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When I visited Dearborn, Mich. not long ago to try out the Mustang, the sports four-seater which Ford Motor Company is introducing this week at the New York World's Fair, it occurred to me that I had never before paid a call on an American motor car manufacturer. This was so despite my 10 years of complete absorption in cars—of racing, studying, buying and selling them. The reason was simple enough. The American automakers had been neglecting people like me. My life was wrapped up in sports cars and, except for the Corvette, Detroit was not building any. But when Ford began its massive racing program in 1962, it was reasonable to expect a car with strong sporting qualities from Dearborn, too, and here it is.
I should say at once that the Mustang is something new in the sports breed. An MG is an MG and a Porsche is a Porsche, but the Mustang is a horse of several different colors. Ford, intending to sell it "in the hundreds of thousands," has deliberately split its personality in an effort to achieve universal appeal. Certainly the Mustang does not fit the usual definitions of a "pure" sports car. The four-seat configuration alone would rule it out for most traditionalists. But in one of its three basic forms the car comes so close to being a true sports car that it may eventually broaden the definition of what a sports car is.
I think of this version as Mustang No. 1. It is a raceable, high-performance V-8 with vivid acceleration, a firm ride and excellent high-speed cornering qualities. When it is raced on sports car courses, as it soon will be, opponents will not be worrying about definitions, but about the practical question of how to outspeed it. Mustang No. 2 is a plush, docile road car with a cushioned boulevard ride, and it can be dolled up with all sorts of options, including, for example, a vinyl covering for the hard-top roof. A convertible top is also available. Mustang No. 3 is a stripped, economical six. No one would argue that the latter two are sports cars, but applying a simple label to them is not easy. They fall somewhere between a sports car and the kind of car that Ford, referring to its luxurious four-seat Thunderbird, considers a "personal" car. Essentially the Mustang is, I suppose, a sports car for Everyman.
In any of its forms the Mustang has important virtues. To begin with, the price tag seems to me to be remarkably low. Prices will range from about $2,400 for a bare six with a three-speed stick shift to less than $3,500 for the hottest race-worthy V-8. Then there is the family appeal of a four-seater. There are bucket seats for the driver and the passenger beside him plus a bench seat behind suitable for two adults. I doubt whether there is quite enough room in the rear for two adults to travel long distances comfortably, but for short trips around town the space is perfectly adequate. Moreover, the Mustang has racy good looks. The wheelbase has been stretched out to 108 inches so that the car could be made a true four-seater, and I think that is just about as far as it can go in any kind of sports car, pure or not. One of the longest-wheelbase sports cars I ever drove, the Jaguar XK-120, was already pretty close to the limit at 102 inches. The Mustang's nose, projecting out ahead of the headlights, reminds me of the elegant Italian Maserati GT, and the rear fenders a little of the Pontiac Tempest. If it had been left to me, I would not have placed the crossbar with its Mustang emblem in front of the mesh grille—the grille alone is sufficient, functional and attractive—but all in all the Mustang is a handsome car.
Under the skin the Mustang possesses a unitized body-chassis—a steel body welded to a flat "platform" frame that is said to be extraordinarily stiff and twist-resistant: engine location, the suspension system and the brakes are conventionally American. The engine is in front and drives the rear wheels; suspension is standard assembly-line Ford, as are the drum brakes. I was told that independent rear suspension will be available one of these days, and that is an intriguing prospect for the performance-minded. Additionally, disc brakes for the front wheels will soon be offered. Considering the amount of fade I experienced after repeated hard braking, I believe that discs or beefed-up drum brakes will be necessary on Mustangs that are raced.
The car's passenger compartment is vast by sports car standards. Headroom is good even for the tall. I am 6 feet 1� inches, and I had plenty of clearance. Getting into the car is easy, a statement that cannot be made for a number of sports cars. The bucket seats are comfortable, although lacking the lateral support I would have liked in hard cornering. The seats have leatherlike vinyl coverings.
Instrumentation is not the stark, functional cluster that I have come to admire in Ferraris and Jaguars and such cars, but typically Detroit passenger-car. Here Ford is obviously speaking to a mass market unacquainted with sports machines by giving the customer what he is used to—and no doubt keeping costs down at the same time. A tachometer does not come as standard equipment, which is fair enough regarding the strictly street models, but, I think, a serious omission from the high-performance car. When you buy a sports car you expect a tach. Ford's so-called Rally-Pac including a clock and a tach is an optional extra.
It is in the area of engines, springing, transmissions and extra appurtenances that Ford courts the special segments of the market. Four different engines are available. These range from a 100-hp, 170-cubic-inch in-line six—the engine listed as standard—through a 164-hp, 260-cubic-inch V-8, which may well be the most popular option, on up through a big 210-hp, 289-cubic-inch V-8 to a really hairy high-compression 289 rated at 271 hp.
It would have been unthinkable not so long ago to equip anything remotely deserving the name sports car with automatic transmission, but now that it has been done in Europe (by Mercedes and Sunbeam) Ford has a precedent for the automatics it provides for the Mustang. I will not stagger you by listing all the combinations of engines and transmissions available. It is sufficient to say that an automatic can be had with each engine except the more powerful V-8; that a four-speed stick-shift transmission can be had with each except the 260 V-8; and that a three-speed stick-shift is standard for the six and the 260 V-8 but is not offered with the big V-8. Here again Ford is looking far beyond the purist, who would disdain anything other than the four-speed gearbox.
Other optional equipment runs the Detroit gamut from air conditioning to fake knock-off hubcaps, but one particularly desirable option should be stressed. That is a special handling package. It includes stiffer springs and shock absorbers, a heavy-duty front sway bar, quicker steering and 14-inch rather than the normal 13-inch wheels. The effect is to give the driver a sports car feel rather than a soft boulevard ride and at $38.60 the package is a bargain. I personally would go a step further and buy the 15-inch wheels offered as an alternative with the handling package; I have always thought the bigger the wheels the better a car looks.