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A "Test Drive" in a Classic Mustang.

By Wal Marshall

Introduction

Mustangs come in all shapes and sizes..(there are even 4 cylinder ones!), and they are all different to drive.  What follows is my memories of the first time I drove a 1970 351C4V sportsroof.

So what's it like to drive an early Mustang? For those of us only familiar with driving modern vehicles, its a uniquely different driving experience.  

Looking around

Walking around the car you note the long wide bonnet, the spoilers front and rear, wide chromed wheels, dual chrome exhaust tips, in fact lots of chrome trim. No remote release bonnet release here, just flick the lever and up goes the self supporting bonnet to reveal a big V8. Impressive looking, impressive sounding, (& very thirsty...).  Check out the boot.. big spare wheel takes up a lot of the useable space, so only enough room left for a fair weekend away for two.

Now to get in and check out the interior.  Opening the drivers door....its a long heavy door ....WHOOPS! (classic blunder.....wrong side)..... forgot these things are left hand drive! Round to the other side, and hop behind the wheel, door closes sweetly. First impressions are of the unexpectedly low seating position, and that the seats are fairly ordinary. Then attention is drawn to the wood rim steering wheel with polished alloy spokes and chromed mustang centre cap. (This is a non-stock wheel, but its a welcome appearance boost over the dull factory wheel). 

Looking around you are struck by the amount of chrome; three speed auto with chrome shifter and chrome bezel, chrome heater controls, chrome around the radio, around the instruments, and the chrome dash control knobs. In fact the amount of chrome in the interior really sets it apart from a modern car, and harks you back to another era. It really does look good when tastefully done. The rest of the interior is all black. You note the speedo is in MPH not KPH.

The control layout is not great ergonomically. Moving the seat back to a comfortable position for driving, results in an awkward stretch to the headlight and wiper controls, (dash mounted - none of those fancy multi stalk controls here), and the heater and radio knobs are at full finger tip reach. The glove box is just that, big enough for a pair of gloves and little else, (interesting when one notes the huge unused space directly above, housing only a large clock!)

Lighting the fire....

Inertia real seat belt on, (a later fitment, but still an awkward rearward reach to grasp,) and pulled up tight. Key in the column mounted ignition switch (dash or console mounted in earlier cars), double check the auto transmission is in PARK, one pump on the accelerator to prime the 4 carb barrels, twist and.. BLAMMM!!!! 

If you are not used to the sound of a big free breathing V8 blasting into life, just a couple of feet away from you, get ready for a shiver to go down your spine every time. This is a motor that commands immediate respect - you are certainly left with an air of anticipation. Dual 2 inch exhausts burble expectantly, as the motor settles into that unmistakable V8 throb.

Slot the transmission into Drive, the motor settles a little, and ......hello we aren't going anywhere! Opps.. first release that foot operated parking brake, by pulling the chrome knob under the dash! And now we glide off. Immediately noticeable in this car is the very HEAVVVVY manual steering at low speed. (Thankfully most Mustangs have power steering, and although very light, is also very vague). As we build up speed the manual steering lightens - not too light and reasonable feel. There is still a bit of a dead spot at the straight ahead position, though this is typical of American steering boxes of this era. (Note: Bolt in conversions to modern powered rack and pinion steering are now available ....but at a price) 

The ride is certainly fairly FIRM, and in fact it feels like a truck over any sizable bumps. This car has uprated suspension and you certainly notice when a big bump pitches you towards the roof! The stock suspension is much softer, but of course the handling suffered. High performance Boss Mustangs had considerably stiffened suspensions, and many owners of lesser spec cars have now uprated theirs to similar specs.

At highway speeds, there is quite a bit of interior road noise from the wide 235 profile tires, especially on rough chip seal, but very noticeably quieter on smooth seal. The various model Mustangs have differing amounts of interior sound padding, with the Grande model getting the most. There is also some wind noise as well, but not excessive because the body shell is quite aerodynamic and slippery. Although the higher interior noise level makes you realise how far car manufacturer's have progressed with lowering NVH levels, the noise is not intrusive enough to be unpleasant, and in most cases the exhaust note pleasantly dominates. 

Until you get used to it, driving a left hand drive car in a right hand drive country, requires a bit of concentration to keep the car in the middle of the lane. However after 10-15 mins it becomes second nature. And what about seeing to overtake? If you keep back from the car in front, it means that you can usually see well ahead without much of a problem. Also the shear grunt of the engine means that overtaking doesn't take very long, so passing opportunities open up that would never be considered viable in a "normal"  car. (A further point here is that many drivers, on noticing a Mustang in their rear mirrors, will tend to pull to one side to assist you to pass!) 

