It may have gone through a bit of mangy patch but the mighty Ford Mustang is finally back to its original form, writes The Wheel DealIt is time to come clean about something. I am a closet American. You can scoff all you like, but the fact remains that I have a deep-seated affection for the land of the free, home of the brave. There are many reasons for this, and one of them comes down to music.
Yep, click through my iPod and you will find that the Yanks probably own about 80% of its digital real estate. No surprise really, because all the greatest musical genres known to man (Blues, Soul, Motown, Grunge and Rock ‘n’ Roll) were invented by Uncle Sam. Second on the list? Women.
For unlike their frigid South African cousins, American girls actually acknowledge my existence. In fact, during a lazy afternoon trawl through a nondescript Detroit shopping mall, I fielded more advances than I knew what to do with.
Perhaps it has something to do with my accent, but them lovely Michigan maidens made me feel like a cross between Don Juan and the Pied Piper of Hamelin. Let’s just say that since that day, I have fantasised long and hard about winning the Green Card lottery.
Of course there are plenty of other things fuelling this giant love affair with the Stars and Stripes – Dr Pepper, Danica Patrick, the Bonneville Salt Flats, Hooters – but the most volatile, the catalyst of my obsession, has to be this great nation’s automobiles. And although many stand out, the one that melts my skull into a bubbling vessel of goo is the Ford Mustang.
Most people fall in love with this mythical muscle car while watching that ridiculous modern remake of Gone in 60 Seconds – the one in which a pouting blonde Angelina Jolie rides around LA with an unnecessarily angst-ridden Nicolas Cage.
Fortunately my introduction to Ford’s four-wheeled icon took a far more cultured slant. Indeed, my interests were first piqued when I sat down to watch as Steve McQueen steered a GT390 around the tight, vertiginous streets of San Francisco in the 1968 movie Bullitt. The star of post-war cinema’s seminal car-chase scene, I’d never seen a car so sleek or so cool.
That’s because – I would discover later – it was born in an era in which the automobile was still considered art. Unlike today, where most cars are faceless appliances built to self-destruct after their motor plans expire, the Mustang was designed to make a lasting impression. It was compact, sporty, macho and blessed with lines that drove a generation of hip young cats into a frenzy most wild. It was a purveyor of teenage kicks.
As youthful as a Wurlitzer jukebox blasting out some Fender-riffed anthem of sex and rebellion, the Mustang’s suggestive topology spoke the right language. An aggressive grille snapped back to a long, flat bonnet. That simple, crimped shoulder line made it look fast, even when standing still. And in Fastback form it had a chrome-capped silhouette that could – and still can – rival anything coming out of Modena, Stuttgart or Coventry.
Best of all, it offered choice. In an era of nonconformity – where people raged against the proverbial machine – you could tweak your Ford Mustang to suit your personal tastes. From a choice of six colour-coded vinyl interiors to a Cruise-o-Matic gearbox, there was an almost endless bucket of options that spoke to the rebel within. Hell, you could even spec the “Rally-Pac” that added luxuries such as a rev counter, for some extra bragging rights.
All this turned the Mustang into a smash hit. A steely extension of the young American ego, 22000 of these Detroit ponies were ordered on the day it debuted back in 1964. Two years after the fact, Ford had sold nearly 1.5-million units to motoring fans.
But success on the sales chart only tells half the story. No, what really gave this machine serious kudos amongst battle-hardened petrolheads was the way it kicked butt out on the racetrack. Away from those drive-in movie theatres and neon-lined boulevards that so epitomised the Friday night cruise culture, the Mustang could be found blowing the doors off its rivals from Chrysler and GM.
Quickly becoming something of a demigod within drag-racing circles, Texan Carroll Shelby made it a winner around conventional road circuits too, thanks to his GT350 special edition – a bare-bones rocket born to chase the checkers.
A sweet story torn from the great American Dream, it all came crashing down when the world oil crisis hit in the early 1970s. Almost overnight, muscle became a dirty word and, in an attempt to win over cash-conscious buyers, Ford ripped the nuts from their all-conquering stallion.
Now small and generally underpowered, the Mustang was no longer a delicious slice of Americana celebrated by the likes of Wilson Pickett and Chuck Berry. Instead it had morphed into an emasculated economy box void of brawn and identity.
Something of a fallen hero, a shadow of its former self, the Mustang somehow managed to soldier on in the background over the next couple of decades. And although it made a brief return to form in the 1990s, thanks to a horsepower injection, a general lack of flair and stylistic appeal meant it never captured public imagination quite like the 1960s original.
Well, until now, that is. Following a redesign in 2005, Ford’s horse has galloped back to greatness. Shedding the mundane sheet-metal skin with which it was so wrongfully saddled for so many years, this fifth-generation model is a proper homage to one of the most iconic cars to roll out of Motown.
Not only does the new Mustang look the part – that chunky body cut with the right amount of retro – it performs like the devil’s hot-rod possessed. Take it from me – somebody who races a 1965 Fastback on a regular basis – Mustang version 5.0 is every bit as awesome. Granted, it may have a few added luxuries worked into the final mix, such as a Kicker sound system and some Bluetooth connectivity, but behind that light, luxury veneer lurks a proper, blue-collar sports car.
The automotive equivalent of a Saturday night brawler fortified by lots of steak and beer, this is a machine that is always on the lookout for fisticuffs: a snarling, rubber-burning showdown on a midnight street.
It is, admittedly, still a rather crude slab of iron when lined up against something European. In the same way that Bruce Springsteen and his E Street Band cannot match the intellectual complexities of Bach, Wagner and Mozart, Ford’s Mustang will probably never come close to eclipsing the amount of F1-derived technology grafted into something like a BMW M3.
For many, this is a sin unacceptable. But for people like me, who have aspirations of owning land in Colorado and a Nascar season ticket, it’s part of what makes the Mustang great.
In the complex realms of modern society, it remains an unsophisticated monument to everything that made the original muscle car recipe tastier than a supersized portion of Daytona Beach chicken wings: burnouts; impromptu drag races; an antisocial V8 engine; extroverted styling cues designed to cause pedestrian whiplash.
Love it or hate it, the larger-than-life Mustang is just another reason why the US is still the best damn country in the world. Well, through my eyes, anyway.
[PICTURE CREDIT: Halden Krog]
Wilson Pickett’s “Mustang Sally” was a Top 10 hit in 1966, written and first recorded by R&B great Sir Mack Rice in 1965. The song’s title was “Mustang Mama” until Rice played it for Aretha Franklin, who suggested “Mustang Sally.” On Rockaeology at http://bit.ly/gMVk6t Rice says that Pickett, a last-minute replacement for Clyde McPhatter, covered the song after hearing Rice sing it at the Apollo theater.