This comparison by Road and Track of the three new 1967 pony cars is a bit different. Instead of a breathless and hyperbolic test of the biggest engine versions, R&T evaluated them in their ability to be affordable enthusiast drivers’ cars. So R&T specified them as they might expect their readers to do, with mid-range V8’s teamed with 4-speed manual transmissions, optional suspensions and no power assists. They didn’t all quite arrive that way, but that didn’t detract as much in the comparison as might be expected. In any case, it’s rather unlikely any other enthusiast magazines tested these in these configurations and in the typical R&T objective manner.
The lead-in puts the Mustang in perspective, as being a disappointment for those expecting a “a real sports car chassis along with seating for four”. R&T rightfully points out that the Mustang was a direct reaction to the unexpected success of the Corvair Monza, which was of course just an economy car with bucket seats and an available four speed stick and bucket seats. The difference was that the Corvair had a rear engine and four wheel independent suspension, which gave it a good ride over rough roads, light steering and intrinsically sporty handling, if a bit too sporty for some folks at the limits.
The reality of the Mustang being a Falcon with a new body is of course old hat, and was already so in 1967. But it does explain the inherent limitations of the genre, as well as its advantages, such as low cost and simple, durable components.
And by 1967, GM finally had its answer to the Mustang with its new Chevrolet Camaro, and Chrysler had a significantly revised Barracuda, looking more competitive than in its first iteration, essentially a Valiant with a fastback.
The ’67 Mustang was of course the first refresh of the original, with a wider front end to make room for the larger FE V8s, and some some revisions of the exterior generally, although the basic body structure was essentially unchanged. R&T was never that impressed with the Mustang’s styling, which was of course rather conservative and a bit of a throwback. The chunkier ’67’s modest changes and increased size and weight was then even more of a disappointment, and R&T presciently said “the fattening up is something Ford can’t seem to resist: don’t be surprised if the Mustang is a full-sized series of sedans and wagons by 1970”. Ouch, but almost right on the money.
On the plus side, the Mustang structural tightness, assembly and material quality were better than the competition, undoubtedly thanks to it having been built for several years and presumably those being a bigger priority for Ford.
The test car came equipped with the 225 hp 4 barrel 289 V8 (not the hot 271 hp K-Code), 4-speed and the GT package, which included stiffer springs, shocks, roll bar and wider 6″ wheels shod with the new Firestone Wide Oval tires in F70-14 size. The GT package did not include faster steering, but that was available in the “competition” handling package.
Even with the very light 289 V8, the Mustang was of course still substantially front heavy (like the rest of the pack), resulting in strong initial understeer. But the changed pivot point of the upper A-arm, as was pioneered on the Shelby GT 350, did reduce roll understeer. But the manual steering was decent once under way, and the wide tires made a significant contribution to feedback as well as cornering power.
Not surprisingly, it all fell apart on rough roads, thanks mostly to the simple leaf spring live-axle rear suspension. Ford had talked about IRS for the Mustang, but it was not to be. Most of the typical buyers wouldn’t have properly appreciated it, and certainly not the extra cost.
Road noise was moderately high, but wind noise low. The biggest single complaint with the Mustang, as well as the other two, was the lousy seating position. All had only a fixed seat back, without any adjustment, and the seats didn’t slide back far enough, presumably to enhance the perceived rear seat legroom. This made it impossible to be comfortable on longer drives, with no ability to change the seat back and reduce the feeling of being pushed against the steering wheel.
This was a cardinal sin in Detroit back then, and if you see drivers of these pony cars today, especially if they’re the typically more ample body size than was more common back then, they invariably look cramped and crowded. European cars of the time invariably had seat back adjustments, including the VW by then. There’s a very good reason cars are universally so much larger today, and profoundly more comfortable.
The Barracuda came with the 235 hp four barrel 273 V8, but with automatic Torqueflite transmission. It also had the “S” package with firmer suspension. Wide Oval tires and wider 5.5″ wheels were also part of the option list. The Torqueflite turned out not be an impediment at all in terms of performance, as long as it was shifted manually at an indicated 5800 rpm, as the little 273 was a relatively high-revving engine, with a 5200 rated power peak, the highest of the three. As such, there was no deficit in the Barracuda’s performance numbers; in fact, it was a bit faster than expected as well R&T’s 1966 Barracuda, similarly equipped. The ’67 was a full second quicker to 60 and shaved five seconds off the ’66’s 0-100 time, and consistently beat the four-speed Mustang in acceleration.
