BBC Autos

Richard Hammond's icons: the Ford Mustang

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If I actually did anything of any importance whatsoever, I would have to declare a slight conflict of interest or something here.

The Mustang you can see on this page is mine, and I love it more than I love my own hands. There, so with that out in the open, we can carry on.

I'm not alone in my love for the Stang - it was the most successful car launch ever, with 400,000 of them being turned out in the first 18 months after production started in 1964. Ford hit the mark perfectly with an affordable, small, 2+2 sports car, and people queued round the block to buy them quicker than the factory could make them.

Cleverly, they had launched the perfect car not only for young hipsters but also for middle-aged empty nesters looking for a bit of a relief after being stuck with station wagons and big, fat sedans whilst the kids were at home.

It really wasn't a mechanical marvel: this was no ground-breaking Citroen DS-type event. But it's hard to deny that it's bloody pretty to behold. Some cars just look right. It can all be picked out and distilled down to proportions, the golden mean and ultimately, to mathematics, but I'm not the guy to do it.

And anyway, what would be the point? The thing simply looks good and makes me feel a bit warm in the trousers. That is nice, however it is arrived at, mathematically or otherwise.

It is, of course, the easiest thing in the world to join in with the cynical chorus and bemoan the Mustang for being American and therefore rubbish and too thirsty and too big, and if you want to do that, fine, help yourself. The truth, though, is really quite different.

The surprising thing about the little Mustang is that it is just that - little -certainly by the standards of American cars of the time. It's about as big as a mid-sized European saloon and it tells on the road.

I had a Dodge Charger of roughly the same vintage, and it was, quite simply, too bloody big. Country roads were terrifying, and it wouldn't actually fit into the city. The little pony car, though, can scamper about without worry. On the track, it's, well, it's interesting, certainly.

Mine has a limited-slip diff - a lot do now - which kind of helps keep things pointed in the right direction if you get a bit urgent with it. The disc brakes at the front work well enough - just don't go thinking it's a Lotus Exige. And the noise. You either love the sound of a V8, or there's something oddly wrong with you, and the 390-cubic-inch V8 of this particular Stang makes a noise you can actually taste.

It stands to reason that not every example of a 40-something-year-old car will perform in exactly the same way, but the 390 makes 265bhp - at least mine does, now I've finally had the proper-sized carb fitted - which means 0-60 is over in 6.2 seconds and top speed is a smokey-stirring 130mph. But, above all else, it's about kicking back and letting the whole blue-collar, Saturday night, bar stools 'n' jukeboxes experience wash over you. Even the rear-view mirror is in widescreen format and turns the world vanishing behind into a movie.

And it's a movie with a brilliant soundtrack. Interestingly, while there has been a long history of UK buyers sneaking over to the States to buy up Stangs and other vintage Yank cars, that process has been reversed of late.

The US seems to have woken up to its own car heritage recently, and prices of classic American muscle cars have gone stratospheric. As a result, American buyers are coming to the UK and snapping up Stangs to take them back home, where they're worth a fortune.

So, if you've already got one, keep hold of it - they let 'em go, and it's their problem now. And if you're thinking of picking one up in the UK, now is the time to do it.

As a final confession, my car has changed a little since these shots. Not only have I fitted the right carb to restore it to full power, but I have also returned it to its original build colour of Highland Green - same year, model and colour as the Bullitt car. And, no, sorry, America, this one is definitely NOT for sale.