50 years marked an enormous anniversary for one of the most quintessential pieces of Americana, not to mention the American automobile industry. In 2015, the Ford Mustang celebrated half a century of heritage. Through difficult economic times and incredible cultural change, the Mustang was able to adapt and evolve to not only survive but thrive. These cars don’t need to wear a Ford badge for people to recognize what they are: the Mustang brand is an icon in and of itself.
Though a lot has changed in 50 years, the essence of what the Mustang stands for as a car has not. Here, we compare the two model years to take a look at how technology and design have changed. Even though they’re very different pieces of machinery that are separated by decades, the ancestry is immediately recognizable...and some aspects might not be as different as you’d expect.
1965 vs 2015 Mustang: Quick Stats
|Specification||1965 Model||2015 Model
||~2,570 to 3,000 lbs
||3,512 to 3,852 lbs
|Horsepower + Engine
||120 hp, i-6
200 hp, Challenger V8
225 hp, Challenger Special V8
271 hp, Challenger High Performance V8
||310 hp, 2.3 liter turbo 4-cyl
300 hp, 3.7 liter V6
435 hp, 5.0 liter V8
||Fastback, Convertible, Hardtop
||26 mpg (4-cyl, combined)
22 mpg (6-cyl, combined)
19 mpg (8-cyl, combined)
||5.5 seconds (EcoBoost, V6)
4.5 seconds (V8)
||$2,461 (~$18,517 in 2015 USD)
Humble Beginnings of a Legend
Ford touted the 1965 Fastback 2+2 Mustang as a direct match-up against European imports in terms of style but heavily emphasized the very low comparative price.
“Modern” features that offered more convenience were available as options, but not standard for the 1965. This included an AM radio, air conditioning, backup lights, electric windshield wipers, power steering, power brakes, emergency flashers, reverse lights, side mirrors, floor mats, front disc brakes, and rear seat belts! Only the fastback offered standard sun visors. Many of these options were no doubt added, with Ford noting that the “Mustang was designed to be designed by you.”
So what are some things that the 2015 Mustang lacks that its classic 1965 predecessor did offer? For one, manually opening rear windows, which is a very cool feature. The small window on the A-pillar also popped open. A true cigarette lighter was included standard (the 2015 offered a smoker’s package with a 12-volt plug-in). If you want a narrower car, the 1965 is noticeably less wide. Overall, there were more color options for the exterior and interior, but apart from these small consolations, the 2015 rightly shows its dominance on the features list.
Not as easily shown on paper are the differences in NVH (noise, vibration, harshness) between the two cars. The 2015 Mustang rides much more smoothly and quietly, with immensely improved handling. This does come at the expense of feeling less “connected” to the road. The 2015 model was also the first Mustang to come with independent rear suspension.
In terms of safety, the 2015 not only offered typical, government-required components like seatbelts for all occupants, airbags, antilock brakes, and electronic stability control, but also optional blind spot monitoring, adaptive cruise control, a rear-view camera, knee airbags, and collision warning with brake support.
Also available were selectable drive modes, Intelligent Access with push-button start, steering wheel-mounted controls, and Easy Fuel capless fueling system. In both big and small ways, features like these show how far automobiles have come in terms of safety, convenience, and luxury.
That dominance is just as apparent when you take a look under the hood. Though they sounded excellent and provided great performance for the time period, the V8’s of the 1965 model simply can’t hold a candle to the 5.0 liter V8 in the 2015. In addition to being direct fuel injection instead of carbureted, the new model features all the latest in exhaust management, cooling, valve timing, limited-slip differential, and so much more.
So what do these two ponies have in common? Besides four wheels and an engine, there’s one easy answer: styling. From the tail lights to the body shape the iconography, the 2015 Mustang and other modern Mustangs have done more to maintain the lineage of its forebearers than any other car. Unfortunately, the 2015 Mustang did drop the retro gauges, but compromises do have to be made as modern design progresses.