I’m trying really hard right now to remember if and when I’ve ever ridden inside one of the original 1965 or ’66 Ford Mustangs. With all the car shows I’ve attended over the years and inability to hide my automotive enthusiasm, I realize that I have probably sat in one at some point or another. However, the only firsthand experience I can recall with riding inside an example of what are collectively referred to as the “first generation” Mustangs was a minutes-long jaunt in the back seat of a second cousin’s ’71 Sportsroof fastback when I was an adolescent, while my older brother rode in the front passenger’s seat.
I remember it being a very dark, cave-like experience filled with the noise of full-throttle acceleration and the sensation of being pinned to the rear seatback. That ride was a multi-sensory experience, and awesome. I suspect in retrospect that cousin Andy had hopped up that bad boy with some substantial modifications by the way it went like stink. After that ride was over, I also remember marveling to myself just how little interior space that ’71 Mustang fastback seemed to have, especially in the back seat, relative to what appeared to be robust exterior dimensions. It was hot and funky in there, and there were also probably a few empty bottles of motor oil emanating their aroma from the floor of the rear passenger compartment, though I do actually like that smell.
All of this is to say the interior of that roadgoing rocket didn’t seem to have an overabundance of space for a car of its apparent size. There probably wasn’t that much more room in our featured ’66 notchback, based as it also was on the original Ford Falcon, though its more upright greenhouse and usable rear window would probably add to the illusion of being more spacious inside. With businesses currently starting to open up in phases in some parts of the country following quarantine related to the COVID-19 virus, I have started to think about what it’s going to mean to start physically being in places with other people and what that will entail.
I’ve stated before that I don’t have a car, which is still the case. My inability to go anywhere outside of a four-block radius of my house and concurrent abstinence from alcohol for over three months has led to an embarrassingly substantial improvement in my finances. Cars are always on the brain, and with my recent purchase of a used copy of “The Complete Book Of Mustang” by the Auto Editors of Consumer Guide, my mind again turns to fantasies of owning my own classic. This has lead to thoughts of “what if?” If this beautiful, non-pristine ’66 notchback (which is perfect, as far as I’m concerned) were mine, and without a proven cure for the coronavirus currently available, how would I handle the rules around social distancing that are gradually being relaxed both in Illinois and in other states, on a personal level?
Would I be offering to pick up three friends for a ride in my classic Mustang… but only after spraying all of them down with a full can of Lysol before letting them get in? And then, would we all be wearing face masks while inside the car as we tried to carry on somewhat muffled conversations without the benefit of being able to read each others’ lips as we spoke? (Until now, I never realized just how important it is not only to hear what others are saying, but to see it, as well.) “I missed you, too, but I can hear you just fine from over here. You still need to stay as far over there are you can.”
And then, how would it work once we got to the hypothetical restaurant for re-breakfast and coffee? The morning I had seen this navy Mustang in motion had also included browsing at a vintage home goods store and subsequent noshing at the nearby Golden Angel Pancake House, pictured above and below, which has since been demolished and replaced with an outpost of Lou Malnati’s, a pizzeria. There obviously wouldn’t be enough room in one of those vinyl-seated booths even a small group to distance six feet from one another.
I also revel in being the lone wolf and going places by myself just for the experience of it. Sitting solo at the counter at the Golden Angel would have been a great place to strike up a conversation with another diner or restaurant staff and get to know another human being for a few minutes. It makes me sad to think I might not get to do that kind of thing safely anymore.
Our featured car is smaller than current Mustangs, though not quite as much as the ’74 Mustang II was in comparison to my cousin’s ’71 Sportsroof fastback. Consider these numbers, comparing our featured ’66 with its modern, 2020 fastback counterpart, citing numbers from a 1966 Ford press release and The Car Connection: 108″ vs. 107.1″ wheelbase, 181.1″ in overall length vs. 188.3, 68.2″ wide vs. 75.4″, and 51.1″ tall vs. 54.4″. Since I’ve also referenced interior space, lets also look at these figures which differ significantly from car to car in only a few areas: 37.4″ of effective headroom vs. 37.6″, 41.8″ in maximum front leg room vs. 44.5″, 54.7″ in front hip room vs. 54.9″, 53.8″ in front shoulder room vs. 56.3, and 9.0 cubic feet of cargo space vs. 13.5.
The real whopper is the difference in the base curb weight between the two cars. We’re talking about 2,610 pounds for the ’66 notchback and the 3,705 for a new fastback, an increase of 42%, though it’s also true that the 2020 version includes a host of standard equipment some of which hadn’t even been invented at the time of the first Mustang’s “a la carte” introduction. To be clear, though, neither Mustang has a truly spacious interior suitable for more than two adults, which has always been one of its defining characteristics. My beloved, former ’88 Mustang LX hatchback was no exception to this, though it was a much less objectionable experience to ride in one of the two rear seats as a young adult than I suspect it would be for me as a forty-something.
Much like is often my experience of listening to music, maybe my enjoyment of my hypothetical, classic Mustang would have to be a private thing, though it’s true that I have enjoyed playing the role of jukebox DJ often enough in the past (and to great success, judging by feedback I’ve received). I may not be hitting my favorite watering holes anywhere as often as I used to before the current pandemic started once restrictions are lifted, but a few things are certain.
I may never again look at eating and/or drinking in certain types of places in the same way, for the rest of my life. Also, the necessarily restricted access from such places, and the people with whom I would enjoy them, has made me appreciate the existence of such venues all the more, especially as so much has changed since only the beginning of this year. Through it all, one thing remains comfortingly the same: the eternal appeal of the original closely coupled, just-right Ford Mustang.
Ravenswood, Chicago, Illinois.
Saturday, July 27, 2013.