I recently had a chance to drive a 1966 Ford Mustang Fastback. It really brought back memories from high school days when a friend had an identical black Mustang with the 289 cubic inch (4.7 liter) V-8 engine with 4-speed manual transmission. Still the same thrill. My new friend uses his 1966 Mustang as a daily driver, so he was not at all reluctant to let me take it for a little spin. From the tinny sounding door closing, to the big steering wheel, and knob controls – the Mustang of that era was a simple car with lots of charm. It handled well and accelerates with throaty enthusiasm. My friend tells me that its one driving fault lies in having very poor traction on wet roads. That and his ever present need to talk to admirers wherever he goes.
Another friend of mine, Greg, drives a 2013 Mustang every day. While he does not get the same admirers as the classic ’66 Mustang, Ford has brought back the original sporty looks and style of this “pony car” for folks to enjoy driving in modern times. He too allowed me to try out his car for a comparison with the ’66 Mustang.
The production Mustang debuted in March 1964, sold as a 1965, but many called it a 1964-1/2. Based on the Ford Falcon compact car chassis, the Mustang employed a long hood, set back cabin and large engine to create a sporty youth oriented look that kicked off imitations to quickly come by other makers – the Camaro, Firebird, Barracuda, AMX and many others. The first Mustang (reportedly named after the fighter airplane, not the horse – although the mustang horse badging has been a constant through the Mustang production run) was an immediate success. Following a trend throughout the 1960s and 1970s – sporty American made cars tended to grow in size and weight – with performance maintained by ever larger engines. Gas was cheap – like 35 cents per gallon.
However, once the first oil embargo hit America in 1973, the big car was suddenly persona non-grata. Some of the big cars disappeared, but for the Mustang, it simply got smaller. While a popular selling car, the 1974 Mustang II rather lacked the pizzazz that the early cars had. These were the generation 2, 3 & 4 cars that were not so Mustang-y to many of us geezer motorheads. The generation 5 cars of 2007-2014 were very much retro-Mustangs in style, size and performance and welcomed with brisk sales. 2015 brought generation 6, now a continuous production of 51 years. Mustangs have always been available as convertibles and a choice of manual or automatic transmission. They make great fun rental cars – I’ve had that experience too.
Needless to say, the Mustang has evolved over this time. Greg’s 2013 is typical. It has great driver comfort – still tiny back seats – great handling and excellent acceleration even with the smaller V-6 engine. In comparison with the 1966 Mustang, the V-6 2013 is very much on par or better with acceleration and it too has the same throaty exhaust note. However, with the 2013 you get the advantages of traction control, modern electronic ignition, fuel injection and computer controlled engine performance, better handling and braking. Greg’s 2013 has a six-speed manual transmission – in keeping with the Mustang’s sporty driving persona. The shifting is smooth, but sixth gear is really overdrive for flat-level cruising. I found the engine would strain and drone when forced to hold 60 mph in hilly driving. It was much happier in fifth gear during such driving. Fast passing could be done in fifth, or a more lively drop down into fourth. At the time I drove it, the valet key limited top speed to 80 mph and nagged whenever hard acceleration was taking place. Greg had not intended for me to drive his Mustang with such restrictions – those are for his sons when they drive it – nonetheless it was more than fast enough and capable of much better.
Mustangs have come with a variety of engines over the decades, even back in 1964 it was available with an economical 170 cubic inch (2.8 liter) 101 horsepower inline 6-cylinder growing to mammoth 429 cubic inch V-8s and 670 horsepower in modern supercharged Shelby Cobras and Roush Mustangs. But I won’t go into those. I would promote the purchase and use of a Mustang with the powerful new small engines, either the 310 horsepower turbocharged Eco-boost 2.3 liter inline 4 cylinder or the 3.7 liter V-6 with 300 horsepower – either of these is putting out more power than the classic 289 V-8 and with much better fuel economy. For 2015/2016 the EPA rates the 2.3 turbo-4 at 22 city/32 hwy (with S6 automatic) and the 3.7 V-6 with 19 city/28 hwy mpg. Greg’s 2013 V-6 is rated at 19/31 mpg – which he does get. Fuel economy is essentially the same whether a manual or automatic transmission. Mustang – fun and fuel economy in one package.