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.
Which brings us to the present. Last year a much-anticipated new Mustang arrived. It has a modern platform that it shares with the Jaguar S-type and Lincoln LS. The live rear axle still exists, as does the old-tech V8 engine, but the stunning new retro looks give it the kind of road presence that causes accidents. It’ll widen more eyes than anything this side of an Italian supercar. With this reincarnation, Ford is trying to remind us of the good old days. And judging by the lack of cheesiness in the details, this Mustang does retro in all the right ways.
It’s instantly recognisable, too. As photographer Mackie is feverishly snapping detail shots, a truck driver is taking an interest. Despite the Mustang being a rarity on our roads, he never asks what it is. He just knows. And he’s excited. Not once did this car get anything approaching a negative response from onlookers. It seems the UK is taking to the Mustang in the same way as America – very enthusiastically.
Ford hasn’t decided whether it will officially bring in the new model, but with a surprising amount of grey imports available it would seem silly for it to miss out on the action. Coupés are going for about £26k; the convertible should be about three grand more. Or you can buy one from a Stateside dealer – where GT Convertibles are selling for $29,995 (£18k) – independently import and SVA it for a few grand more. If you can live with left-hand drive, you’ve got yourself a topless, V8-powered sports car icon for Mini Cooper S Works money.
That’s not bad given the Mustang’s generous specification, which includes CD, air conditioning, dual front airbags and electric windows, mirrors and roof mechanism. And the piece de resistance: 4.6 litres (that’s 281 cubic inches in authentic muscle-car speak) of Detroit’s finest. You can slam the engine for lack of sophistication and a specific output of only 64bhp per litre, which is poor next to a Nissan 350Z Roadster’s 80bhp per litre and downright shameful given a Honda S2000’s 120bhp per litre. But if your first stab of the throttle doesn’t raise a smile, then you ain’t interested in cars. For five minutes I sat backed into the corner of the office car park, the Mustang’s dual chromed pipes facing the brick wall, the roof down. I was revving the beast to 3000rpm just to hear the delicious burble.
And it was addictive. Sitting at a red light? Rev the engine. Ambling down a crowded high street? Let’s hear the engine. Driving by a classroom of students sitting GCSEs? Give it the full can. To anyone out there horribly offended by the reverberating exhaust rip of a candy-apple-red Mustang GT Convertible, I say I was expressing my right to freedom of speech.
But is the Mustang all bark and no bite? Well, it won’t reposition your facial features quite like a Lotus Elise, but its 296bhp will relegate 350Z Roadster or S2000 drivers to the distance. From a standing start, the Mustang hustles to 60mph in only 5.6sec, compared to 6.1 for the Nissan and 6.3 for the Honda. At 100mph the Ford is still in the lead, if only by eight tenths of a second in the case of the 350Z. The awesome straight-line performance is down to two things: torque (all 320lb ft at 4500rpm) and the ability of the 235/55 ZR 17 Pirellis to ‘hook up’, as drag racers would describe it. The soft-compound DC tyres give the Mustang an attachment to Tarmac that previous generations couldn’t even dream of.