The Ford Motor Company has an uncomfortable recent history of lobbing out badge-and-decal special editions of decidedly un-special cars. Recall the Mustang II-era "Cobra" models, the 1984-1/2 twentieth-anniversary "GT350" Mustang, or any Mercury Cougar in the last quarter of a century that's worn the XR-7 badge. With the arrival of the 2003 Mustang Mach 1, however, we think those dark days are officially over. The new Mach 1, like its 1969 progenitor, is the real deal: a barking, snapping, ass-happy animal. It's just about perfect.
Whereas the 1969 Mach 1 came with a 250-horsepower 351-cubic-inch V-8 as standard equipment, and offered an optional 320-horse 390 V-8, as well as 335- and 360-horse 428s, new Mach arrives in just one strength. Beneath that signature shaker hood lurks the normally aspirated, 32-valve, DOHC 4.6-liter V-8 that formerly powered the SVT Cobra (which now uses a supercharged version of the engine). This was one of the world's best performance engines in the SVT 'Stang, and nothing's changed for Mach 1 duty: It's still an absolute gem. At idle, the 4.6 is positively Lexus-like in its smoothness. Walk around back, however, and feel the burble resonate in your chest from the fat dual pipes. Step into its 305 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, savor some of the sweetest eight-cylinder music ever produced, feel the seatback shove you forward, and become a believer.
A five-speed manual transmission is standard, and gears are selected with a splendid ball shiftervery cool, literally as well as figuratively. We're reluctant to note that a four-speed automatic is optional, but it is. The thirteen-inch front brakes come from Brembo; they are, needless to say, a gigantic improvement over the standard GT fare. Anti-lock and traction control are standard, but stifling the latter is just a button-press away (kudos to Ford for positioning said button so accessibly, front and center on the instrument panel). Overall, the interior (as on all Mustangs) is sad. Despite nostalgic touches like "comfortweave" black leather seats and Sixties-style gauge markings, the Mach 1's passenger compartment is, inarguably, the crappiest this side of the Third World. Ergonomics are marginal at best, and plastics are hard, shiny, flimsy, and ill-fitting. And yet, just glance over that hood, blip the throttle and watch the engine wiggle, and all is forgiven.
The Mach 1 is a complete delight on the road, perhaps more amusing, even, than the pricier and more powerful (but also nose-heavier) SVT Cobra. Steering is direct enough, although it's a bit disconcerting that a car with so much oomph shimmies around on its wheels as much as this one does. No one will ever mistake it for a BMW M3.
We think the world is a poorer place for the loss of the Chevy Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird (at least their V-8-engined varieties), but the Mustang team is carrying on admirably and offering the pony car torch-carriers some unbridled joy. Other Mustang owners (even Cobra drivers, we noted) were left gape-mouthed by our torch-red Mach 1, so great was its visual impact. At $29,025, the Mach 1 isn't particularly inexpensive, but it does have a collectability that few (if any) other modern Mustangs enjoy. Forgive us while we gush: The Mach 1 is an undeniably special automobile: fast, outspoken, and oozing with charisma. It's Mach wonderful.