It's probably fair to describe the Ford Mustang as one of the truly iconic cars in the history of the American auto industry.
Introduced in 1964, it was the first pony car and proved to be an immediate hit. Other companies quickly followed with their derivations on the theme of an affordable, compact, stylish, sporty car. At the time the Mustang was described as a sports car even if it was and still is quite a different animal from the more common perception of a two-seater roadster.
The Mustang is the only pony car that has remained in production continuously since it first hit the market, and it celebrates its 45th birthday in 2009, just as a revised 2010 sixth-generation model goes on sale.
When Ford introduced the Mustang in 1964, it created a new segment for sporty cars. The Mustang was an immediate hit and sold far more than expected. Gradually as each new model came out, it got bigger and bigger until 1974 when the first fuel crisis hit. Ford then introduced the second-generation Mustang that was quite a bit smaller. It was not as successful, partly because it was based off the Ford Pinto platform, which was far from being one of Ford's better cars.
The third-generation Mustang, introduced in 1979, was larger, and it continued in production until 1993. The next, fourth-generation Mustang hit the market in 1994 and was greeted favorably by Mustang enthusiasts as it contained styling cues from the original Mustang. It continued in production for ten years.
The fifth-generation Mustang, featured in this report, was introduced in 2005 and continued in production until part way through the 2009 model year. It harked back even more faithfully to the original Mustang of the Sixties.
The '05-'09 Mustang was offered as a coupe or convertible powered by a V-6 or V-8 engine with a manual or automatic transmission.
The sixth-generation Mustang hit the market in early 2009 as a 2010 model. It is not radically different from the 2005-2009, although Ford says all the body panels are new except for the roof. It has a much more refined interior with better materials.
1. 2006 Ford Mustang GT Premium
Manual, 27,000 miles
Asking price: $22,000 (Dec 2008)
Owner: Diane, female, age: 50+
This screaming bright red Mustang GT with neat alloy wheels certainly caught my eye as I met Diane, the 50-something woman who was selling the car. She had owned the car for two years and really loved it. Apart from a small section of rubber around the windshield coming unglued, she had had no problems.
Although the value of the car, according to NADAGuides, as a clean trade-in was about $18,000 she was actually asking a fair price, as a private seller, considering the extras on the car. The most noticeable upgrade was the set of 20-inch Foose DF5 alloy wheels.
The car also had a factory-installed suspension that lowered the ride height by 1.5-inches. The leather seats and upgraded Shaker stereo came as part of the Premium package. All told, the car cost her about $36,000 when she bought it new, which was several thousand dollars above normal. Her asking price was just enough to cover what she owed on the car! In fact she was willing to let a buyer just take over payments.
A short drive vividly confirmed how much fun this car was to drive. It started immediately, despite having sat for a few days in damp cold weather. Diane said the rumble from the V8 engine with the JBA exhaust gave her goose bumps. I could not disagree. It only needed a light touch of the throttle for the Mustang to be up and galloping, looking for corners to hug.
"I don't act my age, I'm still a kid at heart," said Diane, a graduate assistant at a nearby university, when I asked her how come she owned a car like this. At one time she even contemplated going racing in her Mustang at a nearby road race track! Once it is sold she planned to purchase her next dream — a Harley-Davidson bike.
2. 2006 Ford Mustang
Automatic, 38,000 miles
Approximate value: $14,000 (Dec 2008)
Owner: John, male, age: 19
Coincidentally this second Mustang I test drove was fitted with the same 20-inch Foose wheels and Ford "racing" suspension kit. The big difference though was that this one was purchased by John when he was 17 years old, and unlike Diane's GT, this Mustang was a base model with a V-6 engine and automatic transmission.
At slow speeds there was little difference in ride — they both were bumpy because of the lowered suspension, stiffer shocks and lower profile tires. Both handled well, and thanks to the slightly lighter weight, the V-6 felt more nimble. But the sound, although not unpleasant, was not nearly as gratifying.
John said that he had trouble with the alternator on two occasions as well as a recurring leak from the oil pan gasket under the engine. Otherwise the car seemed to be in fine shape except for a slight squeak from the dashboard and a small scratch on one fender. He obviously took great pride in his car and looked after it well. Overall, he was delighted with its performance and handling.
When he comes to sell his car, this will be a good buy for someone looking for a great handling car with better fuel economy, albeit with less out-and-out performance than a GT.
