Even now I haven’t adjusted. You’d think that fourteen months on this side of the Atlantic would be enough time for me to feel at home, but the little things still catch me out. Red-amber-green traffic light sequences, roundabouts and – this kills me – motorway lane discipline. What is that? Today I’m relaxed, though, because I’m driving a new Mustang GT Convertible. We want to know if the most American of modern-day muscle cars can cope on the ‘wrong’ side of the road and if its charm and lineage will have British buyers humming the Star-Spangled Banner as they roar along.
The Mustang trades heavily on its history, so we shouldn’t ignore it. In the US, the name instantly evokes images of an era defined by good times and free spirits. But most of us aren’t aware of the car’s tempestuous upbringing. Forty-one years ago, Lee Iacocca’s brainchild hit production and the result was miraculous. In the summer of 1964, Americans salivated over a lean, muscular, pure sports car that was affordable and desirable. Eighteen months later, brand-new Mustangs sat on more than a million driveways. But the 1970s brought an oil crisis, vastly higher fuel prices and safety campaigner Ralph Nader – a man hell-bent on sanitising our four-wheeled obsession to the point of banality. Their efforts stripped the Mustang of its soul, and an oil-spewing, octane-chugging bad-ass muscle car became an overfed, limp-wristed shell of its former self. With every brake horsepower taken from the tally, a small chunk of its spirit burrowed into the sand and refused to emerge until a proper output could be resurrected. Developing only 120bhp from a 5.0-litre V8, it was no longer a car that Americans were proud of – which is precisely why they stopped signing on the dotted line.
Hope returned in the 1980s. The Mustang regained some of its hot-rod roots. It went on a diet, restoring some of its original taut proportions. And a new 5.0-litre pushrod V8 meant burnouts became possible once again. When the more curvaceous and progressively styled SN95 model arrived in 1994, the new Mustang almost achieved the acclaim of the original. But a live rear axle and an interior built on a budget never brought it close to its more expensive (and more technologically advanced) European rivals. A BMW M3 of the same era wouldn’t just walk all over the Mustang, it would stomp it into the dust with impunity.