I'M THINKIN' Ray Charles, Marvin Gaye and Smokey Robinson. Jerry Butler and Jackie Wilson, too. Shiftin' and rockin' to the rhythms of a time when parties meant dancin' and romancin'. No pinstripes, no business cards. I'm thinkin' good times.

I'm in a Mustang state of mind.

The 1987 Mustang GT: I've got it in fourth and it feels good there. I'm goin' down I-66, getting a little deeper into Virginia, and the tachometer is barely hitting 2,200 rpm.

I don't believe this. I check the speedo- ometer and, yeah, the car is moving, all right. But its big 5-liter V-8 ain't even huffin'.

Real cool performer.

Reminds me of schooltime friends -- Lil' Man, Anna, Russell and Peggy -- doing their thing on a New Orleans dance floor. They moved with such speed and grace, they were so pretty on their feet, hey, even if you didn't know how to dance, they made you want to get out there.

The folks who rolled out the first Mustang in the 1965 model year must've had my chums in mind. And the people who did the 1987 model must've known about them, too.

You don't buy this car because you need some wheels. You buy it to boogie.

Complaints: The test car's five-speed Borg-Warner transmission was a bit grumblesome, particularly in reverse. But it was partly my fault. This one shifts in short strokes, I was going for the long throws; it was a matter of getting acquainted. Once done, things worked out fine.

Ah, the rear seats in this four-seater are best suited for leprechauns.

Praise: Kudos to Ford Motor Co. for sticking its big-muscled V-8 in this little car. And another round of applause for all of the neat things the company did to beef up the suspension to handle that power without skidding, sliding and shaking all over the place. The car moves with passionate agility.

The 5-liter Mustang GT effectively replaces the SVO Mustang, which had a nice 2.3-liter, four-cylinder, turbocharged engine. The SVO was sophisticated but not terribly sexy, which is probably why it sold poorly.

By comparison, the Mustang GT is back to basics. Maxi-power in only 2,782 pounds. Super zoom, 225 horsepower at 4,000 rpm. Real nostalgic, street-runner stuff.

I know it's silly and immature and probably dumb, but this crazy compact hustler holds a special place in my heart.

Head-turning quotient: Controversial enough to start arguments. With all of its ground-effects cladding and air scoops here and there, the Mustang GT can be considered a standout or a sore thumb. I vote with the sore-thumb crowd with this exception: The Mustang GT's restyled interior is attractive, functional, and generally well-done.

Sound system: Yo! Party time! AM/FM stereo radio and cassette with seven-band graphic equalizer and six speakers. Ford-made. Buckle up and get down!

Mileage: Choke. About 20 to the gallon (15.4-gallon tank, 300-mile range), mostly highway, with windows open. The engine drank with gusto and air drag didn't help.

Price: $14,357 as tested, including $1,877 in options and $374 destination charge. Base price on test model, Mustang GT two-door hatchback, is $12,106. Base dealer invoice price is $10,856.18.

Warren Brown covers the auto industry for The Washington Post.