Somewhat surprisingly, R&T did not find the Barracuda’s handling to be superior to the Mustang’s. Of course, the Mustang was optimally equipped for handling, with its revised front suspension, GT package and light 289.
The Camaro elicited the greatest interest, as it was of course the only truly all-new car of the three. The styling was a bit on the other end of the spectrum from the familiar and conservative Mustang: “GM stylists have gone berserk” according to one R&T styling critic. The Camaro brought new meaning to “Coke bottle styling”, for better or for worse. It was deemed “exciting” though, and certain elements, such as the way the roof integrated so cohesively with the rear of the car was noted positively.
The Camaro, which came with the 275 hp 327 V8 and four speed, did not come with the optional handling package, so it gave R&T the opportunity to evaluate the base suspension and have a reference point to the other two. It did come with quicker steering, but along with power assist.
The ride was of course softer, but handling did not suffer as much as might have been expected.; it was just as responsive to steering inputs as the other two. At higher cornering speeds, it lacked the ultimate grip that the Mustang and Barracuda’s wide tires afforded, thanks to its ridiculously small 7.35-14 tires. But it could still be driven fast without serious issues, as long as the pavement was of course reasonably smooth.
R&T felt that GM was beginning to show some genuine prowess in improving handling due to improved front suspension geometry. This was still the early days for that, and GM would all-too soon eclipse Ford and Chrysler in handling capability, even with simple live rear axles.
The 275 hp 327 V8 was of course familiar fare, essentially a de-rated 300 hp 327 as had been built for some years and still used in the Corvette. Whether there was any actual difference between the two is highly questionable, except for exhaust systems and the gross hp rating slapped on them. The real reason the 300 hp 327 was now rated at 275 hp (gross) was because the 350 hp L48 327’s 350 hp bumped into GM’s new 10lb/hp edict, so it was given a 325 hp rating, and the 300 hp pushed down to 275 hp.
The shift linkage on the Camaro’s transmission was faulted, although the Mustang’s wasn’t all that much better.
FWIW, the Camaro did not accelerate quite as well as might have been expected, given its displacement and horsepower advantage over the other two, nor as well as the 300 hp Corvette tested one month earlier. It was a bit over a second slower than the Corvette to 60, although it narrowed the percentage lead in the sprint to 100 mph. But it was no faster than the Barracuda with its smaller engine and automatic, which again raises the question whether the ‘Cuda had benefited from a bit of massaging.
The summary: while all three of these cars were not genuine driver-oriented sporty cars, they certainly offered a healthy measure of performance for the money, and perhaps most importantly, proven reliability, a factor that was all-too often missing in import brands at the time.
The Mustang was picked as the favorite of the bunch, because it exuded a higher level of quality. That had been the Mustang’s brief from the get-go, to have (and exhibit) some Thunderbird genes. Even a totally stripper Mustang didn’t look cheap, with its standard bucket seats, bright trim and full wheel covers. In comparison, base versions of the Barracuda and Mustang came equipped like typical American stripper sedans, with little hub caps, bench seats and modest upholstery and trim.
R&T felt that the Barracuda fastback looked better than the Mustang, despite it still sharing key body hard points with its A-Body siblings.
The Camaro was deemed something of a disappointment, given the erroneous assumption that Chevrolet would create something more inherently advanced and sophisticated, something along the lines of a four passenger Corvette rather than essentially a Mustang in a slick new wrapper. That reflects R&T’s naivete more than any reasonable expectation, as this outcome was of course quite predictable. The need to match the low pricing of the Mustang and Barracuda drove those decisions. In a somewhat confusing last line in that paragraph, R&T says: “we can honestly say we like it”.
The first generation Camaro (1967-1969) was a rushed job to get a Mustang competitor out the door. But that would change with the next generation, when the new F-Bodies solidly eclipsed the Mustang and Chrysler’s E-Body cars. Ford rather wasted its huge lead in ever bigger and fatter Mustangs, until they had to reinvent it.