Ford Mustang I Buying Guide
One of the most instantly recognisable classics ever made, the Mustang has great looks, (usually) ample power and is very usable
Most expensive at auction: £??? (derivative)
Practicality 3/5 ★★★
Running costs 3/5
DIY Friendly 4/5
It seems incredible now, but the Ford Musang nearly didn’t happen. Customer clinics gave
the car a thumbs down and Ford’s management thought that putting it into production was too big a risk. Despite this, Lee Iacocca got the project a green light and in 1964 Ford’s pony car was born.
It was only then that Ford realised what a good move it had been to bring the Mustang to
market as it quickly established itself as the fastest-selling car in history. Within a year almost
420,000 of them found buyers and after another year a million Mustangs had been sold.
It was easy to see why the Mustang was so popular; buyers could personalise theirs like
never before. As well as a choice of notchback, convertible or coupé bodystyles there were
numerous engine and gearbox options. Things kicked off with 170ci (2.7-litre) or 200ci (3.27-
litre) straight-sixes or there were standard V8s in 260ci (4.2-litre) or 289ci (4.7-litre) forms,
with two- or four-barrel carbs. Those who craved power chose the Hi-po 289 (known as the K-Code), a 271bhp 4.7-litre V8, or for those who wanted even more, the Shelby GT350 of 1965 packed an even more powerful 289 Hi-po V8.
The Mustang’s large-capacity engines aren’t stressed so they just keep going if maintained.
they can suffer from blown head gaskets if neglected though, so check for these along with oil
that’s like tar.
Once a six-cylinder engine has racked up at least 150,000 miles it might be showing some
signs of valve seat recession, so listen for a chattering top end. Because buyers of six-
cylinder cars aren’t performance junkies these cars tend not to get driven very hard; despite
their entry-level nature they still cruise happily. Once a straight-six does need a rebuild it’s not
a costly exercise, and it’s easy enough to do at home.
The V8 engines also just keep going as long as they’re not tuned too highly, thrashed or
neglected. The V8s also don’t like poor-quality tuning, but this isn’t unusual, so if the engine
has been significantly upgraded pin down who has done the work.
The problem most likely to strike any Mustang engine is overheating through a lack of
maintenance; it doesn’t help that the radiator is undersized. Look for leaks from the water
pump and listen for squealing that suggests the impellors have come loose. If there are
tubular manifolds fitted this will exacerbate the situation as these raise underbonnet
temperatures compared with the factory-fit cast-iron manifolds.
Converting from a straight-six to a V8 is common and as long as the work is done properly it’s
a worthwhile and desirable conversion. But if the engine has been swapped while the brakes
and suspension haven’t, expect trouble ahead.
Most Mustangs came with a three-speed manual gearbox as standard, although a four-speed
manual was optionally available. A three-speed auto called Cruise-o- Matic was also offered
on all cars apart from those with a Hi-Po V8.
The manual gearboxes are the ones most likely to give problems while the three-speed auto
is the most common. The manual transmissions suffer from worn synchromesh and bearings
but parts are available; listen for whining or rumbling, although the noise will be very obvious.
It’s easy to swap between the manual transmissions and because the automatic is Ford’s C4
unit there’s no shortage of parts.
The back axle is tough with six-cylinder cars usually being fitted with a 2.73:1 ratio that was
optimised for cruising instead of acceleration. V8-powered Mustangs got a lower ratio and a
rear axle with a separate diff, whereas six-pot cars got an integral diff.
Suspension and brakes
Not all Mustangs got power-assisted steering but most did – and when it’s fitted it tends to
leak from the various hoses and joints.
The suspension tends to be reliable but if something isn’t right it’ll probably be given away by
uneven tyre wear. The front suspension is also usually reliable, but analyse the shock
absorber top mounts and balljoints, and listen for squeaks from the wishbone top swivels.
Tired suspension will lead to the car sitting low at the back, but all replacement parts are
Some early Mustangs got drum brakes at both ends while others were fitted with front discs.
