Driving a ’66 Mustang

For my 42nd birthday my wife surprised me with a day of driving a 1966 Ford Mustang rented from Nostalgico. The car was a Nightmist Blue C-code coupé with power steering and automatic transmission. We took the car on a 90km trip through the forests of the Northern Veluwe in the central region of the Netherlands. The route was also provided by Nostalgico.

The first thing you notice when entering the car is how low the seating position is. Visibility is nevertheless excellent, due to the low waist line and small pillars – a huge difference compared to modern cars. The view to the front is dominated by the long hood. With an automatic choke (only the K-code 289s have manual chokes) all you need to do to start the engine is turn the key. In 1966, Ford used dots to indicate the different transmission modes – a small white dot is “snow” mode (1st gear not used), a green dot is drive. With the torque provided by the 289, 1st gear isn’t even needed on level terrain and the C4 transmission shifts to 2nd at very low speed anyway.

Two things are immediately evident while driving: the steering is very light with lots of turns from left lock to right lock, and the brakes (I guess unassisted drums, though I’m not sure) are a far cry from what we are used to today. Together with the relatively high engine rpm (even though this car was built before the introduction of the national 55 mph speed limit), this leads to a rather relaxed driving style. The countryside roads we drove on were perfect for enjoying the acceleration of the 289 while keeping speeds at a relatively low and comfortable level.The suspension isn’t overly floaty, The low weight of the Mustang compared to full-size US “barges” certainly helps here. The size is also perfect for European roads.

As I got more familiar with the car, I made more use of the available power. The early Mustang is only considered a muscle car when equipped with the K-code engine, but with 200 SAE hp and a weight of around 1,300kg, there’s plenty of power and torque available, more than enough to keep up with modern traffic – old isn’t slow here. This does of course come at a slight cost – heat radiating from the engine, and fuel consumption. After 90km, I needed 17l to fill up the gas tank.

It’s funny how quickly you get used to a different car. When I got back into my 530i, the steering felt very heavy, the car compact and sporty – even though an E39 is a bit larger and heavier than a ’66 Mustang.

The verdict? Before actually driving one, an early Mustang was pretty high on my wish list. I now have a better understanding of the restomod movement. I get why people install five-speed transmissions and better brakes on these. I’d also add a quicker rack-and-pinion steering rack and wrapping or ceramic coating the headers to the list of requirements. I would not comfortably drive at highway speeds without these mods. Power is plenty even with the base C-code V8, but the Windsor small block does of course offer plenty of tuning possibilities.

I greatly enjoyed the day and the reactions we got from others, and can highly recommend doing the same for anyone interested in classic cars, and especially those considering buying one – you get an extended test drive of several hours to really get to know a car, instead of a quick run around the block. Nostalgico also offers many other types of cars, so check them out if you’re located in the Netherlands!

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