Some guys just want to have fun—with Mustangs. Their idea of Mustang fun is using, cruising and not caring about losing at car shows. With all the attention given to rare Mustangs, super high performance late model Mustangs and ground up restorations, everyday drivers and affordable alternatives can get overlooked.
In general, bang for the buck implies inexpensive cars, but we’ll also include a few not so inexpensive Mustangs. There are cases where time is as important as money. This is especially true for older enthusiasts who are either very busy with their careers or want to quickly make up for lost time. In these cases the best buy could be at an auction or from a classic Mustang dealer.
Why spend three years searching for a bargain Boss or a super slashed Shelby when you can just buy one from a reputable dealer or auction company? In the time it takes to find a bargain the price of the “bargain” could easily appreciate to the price of the “non-bargain” you passed on earlier.
On the inexpensive (sounds nicer than cheap) side of getting the most bang for your Mustang buck, there are a lot of second, third and fourth string cars that too many people overlook in their quest for the Heisman Trophy cars. If you can’t afford (or find) a first round draft pick such as a ’65 Shelby GT350 and even if a ’65 GT 4-speed car exceeds your salary cap, you can still have a lot of fun in a ’65 Mustang coupe with a 200 cubic inch six-cylinder engine and an automatic.
COUPES, COUPES, COUPES
Sure, lots of people will realize that you’re driving a base coupe, but far more people will simply see a neat old Mustang. The least expensive ’65 Mustang is still a classic Mustang. It still generates lots of positive attention; it has great styling; it’s easy to work on; and most of all it will put a smile on your face when you drive it. A base coupe is more or less expendable (compared to a GT350) so you can drive it and park it where you please without all the worry attached to a mega-buck Mustang.
If you want to get into the classic Mustang game for the least amount of money, a first generation coupe is the way to go. Six-cylinder cars are the least expensive although they have the least appreciation potential. But, if pure appreciation is your goal you should mortgage the farm and buy a Shelby or Boss Mustang.
Beater or project coupes can be bought for under a thousand dollars, but these cars won’t provide as much bang for your buck as a nicer car. The ideal coupe is one that needs as little expensive work as possible. A paint job costs about the same regardless of the body type that it goes on. A car that someone else painted and rebuilt the engine is a far better buy than paying for the work yourself.
BUY AND DRIVE
The key to getting the most for your Mustang money is to buy a car that needs minimal repairs. Not only will repairs increase your total cost, but also you can’t drive a car that’s in the shop. A dirty, neglected car that’s mechanically sound is ideal. Dirty cars don’t bring top prices, but a little elbow grease will instantly add value.
A car that needs a thorough detailing is great. One that has damaged upholstery or needs bodywork isn’t. Worn tires can be replaced with better used ones (or new car take-offs at a tire store) if you’re a savvy shopper, but if you need to buy a complete set of high performance tires, that’s a lot of money.
Knowing how to thoroughly inspect a potential purchase is important. If you don’t trust your abilities, shop with a more knowledgeable friend.
The buy and drive philosophy works better with newer Mustangs, but the mechanical simplicity of first generation Mustangs offsets that somewhat. It all depends on whether you must have an early Mustang or whether you just want a Mustang.
THE MUSTANG II
Unless you really like deluxe Pintos there isn’t much to recommend about the 1974 through 1978 Mustang II. Some of the flashier models such as the Cobra II and King Cobra are gaining popularity, but even the best of this series trails other Mustang models.
FABULOUS FIVE-LITER MUSTANGS
In the bang for the buck department, it’s tough to beat 5.0-liter (or Fox body) Mustangs. These ubiquitous Mustangs are the modern day version of the ’32 Ford or tri-five Chevy. They’re a hot rodder’s dream canvas. The aftermarket has so thoroughly embraced these cars that great parts are plentiful and affordable. An entire industry and many specialized magazines have grown up around these cars.
The high number of these cars that are modified is a good news/bad news situation. On the plus side you can often buy a very potent car for far less than it would cost you to perform the modifications. The flipside of that is well meaning, but slightly inept owners hack up a lot of cars. Our advice is to buy an unaltered car.
Five-liter Mustangs come in both carbureted and fuel injected versions. We favor the fuel injected 1986 and newer cars. The manual transmission cars command more money, so the better buys are often the automatic equipped cars. These automatics can be made to perform as well as manual transmission cars and they make better daily commuter cars.
Fox body Mustang come in three varieties: 2-door notchback sedan, 3-door hatchback and convertible. Oddly enough, the budget notchbacks (especially V-8 5-speed cars) are becoming as expensive as the hatchbacks and convertibles. The reason is their immense popularity with drag racers.
Convertibles can be excellent buys, because they often don’t bring much of a premium over hatchbacks. Watch for water problems on convertibles and check how well doors fit and close.
Fourth generation Mustangs are often referred to as SN-95 Mustangs. Some people also call them the modular engine Mustangs because of the new 4.6-liter SOHC modular engine that was introduced in 1996. The ’94 and ’95 Mustangs still had the tried and true 5.0 V-8. That makes them more desirable to many people.
These Mustangs have reached a point where their prices have dropped considerably, but they’re not worn out, yet. Low mileage examples can provide a lot of Mustang for not much money. The high performance models (especially the more powerful Cobras) are the most desirable, but the V-6 models make great commuter cars.
The world is full of Mustangs, so there’s probably one out there with your name on it.
Coupes are cool. Fastbacks and convertibles may make headlines, but Mustang coupes are plentiful, affordable and very versatile. Technically, first generation Mustang coupes are called hardtops because they don’t have “B” pillars.
First generation 6-cylinder Mustang coupes are still reasonably priced, but condition plays a huge part in pricing a coupe. It pays to buy the best body you can find. A sure giveaway to a Mustang originally equipped with a six-cylinder engine is the four-lug wheels.
Upgrading to five-lug wheels and disc brakes isn’t difficult. Between Gen 4 factory mags and aftermarket wheels the choices are immense.
As plentiful as early Mustang coupes are, 5.0-liter drivetrains are even more plentiful. Swapping a fuel injected 5.0 engine and transmission into a sixties Mustang is a great way to update performance.
The sequential multi-port electronic fuel injection system introduced in 1986 and used through 1995 on the 5.0-liter V-8s is a hot rodding favorite. That’s the good news. The bad news is that some overzealous owners hammer modified Mustangs.
5.0-liter convertibles are surprisingly affordable. This 1992 LX Summer Edition is a good example of a fun Mustang that can serve as a daily driver. It should hold its value if its condition is maintained.
One of the reasons this ’92 Summer Edition convertible was affordable was that it needed upholstery and top repairs. Seat covers can be a sign of underlying problems. White leather shows wear more than darker colors.
Fox body Mustangs that were equipped with the TRX wheels and suspensions have odd sized (15.35 x 5.9-inches) wheels that require very expensive Michelin tires.
Sometimes the most Mustang for your buck can be found in a Mercury Cougar. First generation Cougars are essentially well-equipped Mustangs. Lower initial costs usually mean lower resale values.
Customized Mustangs can be great deals as long as like the modifications and as long as they were professionally executed. Modified cars almost always sell for much less than the cost of the upgrades.
Bill Collins Collector Fords