None of the set-ups can cope with hard driving, but in normal use even the all-drum system
can cope perfectly adequately.
The chances of finding poorly repaired crash damage or rust are quite high. The original
panel fit wasn’t that great but a badly fixed crashed car will have shut lines that are all over
the place, so it should be obvious. Your best bet is to look at how well the bumpers fit while
any rippled metal under the bonnet – especially in the inner wings at the base of the
suspension towers – will give the game away.
Predictably, corrosion can be another big issue. Although Ford galvanised the sills most
Mustangs have been repaired here by now and because it’s not a very easy area to work on,
bodges are common. It’s especially problematic on convertibles which rely on their sills for
strength even more, so see if the door gap closes up at the top; if it does the car may be fit for
Waterlogged floors in convertibles are the result of a leaky roof and while the floors aren’t
hard to patch up properly, if rust has spread to the bulkhead the job will be a lot bigger. But at
least all of the inner and outer panels are available, even if some pattern parts will need some
fettling to make them fit.
All interior and exterior trim is available new on a repro basis, apart from some interior trim
panels that are unique to the fastback. But even those can usually be found on a used basis.
The chrome trim was never made that well, so don’t be put off by repro parts that look a bit
rubbish; they’ll be cheaper than original bits and will probably last just as well.
If the seats are tired they’re easy enough to retrim, but try to keep the original foam if
possible. The only thing in the cabin that’s likely to be a problem is the seat frame, which can
break, but it’s not hard to find serviceable used seats.
- 1964: The Mustang launches in April with a three-speed manual gearbox as standard. From
September there’s a fastback with optional disc front brakes.
- 1965: The GT is introduced with five-dial instrumentation, an uprated engine, front disc
brakes, twin exhausts, GT decals and fog lights. A Pony interior is introduced (with embossed
ponies charging across the seats). The Shelby-built GT350 appears, with 306bhp, side
exhausts, stronger gearbox, anti-tramp bars and lowered Koni suspension.
- 1966: The five-dial cluster is now standard across the range; the 170ci and 260ci engines are dropped.
- 1967: There are styling changes plus a bigger, heavier bodyshell. The suspension is revised
and a 325bhp 6.5-litre V8 arrives.
- 1968: A 335bhp 428ci (7-litre) V8 appears, with front disc brakes and an auto gearbox. The
289 engine is replaced by a 302ci (5-litre) unit.
- 1969: A major restyle means the car is four inches longer, there are two extra headlamps and
the luxury Grandé debuts. There’s more cabin and luggage space and the Mach 1 arrives
with air scoops, rear spoiler and a 250bhp 351ci (5.7-litre) V8.
- 1973: Another major restyle – the Mustang is now eight inches longer, six inches wider and
600lb heavier. There’s a 250ci ‘six’ or V8s between 302ci and 428ci.
The Ford Mustang is one of those cars that you can’t really lose out on if you buy well. While
you can get your fingers burned, if you do your homework you’ll have a car that’s always
going to be in demand so it’ll prove to be a good investment while it’s also very usable.
The biggest problem you’re likely to have is working out which edition to go for. The bodystyle
should be easy enough to pin down while a V8 is the one to buy; they’re more plentiful, much
more in demand and nicer to drive – plus they have that fabulous soundtrack as an added
The reality is that once you start shopping you’ll end up buying more on condition than exact
spec. The most collectible Mustangs are already big bucks which is why you’ll almost
certainly end up with a regular V8-powered Mustang with the bodystyle of your choice – and
you’ll love it.
Mustang 200ci (1964-1966)
Top speed: 96mph
Mustang 289ci (1964-1966)
Top speed: 111mph
Mustang 289 HiPo (1964-1966)
Top speed: 123mph
Mustang 389ci (1967-1968)
Top speed: 130mph
Mustang Mach 1 (1969-1973)
Top speed: 125mph