Ford Mustang GT Driven

Retro Cars
'65 Mustang, the original American muscle car

In 1964 Ford hit the jackpot, they had learnt in the past all about producing cars in volume, the Model A for instance, and latterly about attractive design, think T-Bird. But in the April of ‘64 they combined these two things to devastating effect in the hugely successful Mustang, something that was well worth celebrating 12 months later on with this, the Ford Mustang GT.

Originally fitted with a 289cu-in V8, this particular GT has had a later, just shy of 5.0litres, 302cu-in V8 installed; the GT had distinctive white side stripes, which are present and correct, and was a car that came with an array of extras, previously only offered as paid options. A Mustang USP at the time, an options list that would compete with BMW’s Mini today. Included as standard were the race inspired dials on the steering column, one of which indicates engine rpm, ideal for the drag strip when you can keep at least one eye pointing downwards. Although arguably fairly redundant on the open road, especially if there are any bendy bits involved requiring higher levels of concentration.

Ford Mustang GT
Up front a no nonsense 302cu-in V8 provides decent power and rousing soundtrack

Also inside this car is the bright and bold ‘Pony’ red and white leather interior, which certainly is an attention grabber as soon as you open the door. Oddly once installed you hardly notice it. The rear bench seat folds flat and originally it was possible to also fold down a flap from the boot so that skis could be transported around, how very European is that? The large speakers that have been fitted to our GT makes that more tricky to do. The speedo, which is displayed in what appears to be a straight line, is very easy to read, and unusually for an American car there are three pedals on the floor. The one on the far left being attached to a clutch mated to the four speed manual gearbox which provides quite a transformation from other slush box ‘Stangs.

Ford Mustang GT
Pony interior comes with distinctive red and white leather

In fact the stick shift makes this car very special indeed, encouraging its driver to quickly become accustomed to the car’s size and focus instead on exploring handling characteristics complemented by purposeful up and down shifts of the box. Quite intoxicating given the displacement of the power plant housed under the vast bonnet up front. When I compare this car to the Mustang Convertible we drove, albeit briefly, it is easy to appreciate how different they are, one a laid back open top cruiser with an auto-box, the other a poorly disguised drag strip racer using manually selected gears.

Pull away in the Mustang GT and immediately engine rpm is translated into forward motion. A very high first gear ensures 30mph is achieved in an instant and 50-60mph only one further change away. What is still comparable to the more common 3 speed auto-box is a relatively high top gear ratio which leaves the engine spinning at far too high a speed when on the move. Safe to assume therefore that fuel economy is well and truly flushed down the proverbial. In Britain around the same time we had overdrive; in America I can only assume much cheaper fuel.

Ford Mustang GT
The vents on the rear pillars actually work, I didn’t know that…

What is always achingly cool about U.S cars of this era is the noise they emit and how they look when stationary. After all the Mustang Convertible we drove is still on top of our Cool-o-Meter, ahead of other iconic classics like the E-Type and Aston Martin DB6. The disappointment in the past is not from how these cars look and sound when stood still, but more about how they drive. And let’s be clear a Mustang, even a manual GT is not a Jaguar MK2 when it comes to refinement, a car fitted with the quite brilliant S-Type rear suspension. But what this car does bring to the party is an honest rawness that means it cuts its own path. V8 up front, live axle at the rear and jukebox styled interior between the two, along with a very strong desire to win at all odds.

Ford Mustang GT
Mustang GT looks totally at home at the strip

Win it did as well, even taking first and second in class at the Rally de France as well as countless circuit racing victories stateside. The thing that resonates best with the Mustang for me though, and particularly a manual GT is the drag strip. A straight ¼ mile sprint directly against another similarly classified car, one on one, winner takes all. That honest, no nonsense approach to racing is what the Mustang is all about, it’s not trying to be clever or sophisticated in any way, just first to cross the line.

Ford Mustang GT
From the driver’s seat the column mounted rev counter (left) is barely visible, but the four on the floor manual shifter is within easy reach

Which is why it is a surprise when you start to piece together left right combo’s on British back roads with a degree of success. Once accustomed to the size of the car, twitchy live back axle, slightly crashy suspension and just about adequate brakes then something truly magical begins to happen. The Mustang GT starts to ebb and flow like European counterparts and is more than capable of holding its own despite the odds. The gear change is as heavy as you want it to be with a nice wide gate. Accelerating with all 302cu-in of ironware up front with you deciding when to change gear provides a certain satisfaction all on its own. That you can brake, change down and turn into a corner with confidence, on smooth tarmac anyway, is utterly magnificent, it would appear that the force is strong within this car, which makes it a true classic in every sense, even when navigating Britain.

Ford Mustang GT with a 4 speed manual is a proper driver’s car with a no holds barred approach to driving whether in a straight line or navigating corners, just watch out for broken tarmac as it can really unsettle the rear.

How does this car make you feel?

In one word: (Drag) Racer

As a favourite meal: Sausage and egg in a large round white bap served in the entrance way to the Shakespeare County Raceway at Long Marston near Stratford (UK) – Lush.

Anything Else: Not a refined car like say a Jaguar from the same era, the Mustang GT loves nothing more than to accelerate up a long straight road before settling into a (slightly noisy) cruise. The surprise though is how well it corners, especially if the road is smooth.

Key Ingredients: V8 engine, manual gearbox, front disc brakes, and powerless steering combine to make this a proper driver’s car that defies its size even on modest British back roads.

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With thanks to The Open Road and Shakespeare County Raceway

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1 Comment

  1. The test car is not a factory GT car, but a car that has had some GT options added.

    1965 factory GT cars had a 5 dial instrument cluster with a special cutout in the dash panel to allow the large round speedo to be fitted. Also unique to a factory GT in 1965 was a flat glove box door.
    This car has standard gauges and a curved glove box door.

    The switch for the foglights ( which were part of the GT package ) is not to be seen in the correct place, and the foglight wiring through the radiator support is not as it should be.

    Factory GT cars had disc brakes as standard, this car had had them retro fitted.

    It is a very nice car, but not a not a factory GT.

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