Mounting a comeback

It’s hard to fathom the thinking. Detroit, 1964. Ford builds the seminal pony car and calls it Mustang. Before the end of the decade, the Stang is legend, performance icon of the people and youth culture hero. Models like the ’69 Boss 302 and 429 and, of course, the Highland Green ’68 Fastback 390 GT driven by Steve McQueen in the film Bullitt just about close the book on mass-metal muscle with attitude.

But bad news is about to break. It’s called the ’70s, and while the crimes against fashion are uncomfortable – mirrored visually by the Mustang’s fall from sexy beast to basket case – it’s the fuel crisis that hurts most. Rather than hit the pause button and resume Mustang action when burning rubber returns to the curriculum, in the meantime lashing together a faux street fighter with a different name for people who want to pretend, Ford elects to go down the the faux street fighter route anyway. And calls it Mustang.

Seldom, if ever, has greatness so cynically been bled dry. With a kerbweight of well over 1300kg and an engine that got nervous in the presence of rapidly cooling rice pudding, the 1972 Mach 1 was an insult to everything the Mustang stood for. By 1974 it wasn’t just the sting that had deserted the Stang. It looked like dog food and its pitiful 88bhp delivered tragic acceleration – a catastrophic collapse of credibility in the car once called Boss and a miserable nadir for a brand with fan clubs on five continents and appearances in over 300 movies.

But as those enduring fan clubs are witness to, the public’s love affair with the iconic ’60s Mustang never waned. Ford must have known all along that what it had to do to plug in to past glories was to relive them with a degree of conviction not just fans could believe in. It worked brilliantly with the GT40-apeing, Ferrari-stuffing GT, after all. Why not something a little more affordable? The moment of re-engagement came last January when Ford unveiled the Mustang GT concept at the LA show.

No, it wasn’t McQueen’s Shelby GT reincarnated. It wasn’t any Stang in particular, more the basic original formula – front engine (brawny), rear-wheel drive, five-speed stick-shift (auto optional), a tree trunk of a live rear axle – wrapped in a seamless composite of best bits from the ’64-’70 era. Reaction was ecstatic, nostalgia kicked in like only nostalgia can, the Stang was finally back in spirit as well as name.

Read Autocar's review of the 2013 Ford Mustang GT500

And now it’s over here. Ford hasn’t committed to officially importing the Mustang (yet), but with the current weakness of the US dollar versus sterling, independent importers like Europa of Burton-on-Trent can factor in the costs of shipping and homologation and still offer strong value. This black 300bhp 4.6-litre V8 GT Premium with optional five-speed auto, 17-inch machined cast aluminium wheels wearing 235/55ZR17 tyres, anti-theft system, interior upgrade package (different instruments with selectable backlighting, more retro cues, slightly less plasticky), side airbags, interior colour accent package and the ominous-sounding Shaker 1000 1kW 10-speaker hi-fi costs £27,995. Without options, that’s £25,631, undercutting the Vauxhall Monaro V8 by a rather glaring £3000.

So how does it look? Cinematically cool Mustang through and through, despite a fundamental reversal of the early Mustang’s nose-up, tail-down stance. The new car starts low and mean at the front and flares towards a significant eat-my-dust rump, replete with classic Mustang medallion glinting conspicuously between the crimson slabs of tail light. Other retro flourishes include the clear plastic headlight covers and the big driving lamps set into the grille. Even Rick Moranis would look hard driving this car.

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Inside, the retro theming is equally evocative. The butchly squared-off, double-cowl dash immediately suggests the right stuff while the chunky three-spoke wheel, chrome bezels circling the larger gauges and pseudo-aluminium upper-dash trim massage that persistent Bullitt fantasy. Seems Ford vice-president of design J Mays’ wish came true. An authentic Mustang is what he wanted at the start of the project and an authentic Mustang is what has emerged – all the more remarkable for being such a pure interpretation, devoid of gratuitous scoops, slats and ducts.

Underneath is Ford’s DEW98 platform, shared to a degree with the Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-type and Ford Thunderbird. At 2770cm, the wheelbase is 152mm longer than the original Mustang’s. Bumper to bumper it’s only 101mm longer, though, thanks to the shorter overhangs. Unsurprisingly, the new platform is considerably stiffer, too. The live axle is a revision of the old Mustang’s four-link rear, located now by two lower trailing links, a single upper link and a Panhard rod for side-to-side stiffness. At the front, the suspension has low-friction struts braced by L-shaped stamped steel control arms. The aluminium-block 4.6-litre V8 now features the sohc three-valve aluminum cylinder heads and variable-cam-timing mechanism from the new Ford F-150’s 5.4-litre V8. The 300bhp at 6000rpm is supported by 320lb ft of torque at 4500rpm. Ford claims 0-60mph in 5.3sec and a top end of 140mph.

Assisted by an aggressively set-up automatic transmission (smooth, rapid up-shifts, but a sluggish kickdown), the Mustang doesn’t so much accelerate as hurl itself down the road. If the arrival of the V8’s singing voice at about 4000rpm doesn’t get you, the sustained shove will. A likeable motor, this – oodles of torque everywhere, despite the high peak.

That 320lb ft never seems to fade. The car rockets out of tight bends on a breath of throttle; the fusion of big-lunged potency and that responsive auto make driving quickly seem ridiculously easy at times. And if you think a live-axled chassis might spoil the fun, up to a point it doesn’t – Ford has performed something of a minor miracle here. The new Mustang has loads of grip and progressive, transient manners and damping control. Pushing the tail wide with the throttle if you switch the traction control off doesn’t reveal any nasty surprises. The steering is direct and deftly weighted, too, if not exactly bubbling with feedback. As a result, the Stang feels sharp and agile. But, ultimately, the live axle does draw attention to itself, making the ride chronically fidgety and sapping confidence when you really start to push on. The softening of the brake pedal after hard use chimes another alarm.

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Are we worried? Are we hell. The Stang is back. Rejoice.

David Vivian

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pelonche 15 December 2008

Re: Mounting a comeback

What ever the quality of Ford Mustang, in the USA, México and the rest of the American Continente, to drive a Mustang is to Drive a legend, no matteis V8 or V6, is a legend. Congratulations on your magnificent page keep on going with Quality. Jorge Cortés