Car of the Week: 1965 Ford Mustang

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Story and photos by Brian Earnest

Roughly 550,000 new car buyers were smitten enough with the 1965 Mustangs to plunk down their cash and credit cards when the cars hit showrooms for the first full season. Untold thousands more Americans were probably just as taken with the cars, but weren’t in the market and had to admire the new pony cars from afar.

Ron Trzebiatowski was among those legions of admirers right from the beginning. It was a permanent infatuation that started early and has never left him.

“When they came out in ’64, I would have been 12 years old, and I fell in love with them right from the start,” recalled the resident of Amherst, Wis. “I know I was just a kid, but I cut out every article and advertisement and everything I could find from the newspapers and magazines and I saved them. …  I remember one of the ads had a little coupon you could cut out and send it to get a promotional model, and I did that and got one of those. I’ve always been a Mustang fan. Always.”

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Trzebiatowski owned five Mustangs during his early days as a professional mechanic, but pony cars don’t always make good family cars, and one by one the Mustangs were all sent down the road. “With the family coming and the kids, and we had bought a house and were doing some remodeling, I made the mistake of selling them. Of course, then when I didn’t have one I wished that I did!” he said.

After 11 years without a Mustang, Trzebiatowski decided he wanted a project car to work on and there was no doubt what car it would be. “I wanted an earlier one, a ’65 or ’66. And this time I wanted a convertible, and I spent some time searching and it took a while,” he said. “I always liked the classic style of the early ones. I could have taken a ’66 also. I was set on one of the early ones, and I wanted a convertible with the four-speed.”

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He finally found his target when a 120,000-mile 1965 convertible in decent shape came up for sale in the Milwaukee area. Finding the car, and finding the time and money to restore it, were two different matters, however. “It was a school teacher that had owned it, and he had gone to school in California and taken the car with him, so it had spent 9 or 10 years in California, and because of that it was relatively solid compared to a lot of them I had looked at,” he recalled. “We did a full restoration on it anyway. I know a lot of them I looked at at the time were in pretty rough shape and this one was kind of what I was looking for. It needed some work and yet was good and solid to start with.

“About six months after I bought it, we decided to move back home to Amherst [from the Milwaukee area] and my brother and I decided to start our own business, T&T Automotive. At that point I thought I was going to jump on it and get at it and restore it real quick. I tore it apart in the spring of ’82, but I was starting a business and with all the time it took, and I had a young family, and the finances weren’t always there … and I didn’t get it finished until May of ’90. It took me about eight years to finally get it all done. By that time, my oldest son was starting to have an interest in it and it was like, ‘C’mon Dad, let’s get it done.’ And I had a brother [Gerard] who was a driving force, too. He helped me an awful lot with it.”

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Other than the time involved, Trzebiatowski said he had very little trouble bringing the Vintage Burgundy Mustang back to pristine condition. He rebuilt all the mechanicals and running gear, fixed a few minor rust and bodywork issues, got some re-chroming done, ordered a new interior kit, and had his brother spray the paint. “I’ve been working on cars my whole life, basically, and with this being such a simple car and I’m pretty familiar with them, it went together pretty easily, really,” Trzebiatowski said. “I had to be careful not to nick any paint or anything like that, but the assembly went very well, once I found all the parts.

“I did pull the engine and did a rebuild on that, and the brakes and exhaust. I gave it a pretty good mechanical restoration. There was some rust around the quarter panels and behind the front wheels, so I did put new fenders and quarter panels on it. The floor pans had some very minor rust, so I did not replace the full floor pans. The frame rails and everything underneath was real solid. We re-did the interior. I had bought the upholstery kit and installed that myself, and I had a new top installed. Other than the top, my brother and I did everything ourselves.”

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Having three young boys, Jason, Ryan and Brett, available to help made the restoration even more enjoyable. “Yeah, my boys were a big help, too,” Trzebiatowski said. “They were small at the time, but they were just so happy to come and help on it.

“Later on we used the car in all three of their weddings. Jason, our oldest one, passed away in November. He was a Sgt. 1st Class in the Army. He was really a big influence and a big help, so that kind of makes it more special, too.”

The 1965 model year saw the Mustang family grow to three cars when Ford added the fastback 2+2 body style to the existing coupe and convertible. Among the biggest changes in the existing cars for 1965 was the use of an alternator in the place of a generator.

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The engine menu improved when the 170-cid six-cylinder was replaced by the 200-cid version as the base six. In addition to the six-cylinder, buyers could order up and get a 200-hp, two-barrel 289 V-8; 225-hp four-barrel 289; and hot solid-lifter 271-cid V-8.

Other small tweaks included slightly more spacing between the letters in the lower bodyside nameplates;  chrome-plated door lock button; and optional front disc brakes. Other standard equipment included a heater and defroster; dual sun visors; sports-type front bumpers; full wheel covers; vinyl upholstery; seat belts; padded instrument panel; automatic courtesy lights; cigarette lighter; front and rear carpets; foam-padded front bucket seats; self-adjusting brakes; Sports steering wheel; five 6.50 × 13 four-ply tubeless black sidewall tires; and the 200-cid/120-hp six. The ‘289’ V-8 and 6.95 × 14 size tires were standard in the Mustang V-8 series. The cool new GT package featured racing stripes as a standard, but deletable, feature.

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One of the Mustang’s calling cards — and one of Ford’s favorite selling points — was the long list of options and ability for buyers to customize their car to fit their tastes. In addition to the three V-8 engine choices, which attracted more than 64 percent of the buyers, popular options included front disc brakes, automatic transmission, four-speed manual transmission, power steering, air conditioning, back-up lights, white sidewall tires, windshield washers, power convertible tops and tinted glass.

Trzebiatowski’s car was equipped with the ‘A’ Code four-barrel 289, four-speed and not much else for bells and whistles. “It’s got manual brakes, manual steering and a manual top, and just the AM radio,” he noted. “It’s pretty basic. It had more basic stock wheel covers when I got it, but the ones on it now were a factory option at the time. The Vintage Burgundy color is original, and the white top is the way it came. You see a lot of them with the black tops, but this one had the white and I like it that way. Everything is pretty much as original as I could keep it. When I put the engine together, everything went together stock. I know a lot of people put cams and headers and stuff on them, but I just didn’t care to do that.”

Ron and his wife Ann have added about 12,000 miles to the Mustang’s odometer over the years, driving to nearby shows and taking it on weekend ice cream runs. The car is still treated very gently — “Yeah, I’m careful, and I never leave the car anywhere where I can’t watch it,” Ron admits — but it is definitely not a trailer queen. The couple doesn’t exactly split time 50-50 in the driver’s seat, however. “She did drive it … once!” Ron laughs. “She likes the car a lot, but she has a little trouble with the manual steering and brakes.”

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So far, the Trzebiatowskis have survived the temptation to add any other Mustangs to their stable, other than a 1984 GT-350 20th Anniversary Edition that helps keep the miles down on the ’65. “I had a ’67 390 GT fastback and I kind of wished I would have kept that one,” he chuckled. “That was a nice car, but we were just married and with the house and the kids, it just wasn’t practical.  If I could go back and change things I’d have that one sitting alongside this one!”

After 34 years in the Trzebiatowski clan, the lovely 1965 convertible has begun winning over a third generation of the family. “Now my grandkids have really gotten attached to it, too,” Ron said. “My oldest granddaughter just graduated high school and she wanted to come out and have some pictures taken with the car for her senior pictures … So it’s not going anywhere. It’s definitely going to stay in the family.”

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