Ford's Original Pony Car Still Shines Under The Sun -- Driving A 1966 Mustang Convertible

Sam Barer's Sound Classics from Apex Marketing Strategy

This is a story about a boy and his pony. Okay, so the boy is really AJ Epstein, CEO of the critically acclaimed stage and screen production company, Seattle-based Ethereal Mutt. And the pony? It’s actually Epstein’s 1966 Ford Mustang Convertible.

What better way to celebrate Ford's recent success than with a profile of a first generation Mustang? Closing in on fifty years since its launch in 1964, the Mustang continues to be one of Ford’s most timeless and popular brands.

When Lee Iaccoca and his team created the Mustang with humble Ford Falcon components, they created an automotive icon. Unlike the large-engine, mid-sized muscle cars designed to take young buyers fast in a straight line, the Mustang was a compact car offering brisk power, good handling, style and amenities. Available in coupe, 2+2 fastback and convertible, the Mustang option list contained nearly 50 checkboxes to turn a base 6-cylinder commuter into an apex-burning sports-GT. Soon the Mustang was the only product in a large and newly created automotive segment of “pony cars.”

People bought Mustangs faster than Ford could assemble them. The one-millionth Mustang was sold in 1966, still a number of months before GM launched its own pony cars -- the Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird.

Epstein purchased his 1966 Mustang Convertible in 1987 as a high school student in North Hollywood, CA. The Mustang provided perfect service in the warm climates of California, and in Arizona, where he attended college and started his production company. Deciding to move to Seattle, Epstein opted to ship his daily driver BMW 3-series coupe, and cruise up to his new home in the Mustang.

The Mustang operated largely unrestored until it was broken into a few years ago while Epstein away on business. He came home to a ripped convertible top and an interior soaked with rainwater and stained with mold. A full restoration soon commenced.

On this unseasonably nice day, Epstein hands me the keys to his restored Nightmist Blue Mustang – its paint gleaming perfectly under the sun with the tan top in the down position. Iaccoca’s team definitely got the styling perfect – sporty, creative and balanced from every angle.

I open the door and drop into the parchment colored “Pony Interior,” featuring embossed galloping horses on the bucket seats. With a quick crank, the 289ci V8 comes to life and settles into a nice burble. I pull the console mounted shift lever for the Cruise-o-Matic transmission into drive, and with a prod of the accelerator, the car gallops away with deep growl through the dual exhausts. I glance into the large circular speedometer and notice I’m not going that fast. With 225hp on tap (the car originally offered 200hp via a 2bbl carburetor, but Epstein has retrofitted a factory-spec 4bbl,) the Mustang actually feels and sounds faster than it really is. Of course, this is much of the fun.

The factory optional wood steering wheel feels like a perfectly contoured knife handle in my hands. The steering is rather loose, but more responsive than contemporary GM cars. Running through the back-road switchbacks, the car offers taught handling. While not originally equipped, Epstein elected to fit the factory anti-sway bar. Other upgrades include factory-spec front disk brakes, which reign-in the 2800lb car with little drama. The car also uses an aftermarket fuel cell, replacing the original gas tank, which sat unprotected and served as the trunk floor. Like Pintos, Mustangs without fuel cells are prone to explosion in rear-end collisions.

The options on Epstein’s car make it a splendid long-legged GT for winding coastal roads on a sunny day. Four people can ride in relative comfort. Epstein even has retrofitted an air conditioner, a $310 option back in 1966.

As with all of its cars, Ford made this instant classic accessible to everyone. Base convertibles stickered at just $2653. The sheer volume (nearly 175,000 Mustang Convertibles through 1966,) makes the cost of ownership in relative dollars even lower now. Nice 200hp 6cyl drop-tops are available for under $10,000, and V8s can be had for well under $15,000. All parts are either reproduced or available in new-old-stock inventories.

Driving a Mustang Convertible makes you feel special in many ways. An automotive icon, it turns heads wherever it goes. More importantly, it delivers a pure driving experience with healthy doses of sport, luxury and comfort. Whether galloping or trotting, it’s just plain fun.

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