The explosion took place from 1964 to 1971, right in the Mustang's prime time. Although 427 Galaxies and Hemi Chryslers had previously roamed the streets, it was Pontiac that took the initiative to drop a performance big-block into an intermediate-sized car. The resulting GTO, with a 389, four-speed, and available Tri-power, launched a youthful revolution for fast cars. The Mustang, with sporty lines and seats for at least four, and often five, provided an ideal platform for performance cruising on the Woodward Avenues of America.
For eight years, the Mustang ran fender to fender with the best of the American musclecars. Starting with the 289 High Performance option in 1964, the Mustang quickly evolved into Shelbys, Cobra Jets, Bosses, and Mach 1s. Bench-racing lore, no doubt fueled by hot rodders at the dragstrips popping up in nearly every town, created legends about 12-second-even 11-second-Mustangs straight from the dealership.
But how fast were they really? Our most reliable source of information comes from the road tests of the day. Granted, some of the cars were, shall we say, tweaked from Ford, and others fell into the hands of inexperienced magazine road testers. Still, the road-test times, along with the information in the articles, provide our best glimpse into the past.
For our research, we scoured our back-issue library and relied heavily on How Fast Were They? This book, from GaS Publishing (3 Meadowood Dr., Washington, MO 63090), is a compilation of road-test times and data from 1948 to 1973. Thanks also to our senior editor, Jim Smart, who searched the vast Primedia (formerly Petersen Publishing) photo archives for many of the accompanying photos, some of which are seen here for the first time.
'65-'66 289 Hi-PoObviously, the Mustang's introduction in 1964 generated a lot of coverage in automotive enthusiast magazines. Most reported on the basic Mustang-after all, it was a fresh design in a new era of baby-boomer car buying. However, several magazine staffs managed to get their hands on the top performance model with the 271hp 289 High Performance engine, all with four-speeds.
We're still trying to figure out how Car & Driver squeezed a 14-flat at 100 mph out of a '65 Hi-Po fastback in its October '64 comparison to the Plymouth Barracuda. The only explanation offered was, "We got acceleration figures almost in the Cobra class with the 4.11 ratio. . . . " Yet, that doesn't fully explain why the Car & Driver fastback was nearly 2 seconds quicker than other 289 Hi-Po road tests.
The high 15-second times from Motor Trend and Sports Car Graphic are more in line with the actual performance potential of the factory-stock 289 Hi-Po Mustangs. Judging from the photos and the same "014" manufacturer's license plate, the hardtop tested by Motor Trend and Sports Car Graphic for late-'64 issues was likely the same press car. Indeed, based on the identical 15.7/89-mph time and the fact that both magazines were published by Petersen Publishing, we can assume the magazines shared the same test results. Strangely, Motor Trend said the car was equipped with 3.89 gears, while Sports Car Graphic reported 4.11s.
|'65 Fastback ||14.0/100 ||4-spd. ||4.11 ||Car & Driver, Oct. 1964 |
|'65 Hardtop ||15.7/89 ||4-spd. ||4.11 ||Sports Car Graphic, Sept. 1964 |
|'65 Hardtop ||15.7/89 ||4-spd. ||3.89 ||Motor Trend, Aug. 1964 |
|'65 Fastback ||15.9/89 ||4-spd. ||3.89 ||Motor Trend, Jan. 1965 |