing decades, the Mustang has gone through numerous incarnations, but it always remained true to its brand, offering an affordable, performance-focused, rear-drive coupe and convertible capable of being equipped from mild to wild. The tradition continues with the all-new Mustang, and we look forward to taking that muscle-bound stallion for a ride.

If you're interested in Ford's latest vintage, check out our 2015 Mustang preview.

From the July 1964 issue

CU's First Look at the Ford Mustang 

There isn’t likely to be another Edsel, or ill-conceived Edsel promotion, in the Ford Motor Company’s future. Their latest new car, the Mustang, which CU is now testing, was much more carefully planned as a car and has been launched with a promotion campaign that is, if all-out, no more given to superlatives than most new-car launchings. From Ford’s point of view, this effort could hardly have been better timed. The Mustang emerges as a non-utilitarian vehicle with a fresh, though not inspired, look in a booming market for cars, especially a “personal” car like the Mustang. It bears a fillip of prestige, a little of the aura of the Thunderbird and Riviera, and (via many options) an extremely wide adaptability to people’s varying automotive desires. The combination apparently has broad appeal. As this report is being written, Mustangs are rolling off the line at the rate of nearly 7,000 a week.

Although the Mustang is made up, in large part, of components from other Ford cars, it is unique in Ford’s stable in chassis construction, body styling, and general concept. It is not a sports car, but a sporty-looking 2-door hardtop or convertible, very close to the Corvair in size and designed for a similar but wider market—ranging, depending on options chosen, from a tame little filly all the way to a hot charger—the latter a “competition” machine that CU advises its readers to ignore completely.

The Mustang body, either hardtop or convertible (the latter $250 extra), is 182 inches long and 68 inches wide—dimensions similar to the Corvair’s, leaving plenty of room in the average garage. The new Ford entry weighs, in CU’s basic-model test car, just under 2,600 pounds. It is the type of car often called a “2 plus 2” coupe. That is, it has a rear seat for two people, but they’ll be much happier back there if they’re small or have retractile legs.

Those options

Under Mustang’s long (and unsafely sharp-edged) hood and forward of its stubby tail, there may be any of four engines, three clutches, seven transmissions, two driveshafts, three wheel and tire sizes, three suspensions, four steering systems, and four brake options (none of which, CU is disappointed to report, has dual hydraulic systems for safety). The particular car CU is testing was selected with equipment similar to that of the Corvair Monza Coupe that is also under test. CU’s Mustang coupe is the bottom-of-the-line model—using a 170 cubic-inch unmodified Falcon 6-cylinder engine, but equipped with an optional 4-speed manual transmission that costs $115 more than the standard 3-speed manual but is, CU feels, the optimum choice with this engine. The shift lever, as in all Mustangs whether manual or automatic, is on the floor. CU’s car has standard-equipment bucket seats.

All Mustangs are designated by Ford as 1965 models, and they presumably continue through the 1965 model year with only running changes. As ‘65s, they initiate a breakthrough in automatic transmissions for the Ford Motor Company. Starting with 1965, there will be no more 2-speed automatics in Ford cars; only 3-speed torque converter units will be used. It is also probably that, beginning in the fall, Ford’s 200-cubic-inch Six, which now powers the Fairlane and Comet, will be available, with any transmission, in the Mustang.

Buying a Mustang figures to be something of an adventure in itself. The shopper’s ability to mix and match the wide options—and his ability to resist the salesman’s attempts to trade him up—not only may swing the price from a basic $2,345 to over $3,000 (and even higher for the competition model), but can change the whole character of the car. At one extreme is a personal car with an easily accessible power plant, which CU so far has found to be light-handling and docile and expects will give good gas mileage; at the other is that “competition” machine—a very power V8 of 271 horsepower, weighing about 3,000 pounds, using premium fuel, and likely to be rather heavy-handling and noisy, though capable of going from 0 to 60 mph in under 10 seconds.

When it becomes available, the 200-cubic-inch Six, weighing little more than the engine in CU’s test car, will be CU’s preferred engine for the Mustang, particularly if an automatic transmission is chosen. With this combination, the Mustang should retain its handling qualities better than it would if it carried a heavier engine. Of the better V8 engine options for the Mustang, however, one is particularly interesting from the standpoint of price. A Mustang with the 260-cubic-inch V8 and standard-equipment 3-speed automatic transmission, synchronized in all forward gears, costs about the same as CU’s test car; though its engine adds about 160 pounds to the weight on the front wheels, it should provide powerful performance, flexibility, and quiet running, within $116 of the Mustang’s basic cost. It drives through a 3.00 to 1 rear end, which should allow moderately good gas mileage.

