Classic Car Buyer's Guide: 1965-1968 Ford Mustang
By Patrick Smith
The Ford Mustang burst onto the automotive scene in April 1964 and commandeered the youth market that had been feebly attended to by cars such as the Corvair Monza and Plymouth Barracuda. The range and depth of models, engines and options available combined with low price made it a runaway success. Today it is a collector car classic, allowing anyone to dip his feet in the hobby without spending large piles of money.
A 1965 Mustang in Wimbledon White is always in style.
Mustang's evergreen popularity plus a strong aftermarket supply of parts and services make it an ideal car for the novice. There are some useful things to know should you decide to seek and buy an early Mustang. You can virtually restore an early Mustang around a pair of door hinges thanks to the robust parts supply but there's no reason to subject yourself to such agony. This guide will help you pick a stallion from the nags.
Identification by Year: The 1965 Mustang is distinguished by its chrome waffle iron grille. )There are many subtle difference between an early production Mustang called a 1964-1/2 and the 1965. Almost all of the details involve minor trim and engineering changes such as a switch from generators to alternators, different hood assemblies and variations in carpeting and interior appointments. They're all 1965 models for titles and identification. 1965 Mustangs come with the Falcon based dashboard unless ordered with the optional GT Equipment Group which included the circular fuel, oil, speedometer, amps and temperature gauges. For 1966, Mustangs used a finned grille and finned quarter panel moldings. If ordered as a GT model, the grille with twin fog lamps is used with fins in the background. All '66 Mustangs used the GT dash gauges as standard equipment.
The 1965 Mustang uses a chrome waffle plate grille.
The 1966 Mustang has chrome speared quarter vents and finned grille.
The 1967 Mustang is identifiable by the concave tail lamp deck and a larger rectangular grille that's recessed into the body work. The dashboard is new with large twin instrument pods and flashy trim similar to the Thunderbird model. The space is wider between the shock towers for installing an optional 390 V8 block. The 1968 Mustang is easily spotted as it's the only model with side marker lamps on the front and rear fenders.
The '68 is the only year with side marker lamps.
Engines & Transmissions: Mustang started out as a two door hardtop and convertible in the first production run. Engines were limited to inline six cylinders and the Challenger 260 V8 with the 289 V8 added later. You could get a two barrel A-code, a four barrel C-code and high performance K-code 289 version. Mustang offered a 390 cubic inch V8 for 1967 as part of their GTA option. The front suspension was modified to accommodate the hulking Thunderbird V8 engine. For 1968, a 302 V8 was added to eliminate the 289. In 1968 the car was carried over with a one major package change mid year to compete in drag racing. The 428 Cobrajet engine was installed in special order fastbacks and a couple of coupes. The performance was phenomenal. The 428 became a regular production option for 1969. Transmissions offered ranged from three speed manuals to Ford TopLoader four speeds and automatic C4 and C6 three speeds. The favored automatic, the C6, was only found in the 390 powered 1967 Mustang. The TopLoader was available from 1965 to 1968.
The 289 V8 is favored over the straight six but all are reliable and easy to maintain.
Desirable Options: With 1965 to 1966 Mustangs, the desired ones usually are well equipped cars especially the convertible and fastback models. The favored engines are the high performance K code V8 and C code four barrel 289. The Dï¿½cor interior option is very desirable with Pony upholstery, padded rear seat arm rest panels and deluxe dash and interior trim. The Rally Pac, air conditioning and floor console complete the list of most favored options. For 1967, the 390 GT engine option seemed exotic, but the -K code 289 was better for usable horsepower and was very rare in its final year. The inline sixes are reliable and very affordable Mustangs.
Desired options include a/c, rally pac and Pony Interiors.
What to Look for: When buying a Mustang, most of your attention will be on checking the body and the rest for the drive train and number checking to verify it has what you want. Since Mustangs are unibody cars without separate chassis and body, the structural integrity is very important. The key areas to check are the front floor torque boxes, the rear frame rails alongside the gas tank including the leaf spring perches, the front frame rails and engine saddle, the rocker panel and door sills. All of these areas are notorious for rust. It sounds scary, but in a well cared for car they usually are in sound condition. There are reproduction pieces now and they're good enough that proper installation will remove any threat to structural rigidity.
