Mödlareuth, a small village in southeastern Germany surrounded by rolling green hills, was once divided by a heavily fortified border. Today, amid the morning fog and the crumbling remnants of the concrete wall that split this town from 1952 to 1989, sits a new 2015 Ford Mustang GT. This is the starting point for a four-day journey in the sixth edition of the legendary ponycar. We’ll be taking the American, now for sale in Europe, on an 850-mile tour of the divide between the former West and East Germany, a route still pockmarked with reminders of a contemptible era.
On the eastern side of the rift, the scenery is still dominated by untouched nature, endless oak and birch alleys, and CinemaScope landscapes embroidered with quaint, lookalike villages. It’s nothing like western Germany, where everything is more frenzied and much more expensive.
Marienborn was a feared checkpoint where travelers spent hours waiting in line to obtain permission to enter the forbidden part of their own country.
No matter which side of the former demarcation zone you are on, the Mustang is an alien. In a land that lusts after efficient turbodiesels, the Ford, with its naturally aspirated, 435-hp 5.0-liter V-8, is a decadent anachronism that’s as folksy as a copy of Playboy from the mid-’60s.
The list of border protections the former German Democratic Republic set up reads like a compendium of the Greatest Horrors of All Time: 900 underground bunkers, 665 observation towers, 500 miles of trenches, and 996 high-security zones complete with guard dogs. Not to mention minefields, touch-sensitive signal fences, fortification walls, automatic shooting mechanisms loaded with expanding bullets, barbed-wire fences, and concrete obstacles of all shapes and sizes. Along the ragged and seemingly random former frontier, many memorials and museums stand as reminders of a dark epoch. Even a quarter century after East and West reunited, a wide, treeless green ribbon still bears witness to the drama that ended more than 600 lives. True, this part of the world might not be the happiest holiday destination, but our Mustang supplies the cheer. During our (frequent) stops at gas stations, rubber-necked admirers surround our Mustang. Burnouts and loud V-8 revs please the crowds here just as they would in faraway Texas.
Initially, our route takes us west, back toward modern architecture, a healthy economy, and radar traps. We visit the U.S. Army outpost at Fulda Gap, a strategically placed stronghold, before finding a place to spend the night in a hamlet near Kassel. Day two starts with a drizzle and cold wind that chases us all the way to the Schleiz Triangle, Germany’s oldest street circuit that was once home to the sole Formula 2 race in the Eastern Block. Only the curviest and most challenging sections of the circuit are cordoned off from the surrounding public roads, and we quickly find a series of third-gear corners and start peeling off bits of tire. On wet and soapy pre-1950 cobblestone turf, through nasty potholes, and along deep grooves, the 2015 Ford Mustang steps delicately, like a nervous stallion about to enter the arena. It’s a sharp-edged driving machine but can sometimes feel underdamped and overpowered. Fortunately, the chassis—at last fitted with an independent rear suspension—doesn’t have the split personality of the old Mustangs, which either oversteered impulsively or understeered badly. We take apexes in stride, fly over dips, and jump over crests, charging from the end of one speed limit to the beginning of the next.
We set the dampers, throttle, and steering response to blitzkrieg mode and set off for Berlin. The 2015 Ford Mustang is too noisy at speed, too unsettled on broken pavement, and a bit too ponderous through twisties, but find a stretch of reasonably wide, relatively smooth blacktop, and the brash American will put a bigger grin on your face than many of the self-important performance machines that populate this country. The V-8 helps propel the coupe from zero to 60 mph in 4.4 seconds, and you can paint the tarmac Pirelli black if you floor the throttle in second gear at 4,500 rpm. The six-speed manual shifter, topped by a brushed aluminum ball, moves through the gates precisely and with just the right amount of haptic feedback. The raw soundtrack ranges from a bass-dominated idle growl to a dense part-throttle roar to a full-bore thunder that deflates into an angry sputter when you lift off the accelerator.
At last we reach the former Marien-born border-crossing point, through which Westerners accessed West Berlin. It still evokes the same creepy, Big Brother feeling it had when I passed the eerie fortress as a young boy. Now part of a vast museum site, the imposing steel structure, covered with rattling plexiglass roof panels, triggers flashbacks to the Cold War days—the elevated passport control booths, narrow pits flanked by huge adjustable mirrors, row after row of bright yellow overhead lights, and barracks stuffed with tiny prison cells and interrogation rooms. In its heyday, Marienborn was a feared checkpoint where travelers spent hours waiting in line to obtain permission to enter the forbidden part of their own country. The two-lane highway to the capital was a notoriously neglected centipede of prefab concrete slabs. Westerners were strictly prohibited from deviating from the highway; Easterners in their wobbly two-stroke stinkmobiles struggled to hit the speed limit.
The third day of our drive is devoted entirely to Berlin, which has over time sloughed several skins without managing to evolve into a truly homogenous metropolis. We tick the significant boxes: Brandenburg Gate, which had been boxed in by the Berlin Wall; Checkpoint Charlie, the best-known crossing point between East and West Berlin; Unter den Linden, an elegant boulevard, and Karl-Marx-Allee, a street lined in socialist-style residential blocks; Charlottenburg Wilmersdorf, a western town with a palace and an Olympic stadium, and Prenzlau, an eastern town with one of the highest jobless rates in the country; and Glienicker Bridge in Potsdam, where commies and capitalists used to swap spies.
The big cities have delicious bratwursts and colorful cocktails but nowhere to play with the Mustang. There’s no room to move, no parking spaces, no open boulevards for second-gear pulls. Badly hungover, we start our final day by filling up the thirsty horse, plugging our desti-nation into the navigation system—Ford’s best yet—and pointing the Mustang’s chrome nostrils toward Priwall, the once famous harbor town where the curtain of injustice petered out into the sea. It’s a long way from Mödlareuth, a reminder that the Iron Curtain ran too far for too long. The path we followed is littered with shards of history and forget-me-nots we’d rather forget. The Mustang GT, however, does a fine job of marching into the future. It still has hints of some old muscle-car habits, like lazy gearing and somewhat vague steering at high speeds. But with a balanced chassis and a nicely finished interior, it finally has the poise to go with its power.