Handling and brakes

In a moderate speed corner, the car turns in well, no detectable body roll, but the manual steering loads up a bit. On a tighter bend, going in a bit faster, the handling retains a nice neutral stance, and road holding is far better than you would envisage for a car of this size and age. This particular car, in addition to uprated suspension springs and sway bars, has also had the top front suspension arm mounts lowered an inch to improve the suspension geometry. This common Mustang mod was developed by Carroll Shelby, to help tune out much of the initial factory understeer. On a fast corner, what happens if we throw it in? The handling and road holding are actually very impressive for such a big heavy car......pulls in tight and practically no body roll at all. The 55/45% front/rear weight bias is hardly noticeable. However the car does jump off line when the rear axle hits a bump mid corner. The 9 inch Ford diffs are the strongest in the business, BUT the trade-off is they are heavy, and it shows in the handling. 

And what about the brakes? American cars of this period were not renowned for great stopping ability, with many having unassisted drum brakes as standard. (There are very believable hair-raising stories of the difficulty of stopping a fast Mustang with standard manual drum brakes all round!). Fortunately power assisted discs were a commonly ordered option, and most cars that did not get them when new, have now been converted. On the bigger V8's the rear brakes were huge 10 x 2 inch rear drums.    

Generally brake feel is very good, with moderate pedal pressure and not over-servoed. This particular car is fitted with harder than stock brake linings all round. Repeated heavy braking into fast down hill corners is a serious test of any braking system. These brakes began to fade significantly after pulling down this heavy car from high speed repeatedly, but well beyond anything normal road use would generate. So, great brakes for normal road use, but perhaps marginal for competition.

Grunt

So what about the bit that really matters in a Mustang ....the GO department. What can this 5.8 litre, 300 bhp V8 deliver in terms of straight line squirt? 

Bury the accelerator from a standing start, (holding the car momentarily on the brake till the RPM builds), and the right rear tire, unloaded the most by the massive engine torque, invariably loses traction and spins. The result is a prolonged tire shredding scream, and trail of white smoke for the first 20-30 m (but as this is a USA car lets say 100 ft or so!). The acceleration is not neck-snapping but you can be sure that any passengers are paying 100% attention as you launch rapidly down the road.  The transmission spins the the motor out to around 5000 rpm before slamming into 2nd at about 45 mph. On up to peak revs in second and the 1/4 mile has passed at about 15 seconds and 85 mph. Top speed was not tested, but will certainly exceed 120 mph. 

Road testing of new cars in the 70's showed the higher performance Boss and Cobra Jet Mustangs could pull 1/4 mile times down to the 13-14 second region, and with moderate tuning easily dropped into the 12 second slot and below.  

Fuel consumption slumps to around 14 mpg with fast driving, but normal touring will increase this to around 18 mpg, with 20+ achievable if speed is kept down and overtaking blatts are fairly gentle.

Reflection

Back from the test drive and time to reflect. One thing that owners of classic Mustangs get used to is the amount of attention the cars get from passers-by and other motorists. You have left the world of the ordinary car, and joined that of classic muscle cars. Drivers of other classics will often wave as they pass,  particularly if they are driving American cars. Kids, especially teenagers will pause to look, many women will also, but often furtively..(watch in the rear-view mirror as they turn to look after you pass). However the traffic enforcement branch also notice, and most Mustang owners can tell stories of being stopped for a check (when its clear the officer is more interested in a chat!).

Although modern cars have progressed to become quieter and smoother, in stepping back in time into a 70's era Mustang you realise that something very important has also been lost. When driving an older car, you can again recover the feeling of being connected with the experience. Feeling the road passing beneath you through the steering wheel and suspension, listening to the changing engine beat and exhaust note, and experiencing the joy of just being a integral part of the driving process. Modern cars are now so smooth and quiet that you might as well be in a lounge chair at home, driving the car by remote control. Not many drivers will fall asleep at the wheel of their classic mustang, they are enjoying themselves to much! 

Its certainly not hard to see why Mustang owners itch for the weekend to roll around, so they can get their Mustang out for a weekend run again.

Mumm, .....now where was it that I saw that cool 69 Mach 1 for sale .......?

Now take a Test drive in a Boss 429, with Muscle Car Power Magazine: