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By Ben Selby
April 16th 1964. Television sets across America began broadcasting an advert made by the Ford Motor Company. What the announcer said next signified that something unique was on its way. “Coming April 17th, the unexpected, the Ford Mustang.” The term “unexpected” fit well, for no one was prepared for what Ford was about to show them.
Prior the Mustang, Ford were in the middle of a sales slump never before seen by the folks at Dearborn, Michigan. Ford Division Head Lee Iaccoca knew the world was changing and when looking at what they new baby boomer generation wanted in a new car, he and his closely knit team decided to design and develop a car to reinvigorate the public imagination with the blue oval.
Iaccoca and his team worked in secret, under the codename “The Fairlane Committee.” The reason being that Henry Ford II was initially reluctant to embrace a new concept after the flop that was the Edsel project a few years prior. Iaccoca wanted to bring the glamour of European sports cars to the American public but at a price just about anyone could afford.
Also, the new project would allow buyers to choose from a seemingly limitless number of optional extras, from engines, transmissions, wheels, trim, colours, and other add-ons. Ford was going to give customers the chance to have their own personally bespoke sports car, at less than a dollar a pound. When Iaccoca showed HFII the final designs for the new project, Ford responded with, “It better sell!”
And sell it did. On April 17th 1964, Ford unveiled the new Ford Mustang at the New York World’s Fair. The public went wild. So much so that 100,000 were sold within the first month. People like Frank Sinatra and Debbie Reynolds ordered one on that first day. Another sold on that launch weekend was the car you see here.
Probably the oldest Ford Mustang in New Zealand, this 1964 1/2 Mustang Coupe was on the Ford production line as early as mid-March 1964. Chassis number 108425 indicates this Mustang was the 8245th example off the production line and was sold new through New York’s Ford Dealer to Denise Monti.
Monti and her husband Frank were renowned performers and acrobats, known through American TV-goers as “The Flying Agostinos.” Regarded as “America’s most exciting acrobatic adagio act” they would frequently perform to a stunned crowd and rubbed shoulders with the likes of Johnny Carson, Ed Sullivan and even Sammy Davis Jr and Muhammad Ali.
Denise held onto the car for 40 years before selling it on to a New Zealand wholesaler in 2004. The car arrived in New Zealand in October 2004 before being sold to a Mustang owner in Hawkes Bay. After that it was sold to a Canterbury based Mustang couple who held onto it for another 20 years.
Today the Mustang once owned by the better half of The Flying Agostinos is in remarkable original nick, even retaining its original patina. It has never been refurbished or touched up, what you see here is probably one of the most original Mustangs on Kiwi roads. Painted in Wimbledon White with whitewall tyres, it is identical to Ford’s original show car at the New York World’s Fair and believe it or not, sports an original 53,000 miles.
Under the bonnet sits the original 260ci D Code 4.3L V8 engine mated to a three-speed automatic transmission, or as Ford called it, “cruise-o-matic.” The hi-po 289ci would become the most popular V8 found in the Mustang over the production of coupe, convertible and fastback, but the 260ci was only used for the first year of production. Ford rated a power output of 164hp and you also had power brakes and power steering, the latter of which I will touch on soon.
With the Mustang already the fastest selling car of all time, Ford’s pony car was even awarded a medal for excellence from Tiffany & Co in April 1964. This was the first time Tiffany had given its Award For Excellence in American Design to a car. This Mustang comes with a keyring noting this gong.
Fire up and that 260ci small block burbles away quite happily at idle. It does feel silky smooth as each of those eight cylinders rev so nicely in unison. Flex your right foot on the throttle and said burble becomes a subdued hum. A small block V8 like this is not a powerhouse, nor is it deafening. Instead, it is more about power under control and giving you the satisfaction of mechanical components working in harmony.
Selecting drive via the cruise-o-matic three speed box and the Mustang gently begins to move forward. Navigating the tight spaces of a north Canterbury seaside parking area is a doddle thanks to probably one of the lightest feeling power steering units around. Its dead easy to negotiate those tight turns.
When you get off and running properly, that 260ci small block rumbles away happily in the background. Press that accelerator closer to the firewall and there is a gentle application of torque as that pony embossed front rises ever so slightly. Before long you are cruising at a steady 50km/h. This Mustang is all about the cruise and it does it very well.
It is also so easy to drive. That light steering means you are turning either left or right with no real feeling in between but when it comes to burbling along with that small block providing the score, you can just enjoy the drive itself. It’s certainly not hard to imagine criss-crossing US Interstates with 93 KHJ blasting on the radio.
Should you want to give the “stang” a bit of stick, you can. Winding it up to 100km/h is dealt with in relatively brisk succession but once you are there, all you want to do is cruise. In fact, I’d say this granddaddy of all Mustangs is one of the nicest cars around to just enjoy the drive and cruise along with hand out the window and steering with the thumb and index finger of your other.
Everyone should grasp at the opportunity to drive a Mustang at least once, but if you can drive a 1964 ½ original, then do it. Almost sixty years later, this legendary and completely original automotive style statement has still got it.