I’ve mentioned in the past that even the mighty Ford can make a bad bish of things, with particular reference to the ill-fated Edsel range, which nearly put the company out of business it was so ill conceived. But in the early 60s, Lee Iacocca and his merry men got it really right with the introduction of the Mustang. This, the earliest of the pony cars, caught GM, Mopar, even American Motors* by surprise.
Spiritually its ancestor was the Thunderbird, which for three years struggled unsuccessfully to corner some of Chevrolet’s Corvette market. The ‘Bird went a bit off piste there, being too big and luxurious, and too underpowered. But come the 60s, Ford got it right. The Mustang was a relatively small car you could get the family in, and it was styled to look as if it was doing a million miles an hour in the showroom. I was never too mad about the shape of early versions, when the SportRoof looked better than the coupe, but as time went on the Mustang evolved into a thing of beauty and a joy forever. Check out Steve McQueen’s Mustang in Bullitt. That’s a good looking motor. The slightly later 70s ‘breadvan’ was majestic. Ford just kept things properly Mustang, even down to the very distinctive three bar tail lights.
But where Ford made their money was on the powertrains. Out of the factory, the original Mustang had a rather feeble straight six, so the cars were all a bit ‘show but no go.’ Then things got a bit more serious with some V8 muscle. If you’re not a Yank, you may not get the idea of displacements being measured in cubic inches, but to convert to Euro, divide by 61 and you’ll end up with litres.
There was a 242 cid V8. This was followed rapidly by a 289 (TVR managed to shoehorn this into the early Tuscan.) Bullitt’s Mustang was a 350 GT. There was a moment of downsizing and a new bodyshell in the late 60s, with the Boss 302 introduced to allow the Mustang to meet Trans Am race series homologation rules. Things really went to 11 after then. There was a 351 Boss. A 390 shared with the Mustang’s Mercury sister, the Cougar. A 427 Mach 1. A 428 (if you lifted one of these from a Gran Torino you got an OHC motor with an 18 foot long timing chain), a 429 with the name of the CobraJet. If you really felt the need for speed, Ford Performance Division would cheerfully supply you with a turnkey 460 based on a truck block that screwed down nice and neatly under your bonnet. They still will as it happens.
To start with, things weren’t very sophisticated by European standards. Drum brakes (FFS) with no power assist, power steering was only an option, no staggered rear dampers to give some degree of control over the axletramp from the live rearend (leafsprings? Gimme a break), but what you did get was real balls on the floor, pedal to the metal fun and games. You were your local tyre dealer’s favourite customer. We’re talking tarmac ripping ability here. That was the name of the game.
And now what have Ford done? Released an SUV called the Mustang Mach E, in a shoddy reference to the Mach 1. It’s electric. A battery powered SUV, masquerading under the Mustang name.
Mustangs aren’t SUVs, and they aren’t slotcars. They’re macho coupes that shred tyres and go like stink till you get to a corner where you fall off into the boonies, and make a lot of noise. There is a couple of late model 5.0 GTs around here, and the only thing that makes more noise is one of those madarse Ferrari-engined Alfa Romeo Giulias. The Mustang has always been about swagger, bluster, annoying the local Noise Abatement Society, smoking tyres, and a fair amount of danger.
Can you imagine Steve McQueen driving an electric SUV in pursuit of a Dodge Charger 440 round the streets of San Franciso? No, I can’t either.
I feel another Edsel moment coming on here.
*They did a good job of catchup when their Javelin, against the odds, was piloted to Trans Am success by Mark Donohoe. Nobody saw that coming.