Driving impressions

In CU’s Mustang, the 170-cubic-inch engine gave sprightly rather than powerful-feeling performance. But it was quite satisfactory for normal driving use, particularly with the 4-speed transmission (which was not very smooth shifting at the start, but promises improvement when run in). The steering was rather slow, fairly precise, and very easy. No power steering is needed on this model.

In the driving CU’s test staff has done so far, four characteristics stand out: The riding qualities of CU’s Mustang are good. The unit structure is very solid over rough roads (though the convertible model figures to be less so). The interior noise level is very low—obviously the results of careful insulation. And wind noise, with the windows partly opened, is unusually low.

None of CU’s standard brake tests have yet been made on the test car, but the brakes were well-behaved in normal driving, though their size, in relation to the weight of the car, is no better than average.

The Mustang coupe is very low—a little over 51 inches high—hence the seats also are low. The front bucket seats are well designed, but it is questionable whether they will be comfortable for day-long occupancy, because of their lowness. The passenger’s seat is fixed permanently in one position. The two-passenger rear seat is a semi-bucket type, narrow front to back and hard in the middle. There is tolerable headroom for adults, but so little legroom that the seat is comfortable only for moderate distances. The back of this seat, unlike that in the Monza Coupe, does not fold to facilitate luggage accommodation. The Mustang carries its luggage in a conventional, but not large, trunk having a capacity for two 2-suiters and three weekend cases. The trunk of the average compact sedan manages three 2-suiters and five weekend cases.

Owing to its long hood, the Mustang does not give the driver and visual impression that he is handling a small car, and he will gain few impressions from the mechanism that it is a cheap one. Driver vision is very good.

One of the most impressive features of CU’s Mustang is an almost complete absence of poor fit and sloppy workmanship in a car being built at a hell-for-leather pace.

Despite a contrary impression conveyed by Mustang advertising, some items of equipment will be missed. The glove box has no lock. The wipers have only a single speed. And, no windshield washer is provided for, except as part of a package including two-speed wipers (at $20). Also the touted “sports steering wheel” consists of an ordinary wheel sporting faked “lightening holes”—depressions touched up with black paint—in the spokes by which the horn is blown. Also, though Ford stresses the “building block” or “design-it-yourself” aspect of the many basic and accessory options for the Mustang, one item (which would be particularly desirable on the 8-cylinder models) is at present missing from the list: a limited-slip differential.

All in all, however, CU finds the Mustang, on short acquaintance, an agreeable car—one in which an individual appearance is achieved in a compact package with minimum handicaps (except perhaps for the low seating) and without the over-elaboration of detail and “luxury” items that often make this type of car expensive rather than useful and efficient.

But two points should be made. Before CU is through with its testing of the Mustang, faults may appear that will render it less desirable than it now seems. Secondly, the Mustang does not offer the optimum bread-and-butter uses at their lowest prices. A good-performance compact, with full, high seats, front and rear, and a big trunk, can be bought for less—the Valiant or Dodge Dart, for example, or even Ford’s own Comet or Falcon. However, if it’s individuality or flair you are looking for in an American-made vehicle, you can get the genuine article in the Mustang at very nearly the lowest price around.

From the August 1964 issue

The Mustang displayed at the 1964 World's Fair.
Photo: Ford Motor Company

Summing up

The Mustang looks like a sports car, or Gran Turismo sports touring car, but—at least in the version tested here, as well as in the larger Six... it's actually a "sporty" car, or runabout, of compact size and appearance, appealing because of its lowness, easy handling, and the fresh lines that are its chief stock in trade. The more powerful V8 versions of the Mustang, culminating in a strictly competitive version, are progressively much more able (and are, CU understands, far and away the best-selling Mustangs), but even these are likely to offer sports car speed and acceleration, rather than handling.


1965 Mustang 6
(from the August 1964 issue)
2015 Mustang V6
MSRP $2,461 $23,600
Wheelbase (in.) 108 107.1
Length 182 188.3
Width 68 75.4
Height 51 55.4
Curb weight (lbs.) 2,585 3,526
Engine 2.8L I6 3.7L V6
Horsepower 101 300
Torque (lb.-ft.) 156 280
Transmission 4-spd manual 6-spd manual
0-60 mph (sec.) 16.8   N/A
Overall fuel economy (mpg) 20.8 N/A



Updated specs, added video. Originally published April 17th, 2014.

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