By Niamh Smith
What comes to mind when you think of the mid-60s? Mini skirts, the hippie movement, war in Vietnam, the space race, rock and roll, feminism… for the West, the mid-60s were a period of social revolution. The baby boomers were growing up into a world of newfound wealth, particularly in the States, and this economical growth meant a profound effect on the production and sales of automobiles too.
In 1966, Ford Motor Company sold over 600,000 American classic cars, doubling the sales of its nearest rival the Chevy Impala. Demand for the all American pony cars was in full swing, with Ford having sold over one million Mustangs between its release in 1964 through to the end of 1966. This was the biggest year yet for the beloved Ford Mustang, and its sales figures haven’t been broken by any later Mustang models so far.
In this Muscle Car UK article, we’ll discuss why we think the 1966 Ford Mustang is one of the best Mustang model years, and what led to those stonking sales figures.
1966 Ford Mustang
The Ford Mustang was revealed in 1964. Designed by Lee Iacocca, it was successfully billed by Ford as an allrounder; a performance car, a luxury car and an economy car. The original product was such a hit in 1965 that Ford didn’t want to change it too much and upset the apple cart so there weren’t as many differences between the first models and the 1966 model year Mustang. This was also partly because Ford could barely keep up with the demand for the popular Mustang. Due to the minimal changes, a lot of ‘66 and ‘65 Mustang parts are (handily) interchangeable.
Some of the small changes made by Ford include the arrival of a new grille; the ’65 Mustang had a honeycomb grille with a chrome crossbar sometimes called wings. This was changed to a vertical bar grille and the chrome crossbars were deleted. It retained the Mustang emblem on the front grille, which was surrounded by a chrome corral as it had on the 1965 model; the ’66 badge looks like it’s floating without any visible attachments. There was also a change to the nonfunctional side scoops on the rear panel. The 1965 Mustang had a deep, single ornamental scoop, however this was changed in 1966 to three flat side scoop trim features in a chrome effect. The petrol cap was now more circular in design too with subtle edges for gripping, as opposed to the three distinct notches in the 1965 petrol cap.
The standard engine in the 1966 Mustang continued to be the 200ci inline six (cylinder) engine with a three speed manual transmission, which produced 120 horsepower. The new Cruise-O-Matic (great name by the way) automatic transmission became available on K-code engines, of which only 5,469 K-code Mustangs were produced.
1966 Ford Mustang Specs and Variants
For 1966, Ford offered over 70 different options on their Mustangs, as well as special dealership specific option packs.
Enginewise, above the 200ci inline six, Ford offered the 289ci V8 engine. This came in a 2 barrel, 4 barrel and HiPo variants, with the 289ci HiPo V8 rated at a respectable 271hp. It was equipped with solid lifters, a different low resistance exhaust manifold, and higher compression ratio.
The standard interior of a 1966 Mustang consisted of what was called the Pony Interior, and had embossed ponies running across the back of the seats. The Mustang Fastback had 2 seats in the front and a fold-down seat in the back, and was available to order with the deluxe interior option. Optional interior extras included below dash air conditioning (expensive at $311) and a wood grain steering wheel.
The GT option was offered again in 1966, and came with manual front disc brakes, grille mounted fog lights, GT gas cap, GT rocker paint stripes, GT side emblems, special exhaust trumpets protruding through the rear valance, and special handling components. An additional option was the Rally-Pac, however this was a very rarely specified option making it a rare beast nowadays.
Another special 1966 Mustang model variant was the High Country Special (HCS). The only things that made them special really were their colours and a special brass shield that was attached to the front fenders above the word ‘Mustang’. They were available in Columbine Blue, Aspen Gold and Timberline Green, and these colours were only available on the HCS Mustangs. There were only 333 HCS Mustangs made. Of that number 274 were coupes, 20 were fastbacks, and 39 were convertibles, so nowadays the HCS Mustangs are another rare and sought-after car.
The 1966 Shelby GT350 Mustang was available, which sported function rear panel scoops and go-faster stripes. A thousand and one GT350s were sold to rental company Hertz, and given the title GT350H, mostly painted black with the gold Hertz stripes. They all came with the 289 K code Hi-Po engine with 306hp. (These were for the Hertz Rent-A-Racer programme; something I have always found interesting and insanely cool.)
Yes, in 1966, you could literally rent a racecar to take street or drag racing for $17 a day, and take it back to the forecourt on Monday morning after ragging it down the strip. After the first 85 cars had been delivered it was decided by Ford and Shelby’ that the rest would be automatic, as Hertz had been very pleased with the rental figures, but the majority of the four-speed gearboxes were coming back with the clutches burnt out (no surprise there).
