Text: Tito F. Hermoso / Photos: Brent Co, Ford Press | posted February 15, 2016 20:08
Daring to tinker with an established icon
Faithful to its origins?
Pedigree. Either you have it or you don't. Pay lip service to it at your peril. In the fiercely competitive world of automobiles, pedigree counts. If a car maker has none they will need to invent it, purchase it or, like Tesla “boldly go where no one has gone before”. But how do you reconcile moving the goal posts and raising the bar in order to satisfy conflicting goals like staying ahead of the competition, keeping loyal customers loyal and keeping ever vigilant Big Brother government content? At what point does a car maker decide to ditch its time honored brand values in order to keep up with advancing technology and changes in customer preferences? Major manufacturers preach the same gospel, of corporate responsibility, customer satisfaction, growing customer loyalty and consistent brand values. Still, the best way to measure their sincerity and their loyalty to their heritage is not from what the PR manifesto says, but from the very product that they offer. INSIDE [OLD] MAN's Icon Inquisition series subjects 6 icons with histories of half a century and beyond, as we divine for your judgement, which are the fence sitters, the faithful and the heretical.
In 2015, Ford did the unthinkable. They dared tamper with its tried and tested, the pedigreed icon, the Mustang, leaving Mustang fans to ask, is today's Mustang still a Mustang? Proud of the green and performance credentials of its EcoBoost engines, it dared shoehorn a four banger into the long prow of the Mustang. We all know about the future threatened by carbon emissions and that no one is exempt from enhancing his environmental “green” foot print, but does it have to come to this? Without a V8, will a Mustang still be a Mustang?
First, rest easy, Mustang fans. Today's non-V8 Mustang is powered by Ford's latest and cleanest EcoBoost turbo charged 16V four. The only thing it shares with the '74-'78 Pinto Mustang II four cylinder motor is the 2.3 liter displacement. EcoBoost's 310bhp output can even shame some of the elder V8's.
Scene: A&W, Balibago, Angeles City
The oldest local Mustang fans still remember when A&W Root Beer's location in Balibago, Angeles City was the impromptu car exchange for mint condition Mustangs sold by CAB [Clark Air Base] end-tour-of-duty US servicemen. With six generations, 50 years and counting, Ford's Mustang, surely won't lack for heritage. Publicly acknowledged at inception as a college kid's pose mobile/text book depository, it's long hood, short deck and cockpit dash became a lifestyle icon. Like its prairie roaming namesake, the Mustang bred on the “wild” race tracks of America and Saturday night drag strips. Through the years, it has inspired rivals and, with its high power to style ratio, deemed fearful competition to Europe's sophisticated but usually delicate and complicated best. To Mustang fans, the untouchable for any Mustang experience is that waffling sound of V8 Detroit iron powering rapid torque rich acceleration, raising that prow of a hood.
The Falcon cometh
Historically, the most popular version of the the first 1964 ½ Mustang was not the 289 or 260 cubic inch V8's but the variant powered by the 170 cubic inch OHV straight six, straight from the Mustang's platform donor the garden variety Falcon. The image of standing start smoking tire burns was definitely the V8's in drag [drag as in racing not cross dressing]. However the common vignette of wrist draped at 12 o'clock on the steering wheel while on boulevard cruise mode was universal for all Mustangs.
Oil Crisis and the Boss 302
The 1973 oil crisis threatened the survival of Michigan's Mustang V8 muscle car/pony car category as Toyota's Celica and Ford's own Euro import Mercury Capri became popular. So Ford, in 1974, came up with the downsized Mustang II, powered by a 2.3 liter SOHC four from its Pinto mainstream compact. With the easing of gas station queues in 1976, Mustang fans clamored and got the V8 back into the Mustang. But it wasn't the Boss 302 that powered the corpulent Mustang of 1971. What the Mustang II got was the 4.9 liter Windsor V8, which may have improved 0-60MPH times but not much else. More on this later.
