Ford’s ground-breaking Mustang was never designed or intended to be a performance car. The concept of a cheap, compact two-door ‘secretary’s car’ was set in stone well before ratbag motor racers discovered that a Mustang with a V8 under its long ‘hood’ made an ideal weapon with which to subdue a range of rivals.
Australia saw its first privately-imported Mustangs in late 1964, just months after the model caused a stampede to US Ford dealerships. Converting the cars to right-hand drive was relatively easy, with many parts compatible with locally-sold models.
The first cars to be raced here appeared in 1965, driven most prominently by Norm Beechey who won that year’s Touring Car title in a car sponsored by Neptune fuel and the late Bob Jane. The following year, Beechey was in a Chevy Nova and finishing second in the Championship to Ian ‘Pete’ Geoghegan who had acquired a Mustang to replace his four-cylinder Cortina GT.
By this time, road-spec Mustangs were becoming common sights in race circuit and company carparks as well. Ford was still more than a year away from having a GT Falcon that could rival the Mustang for power and presence, so to capture a share of buyer interest it imported and converted around 200 cars for sale through its dealer network.
Suddenly the Mustang was adopted as a fair dinkum Aussie performance car. It even scored a role on television with the star of local spy-spoof series ‘Hunter’ driving around in a Mustang. Possibly not the most innocuous thing for shadowing bad guys in their Holden EHs but it guaranteed that car buffs would be watching every week as actor Tony Ward grinned through the trendy Ford's open, pillarless window.
Mustangs marketed in the USA as affordable, economy cars were pitched to buyers here as luxurious performance models with the potential to steal sales from Jaguar and the new Valiant V8.
The cars seen in Australia almost always used 4.7-litre, 167kW engines with three-speed automatic transmission. A few manual Mustangs arrived but possibly didn’t survive their interaction with overly-enthusiastic owners. Crashed and theft-recovered vehicles did have an after-life however; rebuilt and repainted and by the late 1960s appearing as front-running contenders on speedway tracks across the country.
Most of the original arrivals were notch-back coupes with a few convertibles and 2+2 Fastbacks thrown in. That mix would change during the 1980-90s when helpful exchange rates and low US values would see a rush of freshly-imported soft-tops and Fastbacks. Australians who attended weddings during that time might remember the excitement generated when the bridal party arrived in a fleet of open-top Mustangs.
Those cars survive literally in their thousands and during the past 20 years they have taken the place of the MGB as Australia’s most prolific hobby car.
A glut of that magnitude would in most circumstances have a pretty adverse impact on values, but not on the resilient Mustang. Even cars that aren’t going to be taking home any ribbons from the local car show are finding buyers in the $25-35,000 price bracket, with really good 2+2s and some convertibles stretching the purse strings to more than $60,000.
Some fine-at-firstglance cars may conceal structural rust around rear quarters, rear spring mounting points, floors and sills. Everything needed to rebuild a rusty Mustang is being reproduced but buying a rust-free car in the first place is by far the cheaper option. Up front, look at suspension towers and chassis rails for kinked metal or welds where they should not be, indicating a poor crash repair. Cars with vinyl roof covering may be suffering a rusty turret and those are very expensive to replace. Prices for new lights, bumpers and other chromed items make repairing original units uneconomic. A pair of brand new ‘repro’ bumpers here in Australia cost under $500 plus a bit for freight or you could see what the cost of bringing in a pair; listed at A$280 from the USA.
The 4.7-litre V8s used in early Mustangs are durable little engines with a capacity to generate considerably more power than was standard. Cracked piston rings generate blue exhaust smoke and oil leaks will make the motor look grubby. Listen when the engine is switched off after a run for hissing and rumbling from a cooling system that needs work. Check also for bulging water hoses. Some cars have oversized carburettors that add nothing to performance, just chew fuel. Most Mustangs in Australia use a three-speed Fordomatic transmission that is simple to repair. An auto that slurs its up-changes and clunks coming down needs an overhaul, a manual that clunks but doesn’t crunch or whine is probably OK.
NUMBER MADE: 1.29 million (1964-66)
BODY STYLES: steel integrated body/chassis two-door coupe & convertible
ENGINE: 4727cc V8 with overhead valves & single downdraft carburettor
POWER & TORQUE: 168kW @ 4800rpm, 414Nm @ 3200rpm
PERFORMANCE: 0-96km/h 8.3 seconds, 0-400 metres 16.7 seconds (289 auto)
TRANSMISSION: three or four-speed manual, three-speed automatic
SUSPENSION: Independent with coil springs, upper & lower control arms, telescopic shock absorbers and anti-roll bar (f) Live axle with semi-elliptic springs and telescopic shock absorbers (r)
BRAKES: drum or disc (f) drum (r) power assisted
TYRES: F70x14 bias ply
Mustang suspensions aren’t sophisticated or costly to modify and some owners have already tipped money into getting their cars to sit flat and not shred the tyres when cornering. Be wary if the steering displays more than 50mm of ‘slop’ at the wheel rim, especially in cars with power steering. Rebuilt 16:1 manual steering boxes start at $300, or spend $1500 on parts for a power steering conversion. Rear springs can sag or crack, so a car that droops at the back is a candidate for new leaves. Some have optional front discs but they work hard and rotors can wear quickly. Feel the rear drums (carefully) after a few stops to ensure that they are warm and not letting the fronts do all the work.
Look for torn and loose trim, especially around the doors and seat bolsters and also listen for dash rattles. Older RHD conversions can be suffering dash deterioration. Electric windows that shudder when moved are sure to jam at some point and be costly to fix. Look at the headlining around the rear window for signs of water leaking through the seal. The doors can drop due to hinge wear and rubber seals routinely fail causing wind whistles. Virtually everything to refurbish a Mustang interior is available new or as a reproduction. Cars with air-conditioning aren’t common and if they don’t blow cold air within 30 seconds start trimming the price as parts might no longer be available.
FORD MUSTANG (Code A 289 Coupe)
(Note: concours cars will demand more)