We know of the triumphs and foibles of legendary figures, as their fame grows in time. Events turn into myths, and what was once uncertain, it’s accepted as inevitable fate. We eventually take for granted their mythical status. But how did they reach that lofty position? What was it like to experience their rise?
And while few people can claim firsthand acquaintance with human legends, cars can be a different matter. Especially popular ones. With that in mind, let’s take a look back thanks to this R&T owner survey from March of 1971. Let’s revisit and see what was it like to live with the legend.
It’s well known the Mustang acquired its legendary status in short order. In the words of R&T, Ford’s pony car was ‘one of the automotive phenomena of our time,’ and already considered an American standard by 1971. A good number of readers responded to R&T’s survey, with about 140 owners evenly divided between the ’67, ’68, and ’69 model years.
For R&T readers, the Mustang was the perfect compromise car; ‘the car to buy when one can’t afford the desired Porsche, the alternative when one wants a 2-seater but needs a family car, the car to retreat to when the little sports car have proved unduly temperamental or their dealers too scarce, or the first step away from the lumbering American sedan.’ Mustang owners bought their cars for: their styling, performance, size, handling (more on this later), and reasonable price. Attributes not too different from those cherished by import buyers in previous R&T surveys.
All legends have a nemesis, and in this case, it is a curious one: Ford’s dealer service. A rather common pain of the time. Some of the typical comments left by respondents were: “The warranty is worthless”… “gives me heartburn” … “overburdened”. On the other hand, Ford’s poor dealer performance was almost equal to Chevrolet’s.
As for the car itself, surveyors found the Mustang’s best and worst attribute to be its handling. It all depended on what ‘handling’ meant to each respondent. Regular buyers of American iron enjoyed the Mustang’s ‘compact’ dimensions, which made the car easier to park and maneuver, unlike other Detroit offerings. Meanwhile, those who had an affinity for sports car attributes (being R&T readers, a higher number than usual), found much to be desired in the handling department.
Moving on to other attributes, the Mustang got high marks for performance, economy, and styling. Regarding reliability, Ford’s pony car was no runaway star but was above average. Quality control was among the car’s worst features, with rattles, squeaks, and falling knobs being frequent. There were additional issues affecting 5-10% of owners: troubles with front-end alignment, water pumps, starters, short-lived shock absorbers, and a few others. Yet, 17% of owners experienced no trouble with their vehicles. A very good result for the times.
No major trouble areas are mentioned, however, and that sums up the Mustang survey: a reliable workhorse, durable in most of its major components, with a sporty image. Unlike some human icons and celebrities, the Mustang was a legend one could easily live with.