Mustang and Mustang lite
Whether fastback, coupe or convertible, the Mustang's DNA string of 6 generations and counting is alive and well. On the outside, the 2015's pulled back headlights, stylized trapezoidal grille, hood vents and three bar tail lights is classic Mustang, even if there's a bit more slant and rake, more rounded corners in the fore and aft valence panels for aerodynamic effects. Opt for the classic Dearborn 5.0 L V8 and you will still get that rippling canvas exhaust note of 435hp of American muscle. For “basic” and rental car motoring, the US market proffers the 300bhp 3.7 L V-6, which isn't, by any account, a “diluted” Mustang-lite experience. The 310hp EcoBoost four is swathed in largish plastic mouldings, making it look like it fits under the hood as snugly as the classic V8.
Fans say that the greatest service that Mustang's heritage bequeathed today's car lovers is that it repelled attempts to transform the Mustang to conform to the styling of the herd. Hence you will never see a Mustang sport organically styled tail lamps. Nor dashboards that look like smart phones. Nor controls that mimic a Playstation console with joysticks that work best on Warcraft. The 2015's dash still looks like the dual cowl cockpit of the original Mustang. True, modern electronics are at play in the Mustang – making the drive entertaining, comfortable, economical and/or brutal at the drop of a ten-gallon hat - but they are not upfront and personal.
Bye rigid axle
Spec wise and seat of the pants performance wise, the latest 2015 Mustang can now battle with the best that Europe and Japan can offer. Ford has rehashed the Mustang with as much alloy, electronics and sophisticated suspension independence like its world class rivals. Even as Mustang's domestic muscle car/pony car rivals from Chevrolet and Dodge have upped the ante we feel that being an icon, we'd like to compare it with the car that it has just trumped; the impressive 5th generation Mustang, the last rear wheel drive Mustang with the classic solid rear axle.
Good but not good enough
What is impressive about the previous gen Mustang was that it was able to tame the axle hop and jerkiness inherent in such a vintage rear drive app. Though it could never drive, handle and ride as well as a well sorted out de Dion rear end or any kind of IRS [Independent rear suspension] it was light years far improved from all the Mustangs we tasted in the past. Still, it wasn't 100% foolproof in all “high performance” scenarios and over poorly maintained road surfaces.
Fans of the original '65, will miss the loping, floating and seemingly detached ride. The original tended to last long and driving a '65 model today exhibited some minor twittering rattles – typical of pre-unibody ladder frame construction – along with time worn polished wet look vinyl with hairline cracks in the corners. With bus like steering ratio, Mustang I cornering was forgettable; better at fair weather straight line drags and sunset strip boulevard cruises.
Spin on a dime
The '71-'73 got bigger and heavier in all respects, earning the Boss 302 cubic inch V8, which barely made the car a bit faster in a drag strip. Handling went from bad to worse and so did fuel consumption. The downsized 2nd generation '74-'78 Pinto based Mustang II Ghia hatchback with a 4.9 liter Windsor V8 in the '76 model year, was a respite from the wheezing Pinto four, but despite its smaller dimensions, its long overhang weight distribution still made it dive, flop and grate on freeway joints. Though it had wide rubber, springing was so soggy that unintentional 180 degree U-turns on hard braking were not unusual. Things got a bit better handling wise by the time the Mustang 3 was based on the '79-'86 Fox-Fairmont platform, but it was still no handling match for even basic European or Japanese touring cars. Mustang fans had to get used to a new ride sensation; sharp shocks on transverse pavement joints due to stiff anti-roll bars and low profile tires as handling priorities sacrificed pliancy for less lean-into-the-door-handles cornering.
