Drive Flashback: the 1965 Ford Mustang’s European Vacation

This article originally appeared in the August 1965 issue of Road & Track.

We get so used to driving those funny little furrin cars over here that we forget what U.S. iron is like. Our only contact is with enormous vehicles bearing Belgian plates and towing caravans or else transporting some Levantine gentleman with his expensive popsie, this last of a quality that we could never hope to attain. Nice looking cars (road test ones) never helped us to get any crumpet so the Marquis de Matelas must have been right when he observed that women need money, lots of it, and accordingly will do anything to get it. As any married man and/or father of a small daughter knows, rationalization of a high order is second nature to females. Advertisement – Continue Reading Below

At any rate, the only time that we really think of American cars is when the Alfa falls to bits inside 20,000 miles and one remembers gratefully the ’54 Plymouth wagon that ran for 55,000 without much more than a change of plugs. But since that time the American cars have gotten far too large and furthermore are as alike as English machinery.

The advent of the compacts raised a hope that we might bring the Truth to the heathens, but then they got too big too. We have tried a 2-speed automatic Corvair over here but it went like a stone and the brakes and shocks were poor; the only other domestic product under test was a Monte Carlo Rallye Falcon in 1964 but, the fervent avowals of the Ford Motor CO. notwithstanding, it was a triffle removed from showroom stock. In fact, it was a great grumbling fiberglass mutha that one could have started the Mille Miglia with and had some hope of finishing. In the last year or so we have seen a lot of enthusiastic comment about something called a Mustang and have even seen a few in auto shows and the Tour de France. As we are always looking for a decent GT car to cart our family around in, we approached George Trainor of Ford International in Brussels and arranged to borrow his hardtop, a 289-cu-in. V-8 without the performance-tweaks but with 4-speed floor shift and front disc brakes.

Not only were we to borrow it, we were to take it to the Targa Florio. On receipt of this intelligence, our various colleagues either fell over laughing or promised to light candles for us, telling us all about how horrible American cars were but not about how much advertising English cars took in their newspapers. We picked up the Mustang from Ford over rather too good a lunch, and as a consequence I don’t remember much what he said about it. Driving home, it did seem bigger inside than outside but evidently taxi drivers thought otherwise, as the too too solid flesh and substantial bumper caused them to sheer off when threatened. It was just as well as, frankly, visibility seemed lousy to me with a tank slot to peer through, the fenders miles away, the hood actually rising upward toward the front, and sizable posts and trim at the corners of the windscreen. More than once an anguished peeeeep warned me that I was about to crush a 4-CV underfoot, but unless the peep came from the right they could go to hell. Driving in Paris is fun, isn’t it?

Anyway, the steering, if a trifle low-geared, wasn’t as woolly as I had been warned and the engine was lovely. Used to watching the temp gauge like a hawk, I stared at this one fixedly during a prolonged traffic block and it never moved, nor did the plugs become fluffy on pickup. The gearbox was equally good, even if the clutch was rather sticky, and enabled me to shut the gate resoundingly on a cab or two, the rats, at places where they normally try to take advantage. REVENGE! The next day I flung my stuff into the trunk (big enough but not as good as my Lancia could do with a dent so the spare could stand upright) and rumbled away to get Geoff at Orly airport. Not being used to driving such a big wagon, I charged off up the motorway at a reasonable rate through the gears and straightaway found that I was murdering all the Citroens and Peugeots up that long hill without using more than a whiff of throttle. In 4th already and they were all massaging their gearboxes like mad.

Once the road be came flat, the basking sharks went whistling past in time for me to move over and force them to take the fork for Orleans when they really wanted to go to Orly too, but until I had some flying time I wasn’t going to go fast. And where was the redline? There was a small tach and matching clock, called nauseatingly a Rally Pac I believe, but no redline. And Sicily was a long way away. At any rate, Geoffers was duly collected and, while he sat there memorizing the slightly gaudy decor with his eyebrows on top of his head, we discussed the road to take and so forth. This was to be a perfectly straightforward run down the N6 to Tournus, cut across country to Bourg en Bresse, Amberieu en Bugey (where the bugey men come from), through the Gorges de Fier to Belley (oh stop), through the Tunnel de Chat to Chambery, and then over the Montcenis pass into Italy and Turin, which afforded us Varied Driving Conditions. There was a certain amount of sidewind that day, and once we got a bit of speed on we became aware of considerable difficulty in maintaining the correct course.

In fact, we were all over the road. At the first gas stop, we put two kilos in the tires (about 32 lb), which helped some, but there was still a lack of directional stability at, say, 140 kph (about 90 mph). The front sort of waved around like the arms of a praying mantis and it was more a matter of aiming it than steering it when passing the larger trucks. I suppose that the usual Stateside shocks were fitted and it needed a good set of Konis badly; in addition, the front seemed to be needlessly up in the air to give the Young America Dragster Image and a coil lopped out of the springs would have been appreciated. The back seemed okay aside from rubbery damping and was even a trifle stiff. A GT car loose in the front and stiff in the back doesn’t sound much as if Ford was applying what it has learned with the Prototype coupes. In spite of all that, the smoother corners could be taken without slackening speed, although we weren’t as brave as the Citroens on the tighter ones.

Generally speaking, though, the car was giving us a lot of enjoyment and we hadn’t found anything yet that couldn’t be ironed out.

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