Tuesday, May 6, 2014
I Am Legend: The Ford Mustang at 50
Across the exhibition hall a kid runs towards a beige 1964 Ford Mustang on display The Henry Ford Museum in Dearborn, Michigan. The kid is barely nine years old, and his knowledge of cars hasn’t reached the level where he’d care about mileage, drivability, or comfort. Yet, there he is, mesmerized by the Mustang—his wide smile, a definite sign of someone who’s found his first and true love. Alongside the kid, Japanese tourists pose for a quick snapshot beside America’s beloved pony car.
Funny, I thought. The kid is 40 years too young, and the Japanese too foreign, yet they’re both experiencing “Mustang-mania”—the phenomenon that swept America in the 1960’s. Still, here they are—people from all walks of life, admiring what is arguably the quintessential symbol of American style and flair, and representative of everything that Ford stands for.
The 1960’s was a decade of change—a time when the economy was good and originality reigned supreme. It was an era that saw Martin Luther King, Jr. along with The Beatles, Andy Warhol, and the miniskirt. It was the perfect setting for Ford to unveil a vehicle that showed something exciting—a response to the flood of dull family sedans that crowded the market at the time. Ford’s answer was the Mustang Concept in 1962.
Though no one really knows where the “Mustang” name came about, the original concept was a mid-engine, rear-wheel drive sports car that had a removal roof panel. As much as it looked great, the low-slung, two-seater layout proved to be difficult to both manufacture and sell. In search for more practical solutions, Ford looked towards Budd, a company that supplied body stamping equipment to car manufacturers and its XR400 Concept. Ford saw potential of the long-hooded, short-decked GT with a 2+2 layout. Using an existing platform, Ford moved to bring the Mustang from concept to production in two years debuting on April 17, 1964.
The relatively low engineering cost was a big plus to Ford’s bottom line. However, it was the sheer number of available accessories that enticed people to buy it. Everything from the engine (ranging from a 101-horsepower inline-6 to a 271-horsepower V8) to the interior color and even the radio and shifter location could be changed. The introduction of dealer options coupled with the competitive sticker price at the time (US$ 2,400) made it the most successful selling new car ever—selling 418,512 cars by its first year. Twelve months after that, the Mustang hit the one million mark.
The pony car’s success wasn’t just limited to dealerships. It was a favorite among celebrities with more than 500 movie appearances, the most classic of which was in the police drama, Bullitt starring American rebel Steve McQueen and his Mustang GT 390. The Mustang was also honored with the Tiffany Award for American Design—the only car to be bestowed with the honor.
The Ford Mustang’s long and illustrious lineage along with its formula of blending together a relatively simple yet powerful drivetrain in a distinctively macho body is one of the reasons why getting behind the wheel of one always feels special. It’s always a treat to drive the Ford Mustang and in time for its 50th birthday, a 5.0 V8 Performance Package in Gotta Have It Green arrived for a weekend spin. A perfect way to celebrate the Mustang’s milestone, don’t you think?
The 2014 Mustang’s styling is as loud as its retina-searing paintjob with all the styling elements that ensures a constant stream of Facebook and Instagram posts: the power domed hood (with functional head extractors), 19-inch alloys, the three-bar LED rear lamps, and the ginormous ‘5.0’ badge on the fenders. With the exception of the small letter adorning the ‘GT’ badge on the trunk, there’s no mention of ‘Ford’ anywhere on this car. And yet, it looks unmistakably Mustang, a clear homage to the 1964 original while looking like a wild beast ready to eat roads for breakfast.
By unlocking the car, you’re greeted by the image of the galloping horse logo projected as a puddle lamp. Inside, the Mustang’s interior is a mix of retro and modern with the deeply recessed twin binnacle gauges and large three-spoke steering wheel next to the touch screen center display and Recaro sport seats. A great conversation starter in the Mustang is found in the instrument cluster. Buried in the menus, drivers can customize different colors for both the instrument cluster itself and the ‘halo’ surrounding it. Drivers can choose between one of 7 preset colors and up to 125 different user-configured colors. Aside from this, the Mustang also has Track Apps, a nifty computer that measures things like acceleration times, braking times, and g-forces all outputted through a 4.2-inch LCD screen.
By far though, the number one feature of the 2014 Mustang is the engine. Featuring twin independent variable camshaft timing (Ti-VCT) and four-valves per cylinder, the 5.0-liter V8 engine boasts of 420 horsepower and 529 Nm of torque easily catapulting the Mustang to supercar territory.
Twisty the key of the Mustang and you’ll immediately start to feel its potential. The gutsy V8 comes alive with the unequivocal message that the main entertainment in this car is via the gas pedal. The engine is mated solely to a 6-speed automatic, which may seem somewhat anticlimactic. However, figures say otherwise: 0-100 km/h in 4.6 seconds, 0-200 km/h in 17.3 seconds, and a quarter mile in 12.7 seconds. This makes the Mustang faster than an Aston Martin Vanquish to 100 km/h, a Lamborghini Countach to 200 km/h, and a Porsche 911 4S over a quarter mile.
With both hands on the three-spoke steering wheel, it was time to set out onto the streets of Manila like McQueen. Like the wild beast it’s named after, the Mustang had the tendency to break traction whenever full throttle is applied. Despite the generous 255/40R19 tires, wheel spin will occur whenever you mash on the gas. It’s fun, but thankfully the Mustang’s got traction control to help keep you in a straight line. For a car having such blistering performance, the Mustang GT displays excellent road manners around town. With MacPherson Struts upfront and a three-link live axle at the back, this car’s tuned for spirited everyday driving. It’s a long-distance grand tourer with good balance between ride and handling. Don’t expect it to carve corners as sharply as other sports cars out there, but at least it returns a comfortable ride.
The most entertaining aspect about the Ford Mustang though is the universal admiration the car receives from passersby. Men in particular would crane their necks just to watch it cruise past. Some will even chat you up when you park at a mall or beside your favorite coffee shop.
In my short time with the Ford Mustang 5.0 V8 Performance Package, I could feel the 50 years of history and heritage permeating through each nook and cranny of the car. Just like the kid at The Henry Ford Museum, I’m too young to personally connect, let alone, appreciate the 1964 original. Yet, each time I floor the gas and catch a glimpse of myself reflected off glass buildings, I immediately get it. This is America’s love for design, ingenuity, and speed compressed into a space fitting four wheels. It’s one brash, brawny, and cool vehicle to drive with a legacy that’s definitely legendary. Forget about your body feeling one with the car; this one touches your soul. Indeed, there’s only one true pony car. There’s only one Ford Mustang.