The Mustang discovers handling
The '94-'04 4th generation was beginning to show some seriousness in giving the Mustang a more world class handling feel, even as Ford considered turning the Mustang over to a front wheel drive platform. The Ford Probe took on the FWD bullet and saved the day for the future of the RWD Mustang. Until the 6th generation of 2015, it was really the 2005-2015 5th generation Mustang, particularly the 2012 model, that honed the less than ideal tactility of the Mustang's steering and handling recipe.
Obsession paved the way
If getting to world class handling seemed like a 30 year gestation period, the leap into the 6th generation was essentially a momentous engineering makeover on what is already an optimized generation 5 platform. Perhaps the last time when Ford was as obsessed with world class perfection, was when Henry Ford decreed the creation of the GT-40 which decimated a conceited Ferrari at Le Mans in the 70s. By the Mustang's own hereditary provenance, the acoustic insulation, deep spring travel ride absorbency and handling alacrity of the 2015, immensely better in all ways, is a phenomenal evolutionary achievement. Refinement reached such new heights, that Ford engineers had to enhance and differentiate the acoustic character of the whichever engine powers the Mustang through the car's Shaker sound system.
All the matte/low gloss surfaces abutting the engine turned jeweled fascia of the latest Mustang contrasts sharply with the taste for shiny painted metal, fluted chrome and wet look vinyl 50 years ago. Still, mouldings in polished chrome on the lovely nostalgic toggles and bezels of instruments add a touch class. The large video screen also provide parking back up live view. The T-bar shift lever had morphed into spherical ball. Today's seat upholstery seat fluting, a styling accent, has turned functional, done nowadays by RECARO, a brand unheard of in Dearborn 50 years ago. The condensed font radially arranged numerals of the speedo are respectful reference to the past, but at least there was no return to the rectangular speedo of yore. Happily, Ford was able to squeeze more space in the current Mustang's 2+2 cockpit by cutting the imposing cliff like dash and reformatting the console to be a bit narrower than a carrier flight deck.
Abracadabra, no automated drive, yet
As a generational cultural icon, the original baby boomer trinket has lots of stuff to endear it to the millenials and generation X. Hot rod tuners, Sunday circuit drivers and Saturday night dragsters are catered to as an already fully optioned Mustang can go any which way with electronic media connectivity [Sync 3], suspension [MagneRide damper option] and safety [adaptive cruise control, forward collision warning, Brembo's, lane alert].
Measuring up to Europe
Still the appeal is all out comprehensive out of the box. It's got the skill and the tools to intimidate the best that Europe and Japan can offer. Drive wise, compared to say a BMW M4 , the American will feel a bit looser of limb and, of course, a little heavier. Still. today's rear wheel drive rapid touring sports coupes - Jaguar F-types, Merc SL, Aston-Martin's, Porsche's and BMW's - will have their work cut out when they see this quinquagenarian's familiar face in the rear view mirror. Aston Martin's '63 model 007 special DB5 from Bond 3 “Goldfinger” will have to work harder to catch up and drive astride a 2015 Mustang in order to deploy its axial “bad guy” tire shredder.
Ford has made a world class touring car of the Mustang, without erasing, embalming or smothering what made the Mustang style stand out and keep on galloping. Whether its a wide open horizon straight or a bumpy twisting track of a hill climb. As for the EcoBoost version? Its suspension is tuned to ride like an M3, making it Ford's direct challenger to the European market mainstays. It may not have the hewn-from-rock solid feel of the M3, but it can tail it cornering as if on rails. So it doesn't have the V8's signature warbling, but that's about the only thing that any oldie Mustang fan will miss in the latest one. Now this makes the V8 version quite a bargain; for a little bit more, you get 120 more hp and that rippling canvas exhaust sound that purists expect from a genuine muscle car. Take note tire smoker fans. Only in the V8 can you order “line lock”, an option that locks only the front wheels to help you get those rear tires billowing smoke for a classic burnout, for better traction at the pre-start drag, without voiding the warranty.
Next INSIDE MAN Icon Inquisition: Case no. 2 [out of 6 icons up for inquisition]- VW Beetle