A First-Generation Mustang, Destined for a Family’s Third

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Randy Kramer's 1965 Ford Mustang

The Ivy Green 1965 Mustang convertible, a beloved family member today, wasn’t always treated gently, Randy Kramer now admits. “Oh, man, we beat that thing up,” he confessed.

“Me, my older brother and my younger sister learned to drive a manual on that car,” Kramer said, recalling the abuse suffered by the Mustang’s stick-shift transmission. “So did my cousins and our neighbors. But we weren’t as hard on it as the Iowa winters were. Snow, salt – over time, that thing was just falling apart.”

To be fair, the five decades that have passed since the Mustang was purchased from a used car lot were not all so damaging.

Kramer grew up across the street from a car dealership in Manson, Iowa, and he remembers watching the new models being delivered. When he was 5 years old, his mother started talking about getting a blue Mustang convertible. “I was just a little kid, but I knew a lot of cars,” he said. “I knew exactly what a Mustang was.”

And he soon proved it. One day in 1968, as the Kramers drove past a car dealership, it was young Randy who called out, “There’s one!” His father made a U-turn so the family could take a closer look at the sporty Ford that had kicked off the “pony car” craze. It wasn’t blue, but the Kramers bought it anyway.

The Mustang, powered by a 289-cid V-8, actually became dad’s commuting car. For years he drove it back and forth to his factory job, a 20-mile round trip. At some point it was painted red, but it got little attention beyond regular maintenance. And while other cars came and went, the Mustang remained.

As the Kramer kids grew older, they got their own cars – well, at least two of three did. Randy jokes that he somehow got skipped. “My brother got a car. My sister got a car. I never got a car – until the Mustang kind of fell to me. So I ended up with one that needed a crap-load of work done,” he said with a laugh. “That was pretty awesome.”

Several years ago, after his mother died and his father learned he had cancer, Kramer made it his mission to get the family Mustang back on the road. He took it to Telstar Motors in Mitchell, S.D., where a two-year restoration began.

“They did a fantastic job,” he said. “It was in such bad shape. There were other Mustangs I could have gotten for half the money I spent to restore it, but I look at it as a legacy thing. It was as much for my dad as it was for me.”

In addition to adding dual exhausts and Mustang mag wheels, the car was returned to its original Ivy Green color. Kramer said his father was “overwhelmed” upon seeing it. “He wasn’t really emotional because it wasn’t a surprise, but he couldn’t believe he was looking at the same car. He entered it in a car show, which was fun. That car became kind of iconic in our town.”

The elder Mr. Kramer died in 2015.

Randy, who turned 52 on Valentine’s Day, is single and childless, so he isn’t exactly sure who he’ll pass the car to someday. He’s gauging his nieces’ and nephews’ interest, but in the meantime, he’ll continue enjoying summer drives with the top down and think of all of the good times his family shared.

“The Mustang isn’t the nicest car I own,” he said, “but it definitely means the most.”

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Design Analysis: First generation Ford Mustang (1964½-1973)

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Mustang Project

Editor’s Note: this analysis primarily considers the 1964½-1968 Mustang

Regardless of whether you measure success in terms of sales, accolades, fans, buzz or the competition’s response, the first Mustang was an undeniable success. It was the perfect car at the perfect moment for an American generation itching to hit the road and discover freedom. Now, it may seem like a cliché echoed in thousands of auto ads since, but at the time there were no cars that were marketed and linked so specifically to youth than Ford’s Mustang.

The design brief for the Mustang was simple, requiring that five objectives be met:

  1. Seat four and have bucket seats
  2. Include a floor-mounted shifter
  3. Weigh no more than 2,500 pounds (1,100 kg) and be no more than 180 inches (4,572 mm) in length
  4. Sell for less than $2,500, base price
  5. Have multiple power, comfort and luxury options

While the initial concept was a mid-engine two-seater, management wanted the production Mustang to be a four-seater because the original Thunderbird (a two-seater) was seen as a sales failure. Whether Ford considered building a mid-engine four-seater is another question, but based on the target base price, it seems this was never a real option because the Mustang depended so heavily on stable-mates for its floor pan, architecture and hardware to minimize cost.

That the Mustang is an American invention cannot be argued; however, much like the Corvette, its styling was heavily based on European cars. According to the Mustang’s project design chief, Joe Oros, “I wanted a Ferrari-like front end, the motif centered on the front — something heavy-looking like a Maseratti [sic], but, please, not a trident — and I wanted air intakes on the side to cool the rear brakes. I said it should be as sporty as possible and look like it was related to European design.”

And if considered honestly, there is a fair amount of Maserati 3500GT in the Mustang’s front fascia, yet the Mustang cost roughly a quarter of what the Maserati cost. You could also bring three friends along for the ride. And if you only took one, it had a rear bench seat, in case.

The Mustang’s proportions are pleasing but not revolutionary in any way. It has a well-documented long hood/short deck commonplace to performance cars of any era that are front-engine, rear-wheel drive. The real genius of the Mustang is that despite the fact that the door is centered almost perfectly on the wheelbase (thereby allowing space for a rear seat and some ease of ingress/egress) the car still manages to look like it’s all engine and front end.

This is accomplished by providing a visual line-break in the form of the rear fender’s C-scoop. It stops the eye and divides the car into thirds: two-thirds for the front, one-third for the rear. Additionally, the C-pillar’s angle mimics the C-scoop’s and helps to reinforce this visual break.

The Mustang’s surfacing is clean, simple and elegant, occasionally making use of recesses in order to emphasize details (headlights, grille details, taillights) and give a more upscale, designed appearance. Details, with the exception of the C-scoop, are limited to the front of the car in order to give it more emphasis and visual weight. This also reinforces Ford’s assertions that the Mustang was a performance car.

Ford’s clarity of message and design with this product was of such a high level that it is still astounding. The Mustang was a car designed to maximize your enjoyment of life and it didn’t matter if you couldn’t afford a top-shelf V-8 or not, all trims of this car were quick, sporty and let you enjoy freedom with your friends. The democracy of the Mustang is what makes it so intrinsically American.

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