I recently drove the new-ish 5.0 V8 Mustang GT. Rather unsurprisingly, it is not a sophisticated and nuanced sports car. It felt more like a brute instrument, and I mean that in the best possible sense.
dark green in a nod to McQueen’s Bullitt Mustang
Serious horsepower and torque coupled with relatively soft suspension provides for a lot of drama. Step on the gas and the rear suspension squats, pushing the long hood even higher into your field of view while the engine’s wave of torque pins you back. Heavy braking does just the opposite, with the car pitching forward giving you a better view of the immediate pavement. Commit to a turn at decent speed and the car leans hard on its outside wheels. There’s a real sense of speed and momentum that makes the Mustang a genuinely exciting drive.
A shameless part of me really wants a muscle car because it’s just so much fun. For driving on the street, I’m betting the base Mustang GT is more fun that the hardcore GT350R model with its screaming 526hp flat plane V8 and ridiculously wide (305/315 front/rear) carbon fiber wheels. The reason being that you can’t push the GT350R to its limit often in the real world. It’s more fun to drive a slow car fast than a fast car slow.
This notion of the entry level car in the ranks often being the most fun extends to a surprising number of cars. McLaren’s newest model, the 570S, is getting a lot of love. McLaren intentionally focused on driving enjoyment, leaving the lap record to the more expensive and less renown 650S. BMW’s 1M was more highly regarded than the corresponding generation of M3, and the upcoming M2’s seems poised to continue the trend. How about Porsche? The GT4 has too much grip and is effectively geared for top speed runs on the autobahn, leaving the base Cayman (not Cayman S) as the real driver’s car.
So if money was no object, do people have the self control to spend less and get the more fun but more basic cars? Probably not. Sports cars are about the theater, and it takes many forms. Is the GT350R’s fancy kit really necessary for a road car? Not even close but the appeal of a car is as much in the story behind it as anything else.
It’s been more than five years since American automakers received government bailouts or generous lines of credit, and we are finally seeing the fruits of the restructuring that took places as these companies were forces to refocus after decades of running aimless. Ford is on a roll and in the midst of a wild turnaround. They went from inconsistent and totally unique cars for each market to a strong consolidated global lineup.
I wrote a while back that the Mustang brand was better off dead. I stand corrected with the launch of the GT350R. With a high revving flat-plane V8, carbon fiber wheels and a stripped interior, the Mustang seems to suddenly have more in common with sports enthusiasts than anything besides a Porsche Cayman or Z/28 for the money. A Mustang that’s more of a sports car than an M4? It’s incredible what a few choice upgrades can do to the perceived value of something.
quintessential halo car
Possibly the biggest sign of the turnaround is debut of the Ford GT concept, which serves to garner hype for the production car that is set to arrive next year. The original Ford GT40 was possibly the biggest home run in motorsport history. Enzo Ferrari backed out last minute in the sale of his company to Ford. Henry Ford was furious and exacted revenge by building the Ford GT40 which beat Ferrari along with everyone else at the 24 hours of Le Mans from 1966 through 1968. While Corvette and Viper struggle with brand perception, the Ford GT name has possibly more cache than Ford knows what to do with. No one seems concerned about paying $200k for a Ford GT. Hopefully, the upcoming Ford GT lives up to expectations.
While Chryster and GM have each launched some interesting products recently, I’m less than convinced in their entire product line. Do I like the 707hp Charger Hellcat? Yes but it doesn’t make the Chrysler 200 anymore appealing. GM wants Cadillac to be viewed on par with the German brands but that’s a tall order. They’d probably have better luck starting fresh with a new brand. Their V performance lineup looks promising, but they have to be massively better than competition to steal customers. Brand perception is a bitch.
At the end of the day, all American brands have squandered so much cache over the decades. America is a high tech powerhouse in many regards but our automotive industry can feel at times like it peaked in the industrial revolution.