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

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