Jim Smart
September 1, 1998
Photos By: Scott Killeen

It's a cool afternoon in Southern California's San Fernando Valley. A light, dry breeze blows from the northwest. The sun is fading in the west. It's a wonderful day to be alive. The stillness of the far western reaches of the Valley makes it hard to believe the roar of millions of vehicles on the freeways is nearby. Rich Rosenfeld, who appeared on our May '97 cover with his son Ben, is about to take a spin in our test car--his '65 Mustang GT 2+2 fastback sporting a K-code 289 High Performance engine, a four-speed, 3.50:1 gears, and options aplenty. It's the Hi-Po nearly everyone wants, short of those who want a high-performance convertible more.

We're not only going to let you see Rich's Hi-Po, we're going to let you experience it through that time-proven technology called imagination. Saddle up and take your place behind the wheel, because it's going to be a rewarding ride. Driving an old Hi-Po Mustang is a completely different experience than driving a '98 Cobra or GT.

The new Mustang GT and Cobra are plush, with bucket seats that conform to your torso with precision. The T45 five-speed shifter feels solid and secure. Big tires and wheels embrace the pavement with the firmness of a new-found love. Dual exhausts trumpet a soft burble with that high-pitched moan we've come to expect from the 4.6L Modular "cammer" V-8. Solid fit and finish make the new Mustangs world class in anyone's quality-assurance program.

A classic Mustang is none of the things a new GT or Cobra is. But it's cool, and we're going to show you what life was like in the premier factory Mustang musclecar for 1965. Rich is going to take us for a spin, just for fun. But first, some background. Rich is anything but new to the world of vintage Mustang performance. He has lived and breathed brute musclecars since they were a new phenomenon. This K-code 289 High Performance GT fastback is no exception in Rich's history book. When he hears the soft chatter of 16 rocker arms being bumped by a mechanical flat-tappet camshaft, he remembers what performance was in 1965. What's more, he understands the era perfectly.

Rich takes a deep breath and straps the Mustang to his backside. Lap belts, which were optional in 1965, don't afford much protection, but some security is better than none. With a "click," Rich unifies the belt buckles. The Mustang ignition key for '65 was unique to the Mustang, sporting the classic galloping horse, corral, and bars. The key was as cool as the car. Rich thrusts the one-sided key in the ignition, teeth up. He turns the ignition switch to "on," and the voltage regulator comes alive with a sharp metallic dank, indicating the contacts are closed. When Rich spins the engine, the sound is nostalgic--the Autolite starter, the soft roar of combustion, the distant hiss of the induction system, those rocker arms tapping out a consistent rhythm. It's beautiful music.

Photo Gallery

View Photo Gallery

Rich gooses the accelerator, depresses the clutch, and slips the stock Ford shifter into First. Beneath the shifter boot is a Ford Top Loader four-speed made of solid cast iron, brass, and steel. The Top Loader gets its name from its "top loading" design in which parts are installed through the top of the gear case. First gear in this transmission is 2.32:1. And, by the way, this is an HEH-T Top Loader transmission, in case you were interested, with the wide bellhousing bolt pattern.

Rich slips the clutch, and the slippery fastback begins to move. Acceleration is a rush. What makes the Hi-Po Mustang exciting is its abundance of character. It's distinctive sound gives us mental pictures of a "289 High Performance" fender badge the minute it rolls up behind us. It's the pony and corral, the honeycomb grille, the Hi-Po fan sound behind the radiator, the valvetrain chorus, and the gasping of the Autolite 4100 carb heard through the open-element Hi-Po air cleaner.

Rich decided to outfit his 'Stang with Shelby appointments--a Cobra Dress-Up Kit and intake and a Holley 715cfm four-throat carb. He detailed the engine room to perfection with special appointments that yield a cross between a Shelby GT350 and the more sedate Mustang GT. We like the attention to detail Rich has shown here in a drivable, concours-restored Mustang fun car.

Topanga Canyon Road lies ahead. Rich grabs the shifter and stabs the gas. Goodyear Eagle ST radials bite the firmament with a bark, thanks to 3.50:1 gears and a limited-slip 9-inch differential. Acceleration in an old Hi-Po is different than in a late-model Mustang. Late-models offer subtle acceleration, like a scream in a pillow. Classic Hi-Po Mustangs yield a scream, mouth open. There's nothing soft about this experience. Rich heads south on Topanga Canyon, throttle open, shifter thrusting, tires scrubbing, anticipating plenty of fun ahead. It takes someone with special driving talents to pilot an old Mustang through a canyon. While late-model Mustangs are quite forgiving, a vintage Mustang is anything but. Downshift, cut the apex, avoid the Volvo coming the other way, get on the gas, let the 289 roar--keep the painted pony on course. Driving a classic Mustang down a canyon road at speed means never taking your mind off the road.

Rich gets help from special handling improvements. The upper control arms were lowered 1 inch to improve negative camber, and the body was lowered 1-2 inches to improve the center of gravity. A heavy-duty sway bar and springs, styled-steel wheels wrapped in 215-R60 x 14 Eagles, and four-piston Kelsey-Hayes disc brakes up front haul down the action. It's all about effective braking and handling.

Inside, it's all about comfort. Rich enjoys the Mustang's Interior Decor Group for '65-'66, more commonly known as the "Pony Interior." The shifter protrudes through a long console clad in rich woodgrain, tying it in with the five-dial instrument panel and glove compartment door. The deluxe steering wheel offers fingertip control, though we recommend keeping hands at 10 and 2 for this type of driving. Rich masters the ruggedness of Topanga Canyon Road, letting the Hi-Po engine unwind as he transcends the gears. For Rich, driving an elder statesman like the '65 Mustang GT is unlike anything else in the world. It's like doing time with an old pal you've known forever.