Mustang vs Mustang
The 20th Century meets the 21st as Classic Driver pits a 1965 Mustang against its 2007 equivalent. Which one will come out on top? Old or new?
When it comes to classic cars and the relative merits thereof, there are two schools of thought. There is the misty-eyed, “They don’t make ’em like that anymore!” brigade and the more cynical, “If that old crap was any good, my father/grandfather/whoever wouldn’t have thrown it away and bought a newer one” side of the fence.
This seemed like a great excuse to take one of the most recognised cars in the world of classic motordom, Ford’s Mustang and see if the late model version can match up with the original. Let the battle begin...
First, corral your Mustangs. No lassos required here, just a call to Mel, mate and former colleague to arrange to borrow her 2007 Shelby GT. No cosseted show car, this is her daily driver, indeed, her only car.
Then an e-mail to Dallas Geddes at the Canterbury Mustang Club for advice on where to find an early, unmodified car. She sent me to Rob at The Mustang Centre and five minutes later, the second Mustang has been roped, Dave Bannan’s 1965 coupe. And on a cold, wet and miserable morning at a deserted Ruapuna, the two cars met to defend their respective generations.
Firstly, the look. The story of the creation of the original Mustang, Lee Iacocca’s clever marketing ploy to put a fancy suit on a Falcon and target the car at the untapped and increasing affluent youth market of the 1960s, has been told so many times we are not going to repeat it here. We all know he got the formula right as the brand approaches its half century. The early Mustang soon carved its own niche in the market, the Pony Car.
Not, you might note, the Raging Stallion car. With good reason. The compact coupe was never intended to be a supercar or muscle car. It is small and, dare I say it, petite, almost effeminate, especially in the Dynasty Green with factory white vinyl roof of Dave’s car.
It was actually the looks of these early Mustangs which caused Dave, a former ’57 Chevrolet owner, a man who once worked for the GM dealer on the West Coast, to switch to the dark side and buy a Ford. He blames his son who bought a Mustang, and as we sons often do, stored it in the Old Man’s shed. Dave had to walk past it on a daily basis and the more he looked at it, the more he liked the shape and clean lines of the car until in the end, he succumbed to temptation and the result is what you see here.
Mel’s Shelby GT on the other hand is not small, certainly not petite and if the ’65 is slightly effeminate, then the Shelby is a Bulgarian shot-putter!
The grille and front bumper have a solid, almost industrial look to them, a contrast to the far more delicate and easy on the eye look of the chrome spotlights and badge which grace the front of the older car.
Side on, the Shelby exudes power, with the twin silver stripes, flared wheel arches, that huge front splitter which makes speed humps and the goat tracks which we in Christchurch have had to become accustomed a bit of a challenge, deep side skirts and the large air scoop in the middle of the aluminium bonnet which dominates the view from the driver’s seat.
The early car, despite being smaller in every respect is by far the easiest to get into, and once seated in (or is that on?) the vinyl bucket seat, the immediate impression is of light and space; the little coupe seems to expand as soon as you get in. The cream finish to the seats, doors and dash must play a part in this but there is no doubt the 1960s standard thin A pillars, and the lack of a B pillar help this and the squared off rear make for great visibility all round. Some modern coupes can be quite difficult to gain ingress, but the later car does not require the driver to become a contortionist before taking their rightful place. The worst thing for me was I kept scraping my knee on the steering column height adjuster every time I got in, but I suspect some work on adjusting seat and steering positions may have solved this.
Once inside, the difference in environment between the cars is literally like night and day. The Shelby’s black and off-white leather seats, looking comfortable and supportive, live up to this promise. The cabin seems dark and small compared to the ’65, a result of the fastback shape and tinted rear window, but more a cosy than claustrophobic feel.
As an experiment, I clambered into the back and with the driver’s seat in its normal position, an adult or two could contemplate a reasonable journey on the Shelby without fear.
Really the only thing to let the inside of the newer car down is the acres of grey plastic across the dash and door trims. It all fitted well and despite being a stiffly suspended coupe which has spent all of its New Zealand life (arriving here in 2011, just after the city tried to fall down around our ears) on earthquake damaged streets, there is not a single creak or squeak in evidence.
But, some leather, better looking and feeling plastic or even, in a throw-back to the original, some body-coloured painted steel would make for a more quality feel to the interior.
Of course the original Mustang was a cheap car made from cheap parts so the new one can’t really be criticised for following a similar path in this respect and to be honest, apart from the trim, there is nothing else which appears to have come from the budget bin of the Ford parts department.
Dave’s description of Mustangs from the era of his was, “Easy to start, hard to stop” and before I drove his car, he reminded me that this was no sports car, more a cruiser.
Time to make it go and see what he meant. Twist the ignition key and the 289ci V8 rumbles instantly into life. With foot on brake I pulled the automatic transmission selector back into drive. With that gentle clunk which old autos specialise in and the brakes off, we quietly moved away down the soaking wet pit lane of Ruapuna to take some action photos and give me a chance to experience the older car, having already driven the Shelby across town from Mel’s home to mine, then out to the track.