If the undercarriage search goes well, I'd inspect the interior of the car, taking special note of the cowl ducts. The fresh air intake between the hood and windshield is notorious for rust as the sheet metal was never protected from the factory and the vents were prone to rot from accumulated leaves. The sure sign of cowl trouble is wet front carpets. On bad examples you'll see water drip onto the floor when spraying water on to the fresh air intake. An early repair technique used plastic collars and epoxy to replace the old rusted towers.
Check carpets for mildew and damp as it could mean rusty cowls as on this unrestored 1966 coupe.
The best early repair technique involved removing the cowl vent sheet metal and repairing from above. This usually was done on high value cars like GT convertibles, K codes or V8 fastbacks. Most installed plastic collars from underneath. Replacement sheet metal exists for the cowl side panels and is the favored fix today. These can be spotted as they often have rubber plugs for rust proofing that originals don't have.
New cowl panel sheet metal makes repairs easy.
When inspecting convertibles, be sure the special frame brace under the floor is intact. Also check the structural integrity of the unibody by opening and closing the doors with the top half lowered. Binding or sagging doors with the top half lowered could just be worn hinges. On a convertible, it means you must check the door sills and rocker panels for rust. Rotten sills and panels are repairable, but it's costly enough to make you consider another car. Rarity and desirable options will be the deciding factor.
The shock towers on early Mustangs were pretty good with the brace installed but modifications over time could have weakened them. If a big V8 was installed without reinforcements, there might be damage or metal fatigue. Check the bottoms of the towers where the frame rails meet for spidery lines or ripples. Many cars had drilled holes for greasing the upper ball joints. It's a common thing to find on unrestored cars.
Another common situation is finding an aftermarket carburetor instead of the stock Autolite 1100, 2100 or 4100 carb. The six cylinder carbs especially were known for poor driveability in stock condition with flat spots and hesitations being common complaints. Your best investment in a serious show car is to have the Autolite carb properly rebuilt to solve these issues. This maximizes your car's value and makes it enjoyable. If you're looking at project cars, expect to find replacement engines and transmissions as the Mustang was often hot rodded when new and during restoration.
There are plenty of project Mustangs — some like this 1964 have new quarters, cowl, floors and torque boxes. They're easy to finish up.
Decoding and Documentation: Once you're satisfied with the integrity of the body, it's time to check the engine, transmission and goodies the car is supposed to have. Fords have the engine and transmission encoded in driver's door tags and the engine only in the VIN. Check the fifth digit of your VIN for your engine. The 289s will have either A, C or K. The straight six cars are either T or U. In 1967, the 390 V8 option used code S. The Y code 390 is also listed. The 1968 302 engine was code J. Be sure to compare the engine block partial VIN with the data tag with 1967 and later Mustangs. The VINS should match, verifying an original engine.
The transmission code is found on the door tag and the C4 automatics are 6 or W for the SelectShift optional version. The four speed manual is code 5. The C6 Thunderbird Special transmission is code U. You can check the C6 transmission case for partial VINs but there might not be one on early production cars. On four speeds, the majority of cars were wide ratio boxes. You can also compare the VIN tag with numbers found stamped on the driver side inner fender lip and the radiator frame. This confirms you have original sheet metal. Minor accident damage could wipe out that VIN due to replacement sheet metal.
Sometimes a straight six car is used to build a V8. If they didn't change the axles and steering knuckles you'll have four bolt units instead of the five bolts all V8 cars used. The brake drum sizes are different as well. Perhaps the biggest worry is watching for a K-code clone. The price difference between a real K-code and a four barrel 289 is notable especially if it has other options. A build sheet or original sales bill is worthwhile paying a premium for on a good example. The latest development in restoration is the availability of complete new convertible and fastback unibodies from overseas.
These shells are sold without cowl or warranty tags so registration is often done using a title from an existing junked car. A correct titled car will show it is a custom rebodied vehicle, sometime with its own unique VIN. This will depend on the state where you're buying the car. Count on some being misrepresented as original vehicles using a junk car VIN number. You can send the VIN number to MartiAutoWorks to determine what the true configuration of the car was. Follow these simple tips and you'll be driving a steed instead of a bob tail nag.