Legend has it, a lot of these Rent-A–Racers got abused and stripped for speed parts or had the engines swapped out whilst they were away on rental. Due to the rarity of these cars, a good example now would set you back northwards of £150,000 if one came up for sale in the UK, or around $180,000 in the USA.
What Makes 1966 Ford Mustangs the Best Model Year?
Impressive production figures for the 1966 Ford Mustang
The 1966 Ford Mustang boasted the highest production and sales numbers out of every model year since the original in 1964/65. To say that 57 continuous years of production later and those sales figures still haven’t been topped prove that the 1966 Mustang is simply one of the best to have rolled out of Detroit.
|1966 Mustang Model||Production Units Sold in the USA|
|Hardtop coupe standard||422,416|
|Hardtop coupe luxury||55,938|
|Hardtop coupe bench seats||21,397|
|Convertible bench seats||3,190|
Production Total 607,568.
Naturally, the hardtop coupe was the best selling model, starting at $2,522; adjusted for inflation that’s only $19,618. A bargain, I’d say. This was a well-made, economy sports car with great looks; no wonder it was so desirable at the time. Compared to the jalopies of the 50s and early 60s, I bet these new Mustangs must have handled like it was on rails, and also looked like outer space technology.
The 1966 Mustang has long been hailed for its comfortable and easy driving experience; nearly every road test I found said that it was a dream to drive and that they’re ideal for road trips. The 200ci and 289ci 2bbl motors aren’t known for being the quickest, but are described as ‘work horses’ and are nigh on bomb-proof with regular upkeep.
Nowadays, there is good parts availability and spares are relatively inexpensive. Pair that with the fact that a lot of parts are interchangeable with the ‘65 Stang, this makes 1966 Mustang maintenance nice and easy, especially if you find a good specialist garage/dealership like Muscle Car UK to help in your journey of Mustang ownership.
What are 1966 Ford Mustangs Known For?
In the movies…
Ford Mustangs are certainly not camera shy. They are featured in hundreds of films, and the ‘66 model is no exception. In the film “Grand Prix” (1966) James Garner plays the part of F1 driver Pete Aron. When Garner is filming away from the track, he is using a GT350H, another great product placement opportunity for Ford and Shelby American. In the film “Misery” (1990) James Cann drove a 1966 Hardtop until he rolled it on a snowy mountain pass, which didn’t end well for either of them—don’t watch this scene if you have an ounce of mechanical sympathy!
At the Races…
Sixteen 1966 Ford Mustangs were built by Shelby American to compete in the SCCA Group II amateur racing series created in tandem with the professional Trans Am series. These race-ready Mustangs were based on the Mustang GT, however these cars shared much in common with the Shelby GT350, including a Shelby-built 289ci engine with an aluminium high-rise intake manifold and 715 CFM Holley 4-barrel carburettor, Borg-Warner close-ratio 4-speed, Detroit Locker rear end, high-capacity fuel tank with quick-release filler, heavy-duty front disc and rear drum brakes, and other race specs. Only 9 of these badass 1966 Shelby American SCCA Mustangs are known to be in existence still, one of which came up for sale at a Mecum Auction in 2013.
The 1966 GT350H clearly was a winner for street and drag racing back in its heyday, but it’s not just the Shelby models that make an appearance on the drag strip. Charlie Fuller joined UK Nostalgia Superstock and made his first trip to race at Santa Pod last year, proving that you don’t have to have a hopped-up, race built V8 to have fun at the drags.
1966 Mustangs For Sale UK
After the first model year, the Ford Mustang found its feet and took the automotive world by storm, everyone needed a Mustang, which is probably why the 1966 Mustang sold so well. Being praised for its lush drive quality and good looks, the ‘66 Stang is many people’s favourite year.
Due to the large production numbers, the ‘66 Mustang is also not one of the rarest Mustang models so there are usually a couple of Coupe models to pick from for sale in the UK at any one time if you find yourself with a hankering for a ‘66. However, due to the low production numbers of Fastback 1966 Mustangs, as well as the fact that it was redesigned the following year, make them a highly collectable classic muscle car.
If reading this article has made you fall in love with 1966 Ford Mustangs, Muscle Car UK has a couple available right now including a low mileage, 5 speed manual car which is guaranteed to come with buckets of fun!
Author: Niamh Smith
Muscle Car UK and Pilgrim Motorsports are leading UK classic car specialists for muscle cars, sports cars and classic car restorations. We build, service and upgrade all classic cars, specialising in Mustangs, V8 engines, Carroll Shelby Cobras and Corvettes.
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