The first-generation six-cylinder Mustang may not be the big muscular powerhouse that Pony Cars evolved into, but it is precisely what Ford originally intended for the Mustang marque; a fun-to-drive economy sports car that won’t break the bank. Marketed toward women and youth upon its release, it satisfies the nagging craving for something sporty and fun while offering reliability and retaining plenty of cargo space. Today, the factory straight-six Pony Car is fast transforming into a unicorn amongst the original and V-8 swapped Mustangs.
If winning races at the dragstrip is the ultimate goal, not much will beat the dollar-to-power ratio of a small block V-8. But if you are in the majority, you’ll be more likely to cruise around town with friends and family. Or if you’re really cool, you’ll opt to take it on some epic long-distance scenic road trips. That’s where the straight-sixes shine, and their advantages are many.
Most importantly, these engines have been built since their first introduction in Ford’s 1906 Model K, so if you dare to be different, be rest assured that the decades of engineering that went into these well-balanced engines make them virtually bulletproof. If something does break, as old cars do, new replacement parts tend to be readily available and affordable, or used motors can be found for a few hundred bucks if the issue is more catastrophic.
The straight-six is a pleasure to drive. It generates plenty of torquey power, yet runs smooth and can be tuned to get decent fuel economy. Cornering is a thrill: Instead of going nose-down into a turn like the V-8 powered brute, the 6-cylinder Mustang’s nimble platform hugs the esses like they’re best friends.
The Pony first flew with a 105-hp 170-cid straight-six borrowed from the Falcon, but Ford’s wheels were turning even before the first car rolled off the line. Around four months after the Mustang’s introduction, Ford halted the 170 production and replaced it with a 120-hp 200-cid engine. At the same time, the V-8 was upgraded from a 260 to the 289-cid engine, until the 302 came along in 1968 to keep up with tightening emissions standards.
The 1966 Mustang remains one of the most-popular years and is still frequently seen can on the road. The Standard Catalog of American Cars states that V-8 Mustangs outnumbered the inline-six production by 354,400 to 253,200 in ’66, making the six-cylinder rarer than its more powerful counterpart. The hardtop model still holds the record as the best-selling Mustang of all time, accounting for nearly 500,000 of that year’s total sales. For comparison, just over 173,500 units sold in 2000, the biggest sale year since 1980. From 1967 until 1973, the end of the first generation, the Mustang grew massive. Its facelift gave it a more menacing look overall.
The Ford Mustang is the longest surviving breed of classic American muscle car. Its aggressive styling with sharp, sloping lines make them appear low to the ground, like a predator on the prowl, whether in coupe, convertible or fastback form, and the straight-six equipped cars looked just as slick. Whether you are all about that V-8 growl or want to experience the agile handling of the lighter 6-cylinder, there is a Mustang waiting to give you the ride of your life.