East Coast Garage: Our new 55-year-old 1965 Mustang is out to get us

Well, look at that freshly restored 55-year-old Mustang. Just look at it.

It sparkles. It’s new, and it’s painted an eyeball-melting red.

But even on its very best day, it still drives like a 55-year-old new car and not a modern one. Be careful. This damned thing has the vehicle dynamics of a stagecoach. An eyeball-melting-red stagecoach.

This 1965 Mustang fastback project differs from the Plymouth and Corvette projects because the Mustang was purchased completely finished. Well, with new parts and 55-year-old technology, anyway.

Three steps forward and one back seemed to be the motto with the Mustang.

Yes, it looks great, but one drive around the block proved it was no match for the cut and thrust of modern urban driving. And when that happens, you don’t feel safe. And when you don’t feel safe, you don’t even want to get behind the wheel.

So, a plan was hatched to help the Mustang stop, turn and corner like a modern car, without (and this is key) breaking the bank to do it. That’s a tall order because the second you cheap out and buy parts that weren’t really engineered to work together, a lot of things can happen and very few of them good. But the fact that a 1965 Mustang, in stock form, is such a terrible car to drive makes it very difficult for me to actually mess up, requiring only rudimentary tuning techniques to bring it around. And as you might expect, I didn’t get it right in the beginning. Three steps forward and one back seemed to be the motto with the Mustang.

A common misconception is that the Mustang was designed as a sports car. It was actually a glorified Ford Falcon. To reduce chassis flex, these inexpensive ($100/pair) torque boxes are welded into place right behind the front wheels.

 

The modernization extended to lowering the ride height (centre of gravity) and working backward from the contact patch of modern, high-performance tires. They somewhat dictate the wheel size and therefore the brake sizes, as well as the shocks and springs that were selected. All the better to plant the power from the new 482-horsepower V-8 and five-speed manual transmission with overdrive to replace the original 289 V-8 and four-speed.

The goal was to keep this 1965 Mustang looking relatively stock.

And to handle all the extra forces from better brakes, more traction and way more horsepower, the driver has be in control and that means staying planted in seats that not only add a significant degree of support, but also look like they belong in the car.

Oh yes, that’s the icing on the cake: to keep this 1965 looking relatively stock. There will be no wings, spoilers, flames, strobe lights or tacky junk sticking out from under the hood. Think of this car, cosmetically, as a 1965 Mustang built for modern driving.

Steering? What steering?

It looks good in a photo, but just try to drive it. Relative to a new car, it’s sloppy in just about every way, from the steering to the four-speed transmission. The bucket seats have zero lateral support, so we’ll fix that.

 

Personally, I’ve never had the stuffings scared out of me like I have trying to turn this car. It’s up there with eating oysters in Las Vegas, Nev. Just ask my colleague Malcolm Gunn (also an East Coast Tester) about that trip. Overboosted factory power steering coupled with the fact it takes a good one-eighth of the turn of the wheel to get the car to even begin to respond is enough to render it completely and utterly useless. The fix? Junk it and install a rack-and-pinion conversion.

Now, you really have to consider what other modifications will be made before stringing new parts under the car, especially the brace that holds in the new rack.

Designed to fit stock applications, Flaming River’s manual rack conversion will allow use of the stock 289-cubic-inch V-8 with stock exhaust manifolds, for sure. Beyond this? Let’s hope I’m handy with the welder and the grinder. In this case, the new exhaust headers ran face first into the new crossmember, which I didn’t discover, of course, until after I bought the headers and tried to put them on. A significant chunk was ground off the rack support for clearance, which requires removing the header, grinding the support, putting the header back in to check for clearance and repeating as necessary. Not a fun task.

Forget the springs, brakes and sway bar for a minute and notice the steering rack and the bump-steer links (not included with the kit) seen here in blue at the right. This keeps the steering rack completely straight when the car is lowered (thanks to the new springs we asked you to ignore).

 

I bought the steering-conversion package on Ebay for about $2,000, which included a shiny new tilt steering column to replace the rigid stock unit. Aside from looking sharp in polished stainless steel, it should actually be safer since it connects with the steering rack on an angle. The old steering box formed a nice straight line with the steering wheel, in the event of a crash, driving it straight into your face or chest. The angle of the steering shaft for the new rack is about 15 degrees off center, which provides a buffer to the column. We’ll get into the nitty-gritty in the next installment.

1965 Mustang Rebuild – Catch up on the series here:

Part 1, click here. (You are here)

Part 2, click here.

Part 3, click here.

Part 4, click here.

Part 5, click here.

Part 6, click here.

Part 7, click here.

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2 Responses

  1. A few things. You could simply drive it and appreciate what a ‘65 Mustang felt like. Second, after all your mods, you still have a 65 Mustang. It will no doubt perform better, but don’t ever crash it. My opinion is, if you want a car than performs like a modern one, buy a modern one. Leave the antiques alone for what they are. Just my opinion, of course.

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