Just over 47 and half years ago the first Ford Mustang was unveiled to the public. Last night I attended the unveiling of the new 2013-model Shelby GT500 Mustang, by far the high-performance Mustang of the last five decades, in a hip old-school theatre in downtown Los Angeles.
The legendary Carroll Shelby – he of the AC Cobra, now 88 and frail but in fine voice – was there to take the salute.
Even though us Brits are not so well-acquainted with the Mustang myth, this particular model is a car that should make us sit up and take notice. This model’s new 5.8-litre supercharged V8 engine is good for 650bhp. Removal of the speed limiter which is currently fitted to Mustangs, means the new car will hit 200mph. Which must make it the fastest production car with a rear beam axle in history.
Such a massive slug of power has meant a few extra engineering changes (including a carbon-fibre propshaft, uprated clutch and modified six-speed transmission and six-pot Brembo callipers on the front wheels) as well as aerodynamic modifications to nose and front air splitter.
The move has come partly because of the hot domestic competition in the shape of the Chevrolet Camaro, which is now outselling the Mustang, by around 7600 units to 6100 units per month. But it is also driven by the sheer pride within Ford for the Mustang. Many see it as the iconic Ford model and executive chairman Bill Ford (great-grandson of Henry Ford) is rumoured to personally own 40 different Mustangs.
Before I attended to the unveiling of the new Shelby, I spent a busy day driving five different US-market Fords, including three versions of the Mustang, including the Boss 302, the V8-engined GT and a V6, auto-box, convertible. On the winding mountain roads above LA, the GT particularly was a revelation: quick and agile with very accurate steering, impressive engine, great (Brembo) brakes and a very composed chassis and fine ride.
However, thanks to the combination of the no-substitute-for-cubic-inches power delivery and Bullitt-sampled soundtrack, it also has the appeal of a classic.
Even the V6-engined automatic drop-top Mustang was impressively well-sorted and decently rigid.The Mustang is unlikely to make it to Europe, but on the evidence of the current, 2012, cars, its our loss. At $30,000 (£19,000) for the 412bhp V8, we are undoubtedly missing out on a blue collar sub-supercar whose capabilities are a world away from the preconceptions most Europeans might have.