With a reasonable sized V8 up front and a relatively small car, there is no shortage of straight-line get up and go at all. The engine just keeps rumbling away and the transmission shifts commendably smoothly, especially when you allow for the fact it is two years away from its 50th birthday.
It takes a very short piece of road for the car to reach the speed limit, but Dave was right, it needs a bit more to stop. The standard drum brakes, despite being fitted with the optional booster, need a firm shove on the pedal to haul the car back from a reasonable speed and they don’t really fill the driver with confidence that they would handle a period of prolonged use.
Power steering is not the completely lifeless thing which some American cars of the era suffer from. It couldn’t be called pin sharp but there is some feel to it and I had no trouble holding the ‘stang in a straight line and turning into corners, it was possible to place the front of the car where I wanted it.
Springing is soft and definitely more boulevard cruiser than twisting corner master. Any sort of over-exuberance involving corners and throttle would soon result in blue smoke and a Mustangshaped hole in the nearest hedge.
Again, treat the car in the manner in which the first Mustang was intended, a car in which bright young things look bright and young, windows down and cruising the streets looking cool and it does this absolutely perfectly.
So we come to the Shelby, a different car intended for a different market. It may share the names “Ford” and “Mustang” with the first Mustang but that is about all. The 2007 edition is a muscle car, pure and simple. But does the reality match the promise?
My introduction to the car was 9.00am traffic driving across town; realistically the worst possible conditions for a car which was intended for blasting down long straight roads at warp speed.
Expecting a truck-like clutch, it was the opposite. Snick the chromed Hurst gearlever into low and no revs whatsoever are needed to pull away. The 281ci V8 might not be the big-block monster of legend but 319hp is plenty enough power for normal road use.
A flick of the wrist is all that is required with the amazingly short throw of the lever and the next gear is selected. The shift is notchy, but very direct. There is absolutely no chance of missing a shift, the precision of it is really that good! Waffling along at idle in second in traffic it is actually easy to move away from a standstill in second without realising there is still a lower ratio there.
But idling among massed Toyotas is not what this beast was intended for. Getting clear of town I introduced the right-hand pedal to the carpet. There was no more waffling!
The engine let out a mighty V8 bellow, the tail squatted and even though the road was wet, the acceleration pushed me back in the seat and I instantly needed the next gear. And the next one.
This thing has got some decent grunt! The four wheel ventilated disc brakes (even on streaming wet tarmac) pulled up straight, instantly and with no sign of the ABS having to take over. It can really stop as well! Then we come to corners. We all know the American stereotype of “point and squirt” handling. The suspension, instead of pounding potholes into submission which I was expecting, actually absorbed them. Can it go to the other extreme and hold the car on the road with some cornering load? Arriving at a fast corner, the steering wheel very nicely weighted, I could feel exactly what was happening up front and it turned in crisply. The next surprise is that the rear did exactly the same thing. Getting a little bolder as I realised it wasn’t going to bite me, I got on the throttle earlier than I normally might and the car just gripped and shot out of the corner like a proper, bellowing sports car. It might be big, but it is fun. And this is why Mel owns it. As a confirmed Holden chick (her last car was a black V8 SS Commodore Ute) and in her words, “...never been into ‘girly’ cars and a Mustang is just cool!” That sounds like as good a reason as Dave’s for being a Mustang owner with GM tendencies.
Having tried the old and the new, on the same day and under the same conditions, which is better?
This can only be a purely subjective judgement and we are clearly not comparing like with like, regardless of what the badges say.
I look at it this way. One car did exactly what I expected it to do. It looked good, delivered on the promise its looks conveyed and if anyone were to buy one, they would not be disappointed.
The other car looked good, delivered on what its looks promised but... it did all of that and more, it was FAR better than I had imagined it could be.
If I had the choice of taking one of the two home with me, it would be a simple decision. Mel would need to find another car; I want her Shelby. The driving experience was the biggest surprise a car has given me in quite some time. It is a very good car.
At the end of our photo session I got Dave to take the Shelby for a drive. That may have been a bad idea as when he got out, he was intending to ring Rob at the Mustang Centre that afternoon and enquire about a new generation car...
Galloping ponies. A 1965 Mustang meets it’s 2007 offspring, a Shelby GT
On a wet day, Dave Bannan’s 65 Mustang, a 289 V8 glistens despite the rain
2007 and the Mustang has grown muscles. Mel Allan’s Shelby GT looks hunched and ready for action
The inside of the Shelby is far more purposeful, the only link to the past being the chrome ring around the huge speedo and rev-counter
Inside, the early car’s dash reflects its humble Falcon ancestry
The Mustang was the originator of the “Pony Car” class of US 2 door coupes. The equine theme can be seen inside and out
Real knock-off wire wheels add a touch of class to the’65. The wheels are actually off a Lincoln Continental with new splined hubs sourced from the USA
The alloys on Mel’s Shelby are a much more practical and easy-care proposition