When news got round the office that we were buying a Mustang GT, no one was quite sure who was crazier, Jethro for suggesting it or Harry for going through with it.
No matter, though, for from the moment the big red Mustang – Bubba to his friends – arrived, none of us doubted Bovingdon and Metcalfe’s collective wisdom, least of all me, for I was to be its custodian for as long as we wanted to keep it.
Subscribe to evo magazine
In a sense that was the acid test. Would we want to keep the brash American coupe, complete with its live rear axle and star-spangled styling, for any longer than it took for its admittedly estimable novelty to wear off?
I can remember mulling such thoughts over on the drive across the Cotswolds to collect the Stang from Litchfield Imports one sunny April weekend. After all, it’s easy to fall in love with the idea of owning one of the first Mustang GTs in the UK, but there was every danger that the reality could prove to be a big, fat, £26K, Torch Red folly.
However that was before I’d seen it, and I have to confess that my normally resilient objectivity wilted as Iain Litchfield ushered me into the workshop and handed me the keys. What a great car!
The drive back home was memorable for a number of reasons. The first was the Mustang’s formidable size. It really took some threading along the Oxfordshire lanes, its width making it tricky to place with any confidence. While I’ve become much, much more comfortable with its dimensions over time, it never lets you forget that it’s a big car. Left-hand drive intensifies the feeling, and though we never got round to investigating a right-hand drive conversion, I’m sure it would help make the Stang feel more wieldy.
The second and more pleasing discovery was its supple set-up and responsive handling. I didn’t know exactly what to expect, but I remember being surprised at how fluid it felt and how well it coped with some of the rougher surfaces. True, we weren’t exactly nailing it that day, and the worst potholes did get the old-school rear suspension a bit agitated, but it was a long way from the crude, ancient laughing stock I’d feared it would be.
Once run-in, we returned to Litchfield to have an engine re-map and induction kit fitted. The 4.6-litre V8 was always going to yield more than the stock 300bhp, but quite how much it would give we weren’t quite sure. I know we were all taken aback when the rolling road figures revealed 370bhp! That it also gained an addictively vocal Hollywood car-chase soundtrack when under load was a welcome bonus, and worth the £465 price alone.
Shortly afterwards we took Bubba on a mission to an RMA trackday at the Nürburgring, Andy Morgan using him as photographic car, chasing Roger Green in evo’s Caterham R300 and yours truly in my old Exige S2. It proved to be a brilliant trip, and the perfect way to get some miles under the Mustang’s belt. While Andy complained of feeling like the fat kid trying to keep up with a couple of skinny friends, he did confess to enjoying the big Ford’s effortless progress, long-distance comfort, air-conditioning and thumping ‘Kicker 500’ stereo. I confess to completing the running-in phase with two amusing laps of the Nordschleife…
This wasn’t P555’s only track outing. In fact it was only a matter of weeks before it was lapping Bedford Autodrome’s West Circuit in a twin test with our MG SV-R long termer. It turned out to be an enlightening comparison, for while the MG claimed more power and possessed a much more focused chassis, it only managed to better Bubba’s best lap time by 0.5sec. To say we’d expected more from a car costing an additional £60,000 is the understatement of the century.
Besides humiliating MG’s overpriced and under-achieving SV, the track session also revealed just how bad the Mustang’s brakes could be when pushed, and also how it was crying out for more grip. The answer, at least to the grip issue, came in the shape of some Roush suspension and 18in wheels. Lower and stiffer, thanks to new dampers, springs and thicker anti-roll bars at both ends, and with vastly increased grip and traction courtesy of four 285/40 ZR18 Yokohama tyres, the Mustang instantly became a more serious proposition.
The downside was a marked deterioration in ride quality (something that has recently been improved with the fitment of some new Dunlop Sport 9000s), but dry- and especially wet-road gains transformed it from a slip-sliding and at times borderline dangerous machine (thanks to a laughably sleepy traction control system) into a car you could both enjoy and drive seriously quickly. At £1022 for the suspension and £1140 for the wheels, the Roush upgrade was a significant investment, but one that vastly enhanced the dynamics and the looks of the car.
Of course, all this added cornering prowess put extra strain on the already over-stretched brakes, so they were the next items to be replaced. Roush offer an upgrade kit using Alcon hardware, which we’d tried on the blue supercharged car featured in eCoty 2005 (evo 087), but in the end we opted for some Movit discs and callipers.
At £2400 – almost 10 per cent of the Stang’s purchase price – they were similar money to the Roush kit, but we’d heard good things about the German manufacturer’s products and wanted to experience them first hand. They didn’t disappoint, with a much firmer pedal, more linear response and, all-importantly, a much greater appetite for repeated stops. Completing the dynamic transformation started by the wheels, tyres and suspension, the Movit brakes proved equally worthwhile expenditure.
Fuel proved to be our biggest headache with the Mustang. Not due to the amount it drank – motorway journeys would regularly average at 23mpg, mixed driving around 19mpg, McQueen-style clogging-it closer to 16mpg – but due to the infernal click-click-clicking when trying to fill the fuel tank, which burped and spewed petrol onto the forecourt unless you dribbled it into the filler neck.
Litchfield did some investigating and discovered Ford had issued a recall, which involved replacing the tank. Naturally we had this work done, but were disappointed to find that, although much improved, the tank would still choke from time to time. Though infrequent, it was infuriating and always got me cursing the tank’s modest 250-mile range.
To be fair, it’s our only major gripe with the car. The paint has proved vulnerable to stone chipping on the leading edge of the bonnet but is otherwise rich and lustrous, while the engine has thrived on miles and feels smoother and stronger than ever. We commented on the whining and chuntering gearbox when we first took delivery, but it would appear all early cars are the same, though later cars seem quieter. On the plus side, the gearshift feels as weighty and positive as it always has.
While it undoubtedly lacks the refinement, finish, sophistication and tactile quality of a BMW 3-series, Audi TT or Nissan 350Z, the Mustang’s character, individuality and serious performance have never failed to win fans. Despite the best part of 30,000 hard-driven miles it has never had a hint of a problem. In fact the only time it made an unscheduled returned to Litchfield’s was to attend to the brake lights, which had stopped working but proved an easy fix.
Apart from a piece of finishing trim on the underside of the bootlid coming adrift, the Mustang’s interior has worn extremely well, which has surprised us given the hard, scratchy plastics that betray dirt-cheap pricing in the States. That said, so long as you’re prepared to live without fancy soft-touch materials and organic, curvaceous lines, the Mustang’s cockpit is a comfortable and welcoming place to be. That said, long journeys are best tackled with a fistful of CDs, for the standard fit radio tuner isn’t keen to settle on British frequencies. But then I suppose it was only designed to receive two stations: Country and Western…
We didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into when we bought the Mustang. Suffice to say that after 18 months and almost 30,000 miles, it’s exceeded all our expectations. It’s a special car in so many ways – an American icon, a performance bargain, a terrific long-distance partner and an entertaining driver’s car – that despite its undeniable shortcomings it always gives you enough positives to push those failings into the background and leave you feeling good about driving it.
|Date acquired||April 2005|
|Costs this month||£0|
|Duration of test||20 months|
|Servicing costs||£664 (three services)|
|Consumables||£1764 (eight tyres)|
|Extra costs||£465 (induction kit and remap), £1022 (Roush suspension), £1140 (18in Roush Alloys), £257 (window louvres), £2400 (Movit brake kit)|
|Trade in value||see text|
|Mileage this month||1,343|
|MPG this month||19.6mpg|