Along with cheap cigars, foul beer, and loose women, Mustang GTs are a vital part of our red, white, and blue heritage. Like Monday Night Football and Friday night carousing, the feisty Fords merit protection by constitutional amendment.
Alas, America's pet pony has been grazing rocky pastures of late. Distracted by tipping Explorers and peeling Firestones, chairman Bill shared fond Mustang recollections and teased with retro-future fantasies while denying us a fresh one. Engineers twiddled for years deciding what a twenty-first-century Mustang should be. Cobwebs permeated SVT quarters. We began wondering if a resurrected Camaro might beat a new Mustang to the corral.
So it is with relief that we announce the arrival of a filly in Ford's stable. We've driven the new Mustang and clocked its gait. Patience has been rewarded.
Ford product guru Phil Martens concluded that there are a whole lot more customers interested in $20,000 Mustangs with six cylinders and sex appeal than there are fat-wallet folks craving $35,000 Cobras. So camshafts, valves, and sophisticated suspension systems went out the window (for now). Martens stressed the three Fs that have historically defined Mustangs-fast, fun, and afFordable-before sending his engineers galloping.
Mustang chief engineer Hau Thai-Tang wielded the crop. You may have guessed he isn't a Dearborn native. About the time the evil II affix and Pinto beans soiled the good Mustang name, nine-year-old Thai-Tang was evacuated from Saigon by military transport. What he knew of Mustangs then came from car magazine clippings. What the bright ex-Ford Racing engineer knows now is how to make them quick and agile using a modest bill of materials.
The fundamental features of the new Mustang versus the outgoing model are slightly larger dimensions, more base and optional power, and a chassis that acts a lot smarter than it looks. The front axle is an unpretentious strut design, and the back end rolls on a rustic rigid axle, but don't be fooled by the blueprints. What you don't see is a soul spiked with spunk.
The first hint that this may be the best Mustang ever is its shape. Chief designer Larry Erickson (who, in a previous life, penned Billy Gibbons's zoomy CadZilla) mashed the nose down low, slid the front wheels forward, and jacked the rump up high. While homage is obviously paid to 1969-70 ancestors, this Mustang is clean, modern sculpture chiseled down to an instantly identifiable profile. The sight of the GT edition's driving lamps growing in your rearview mirror screams "Outta the way!" more stridently than any Peterbilt horn.
Erickson and Thai-Tang were on the same page when it came to stretching the wheelbase from 101.3 to 107.1 inches. Stepping the wheels ahead enhances traction, steering sensitivity, legroom, and visual attitude all at once. But Thai-Tang didn't let it go at that. Stuck with a strut front suspension by cost constraints, he engineered a good one. Moving the coil spring off the lower arm to the traditional ring-around-the-strut location tightened the turning circle, trimmed unsprung weight, and reduced bending-induced friction. Thai-Tang's team also increased the diameter of the front dampers, improved the antiroll bar's efficiency, and devised a means of dialing in ride and handling without the usual compromises. A firm bushing aligned with lateral loads works harmoniously with a softer, fluid-filled bushing tuned to take the sting out of bad pavement. The rack-and-pinion steering gear is laced with stiffening ribs and bolted directly to a stout crossmember to sharpen road feel.
Applying similar logic to the rear axle, Thai-Tang ditched the old "missing link" suspension, replacing it with three stiff, light, and widely spaced trailing links abetted by a Panhard rod substantial enough for Nextel Cup duty. The antiroll bar is supported by the body instead of the trailing links, coil springs have been relocated to the axle, and dampers now snuggle up affectionately to the rear wheels.
The new unibody, which contains no hidden Fairmont metal and only one piece from the Lincoln LS, is 31 percent stiffer in torsion and 50 percent more resistant to bending forces. That's good, because there's a party raging under the hood.