Classic Mustang drive shows how things have changed

"They don’t make cars like they used to" is a blessing for today's drivers

Published: August 18, 2018, 6:30 PM
Updated: October 11, 2021, 10:20 AM

1964.5 Ford Mustang

ROYAL OAK, Michigan  – It’s often said manufacturers “don’t make cars like they used to” and, thank goodness, that couldn’t be more apparent after taking a spin in an original Mustang.

Ford set up a display area on Woodward Avenue as part of its involvement in this year’s Dream Cruise. Included in the exhibit are a couple of Mustang coupes – a white 1964½ and a 1966 model in red. As part of a media preview, I had the opportunity to drive the white classic and the experience was unforgettable.

Remember, the Mustang was hailed as a sporty American machine in its day – peppy, good handling and great looks. After driving it here, there’s no quibble with its iconic design, but its dynamics demonstrate how far vehicle development has come in the past five decades.

For starters, there’s no power assist for the steering system – it’s “arm-strong” all the way – and the responsiveness is so lazy you can swing the wheel side to side and the front end never moves. Compare that with the quick reflexes of a modern Mustang – the difference is like night and day!

I’d forgotten how much pedal effort is required to activate non-power-assisted brakes. Approaching the first stoplight on my Woodward cruise, I thought I’d left it too late to hit the brakes. Fortunately, we did get stopped in time, but it was a wake-up call for the rest of the drive. A long pedal and lots of foot pressure before anything happens. Again, today’s braking systems are so much more advanced.

The Mustang classic I drove was powered by a 260-cubic-inch (4.2-litre) V-8 fitted with a manual gearbox – 3-speed on the floor. While shifting gears wasn’t a big issue, the gate was nowhere as precise as the beautiful, stubby selector on the modern 6-speed manuals. The clutch, however, was miles removed from the smooth unit found in the new Bullitt and other current Mustangs. It was almost humorous – I wasn’t sure if the creaking sound I heard every time I pushed the pedal was my knee protesting, or the stiff clutch spring.

Some other vintage touches included crank windows – no power button – and butterfly window vents. The turn indicator was a single green light on the instrument panel – you had to check the lever position to determine whether it was the right or left light that was blinking. The seatbacks didn’t lock into place and there was no recline adjustment – simply sliding the seat fore and aft was the limit of adjustability. The seatbelts were the lap-only units and there was just a single side-view mirror mounted on the driver’s door. No blind-spot monitoring for this machine.

The original could teach the new Mustang a few things, though. For example, there was actually space for feet and legs in the rear, while up front, legroom was equally generous. In fact, I’d forgotten how big the interior of the early Mustangs really was, especially compared to today’s version.  And those cars were considered “compacts” in their day.

Under the hood, you could actually see the 8-cylinder engine, as well as the readily accessible accessory components. Compare that with the labyrinth of hoses, piping, belts, pulleys, pumps, wiring and cladding that fills a modern engine bay. There was something special about the simpler times.

My nostalgic ride down Woodward Avenue was fun, despite the primitive nature of this charming ol’ Mustang, but it also reinforced the fact “you’ve come a long way, baby.”