One of the car scene’s most popular brands is Ford, the reputation of which Iain Robertson suggests has only altered mildly over the years, despite rumours to the contrary, and its latest version of the Mustang promises visceral thrills and a new Dark Horse variant.
In the UK we can pretend that we know all about sporting car production, because our country has been the hot bed of development for several carmakers over the years but our contribution to the greatest American automotive success story, the Ford GT40, apart from rough and ready English racing driver, Ken Miles, was largely due to Carroll Shelby, a wild Texan renowned for his Stetsons and cowboy boots. The additional big car story emanating from that other side of the Atlantic was surely the development of the ‘pony car’, epitomised by the Ford Mustang.
In fact, so fruitful was the category that Ford’s key rivals, GM and Chrysler (as was) could not resist joining-in with their own ‘Coke bottle’ profiles, in the process growing the sporting coupe and convertible phenomenon and fuelling its tyre shredding and gas-guzzling attributes…and, yes, Shelby lent his name to one of the more outrageous variants of the breed, while ‘Smokey & The Bandit’ aided the fortunes of GM’s Pontiac and ‘Zabriski Point’ performed similarly for Chrysler’s Dodge. In all cases, US motor racing gained from a raft of new models in the late-1960s to supplement the aura.
Yet, despite Ford’s confidence, arising from the success of Henry Ford’s productionising techniques, it is a carmaker familiar with addressing failure. Its well-documented Edsel programme highlighted that pride often comes before a fall but, having failed to acquire Ferrari, when it wanted to win at sportscar racing, its Shelby-inspired GT40 efforts proved that, when it gets things right, it can do it better than anybody. Just reflect on Ford’s sales successes in the UK, which really took off with the 1962 Cortina but were perpetuated by both Escort/Focus and a series of Fiestas, the latter only recently coming under competitive fire from the Vauxhall Corsa, after several years of trying.
California’s ‘smog’ laws emasculated the Mustang during the late-1970s, at which time its styling went from Marlboro Man to Prissy Showgirl, with barely a bat of the eyelids, while even the former V8 punch was softened to 4-cylinder flaccidity. It was only the masterly reintroduction of the Mustang shape and multi-cam/multi-valve 5.0-litre V8 in the 2005 5th Generation that appealed to the retrospective side of the market. Without a hint of irony, both GM and Chrysler also relaunched their retro alternatives and the pony car scene was returned, stronger, more dynamic and faster than before.
Needless to state, modern production and engineering techniques lay behind the revisited successes and Ford has been able to boast that its Mustang is not only a best-seller worldwide once again but that it has a secure place in its product line-up, even though the Brazilian-built and largely unwanted Mustang Mach-E in all-electric SUV form is creating an inconsequential noise in the EV sector. The comprehensively revised and authentic Mark 7 model range dines off a bounteous table.
Yet, with Mustang, Ford appears to be turning its back on the ‘cleaner and greener’ scene, even though its $50bn investment in EVs might suggest otherwise. After all, the Mustang is all about brawn and time-honoured gutsy performance, which the new model has in abundance. As before, both grunty 2.3-litre turbo-four and bellowing 5.0-litre V8 petrol engines develop up to 295 and 455bhp respectively, which is good enough for brisk 0-60mph times of 5.5 and 4.4s and top speeds of 145 and a limited 155mph. However, enhanced efficiency means that over 32 and 25mpg are now in prospect, while emitting 190 and 255g/km CO2, driving through a Tremec 10-speed fully automatic transmission, with minor upwards variance in the figures for the 6-speed manual alternative.
However, the surprise in the Mustang’s ranks is the Dark Horse version, which (like our RS) provides a suitable foundation for a future heavyweight push into motorsport. Aiding the V8 model’s purpose-built appeal is a round of engineering enhancements, from bigger, more efficacious and blue callipered Brembo brakes, heavy-duty springs and dampers, to improved cooling, more efficient aerodynamics and a bespoke leather interior, complete with B&O hi-fi. It benefits from the driver configurable digital cockpit of lesser models but with extra features that include a drift-brake function. The additional power hike and tuning potential of the power unit will be appreciated, when Ford enters NASCAR and the NHRA GT racing calendar next season.
Conclusion: The much-loved Mustang will land on our shores early next year, toting a price tag of around £55,000 for the coupe V8 model (factor in an additional £4,000 for the convertible and £25,000 extra for the Dark Horse variant). Ford may possess a mixed bag of Mustang history but it is positing most of the duff stuff into distant memory, as best it can.