3. 2008 Ford Mustang GT Bullitt
Manual, 11,000 miles
Approximate value: $26,400 (Jan 2009)
Owner: Chris, male, age: 21
Judging from ads for used Mustangs, it appears that a good number are modified. I guess it's not surprising as Mustangs are sought after by those who want something different from an ordinary car. Then, once they get one, they want it to look different from the Mustang they pull up next to at the lights.
Ford obviously realizes this as it offers several different factory packages. One of the most sought after is the limited-edition Bullitt model, commemorating the Mustang Steve McQueen drove in the movie. Just 7,700 "Bullitts" were made in 2008 and 3,000 in the short-run 2009 model year.
"I never liked Mustangs," says Chris, owner of number 1737 in the 2008 model run. "But I saw this Bullitt on the showroom floor and fell in love. I took it for a test drive and bought it there and then."
Chris recently finished college and has got himself a good job as a network engineer so it's quite a change for him from the truck he used to drive. "It's fast, smooth and sexy, and I haven't yet got a ticket!"
The Bullitt package cost $3,310 above the price of the Premium GT model. It included a slightly more powerful V8 engine (315 hp vs 300 hp), different rear axle ratio, upgraded brakes, suspension and exhaust system, as well as unique Bullitt trim and special green or black paint.
During a brief drive it was difficult to notice any difference in power. However the ride was noticeably smoother than the other two Mustangs I drove, which both had dealer-installed aftermarket suspension packages. Although the five-speed manual transmission is identical to that in other GT models, it seemed to shift more smoothly. Not surprisingly the car was in great shape as Chris is obviously keen to look after his first-ever sports car. "I intend to keep it forever," he said.
Interestingly the value of this car was listed as $4,000 over a basic Mustang, indicating it is holding its value better. More often than not, a modified car is worth very little more than a stock car on the used-car market. While it's too early to tell, as the Bullitt edition is so new, it does look promising as a future collectable car.
Ford has produced over 9 million Mustangs since it first went on sale in 1964. For the past two decades the Ford Mustang has been the most popular sporty car sold in the US.
Each time sales drop, a new generation model seems to revive sales. This is certainly very true of the fifth generation model featured here. Its sales increased tremendously compared to the old model when it was replaced in 2005 but dropped badly during 2008.
Although the '05 Mustang garnered accolades from buyers and all those who wrote road tests, it did not win many major car-of-the-year awards as it came out at the same time as the Chrysler 300, which was regarded as a more significant vehicle. Even though the Chrysler 300 is a sedan, the Mustang has consistently outsold the 300. Indeed in 2006 there were only nine cars that outsold the Mustang in the US. Ford's own Taurus and Focus beat the Mustang by only a few thousand sales; such is the popularity of this sports car.
In keeping with its sporty character, as many as 30% of all Mustangs sold during this period came equipped with a manual transmission. The ratio of V-6 to V-8 engines was about 50/50, and just under a quarter were convertibles. This means it should not be too difficult to find the combination you're looking for.
Ford offered plenty of options, including several performance and handling upgrades, making it more difficult to find a base model without extras. There are also plenty of aftermarket accessories for this popular line of cars.
Ford introduced some limited-edition models during the model run, including a Bullitt special and the Shelby GT500. Other special editions built by outside tuners include the Saleen and Roush models. All of these are hard to find and demand higher prices due to their collectibility as potential classics.
Because Mustangs tend to be owned by people who appreciate their cars as more than just mere transportation devices, they are generally better maintained than an average car. Of course, they may well have been driven harder as well!
Reliability of this generation appears to be much better than earlier models. Overall there do not seem to be any really common complaints. The harshest criticism seems to be for the coarseness of the V-6 engine. That's not so much a reliability concern — more a subjective feel. Likewise the interior is not as nicely finished as in many cars. (A new interior is one of the big improvements in the 2010 version.)
For anyone who enjoys driving a mid-size sporty car, the Mustang delivers on the promise. It offers good handling and a fun-to-drive experience with either a V-6 or V-8 engine. If economy is important, the V-6 delivers a few more miles per gallon, especially when hooked up to a manual transmission. But it's definitely the GT that delivers the smiles!
Naturally the Mustang is most at home on open highways, but it is still a perfectly reasonable car for driving around town. It is essentially a two-seater although there is space in the back for kids. Adults find getting in and out past the front seats is awkward. The convertible is much easier for four people when the top is down.
Judging by the positive comments from Mustang owners, this is the sort of car that appeals to people of all ages — it's the car for someone who wants something with style that's affordable and fun to drive, yet still practical for everyday use.
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