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Back about 1970, auto racing had a premier road-racing series called the Trans-American series, or Trans-Am, and it was for the suddenly popular “ponycars” like Mustang, Camaro, Challenger, Barracuda, Firebird and later the AMC Javelin.
Mark Donohue in the Roger Penske Camaro was hard to beat, but the most colorful team was the Bud Moore Mustangs led by the inimitable Parnelli Jones. Driving the No. 15 Mustang painted a uniquely bright yellow-orange color, Jones won a championship or two and always ran up front, referring to his own race car as being “school-bus orange.” Even though it was more yellow-orange, the nickname was as good as the fact.While the other ponycars disappeared in a changing society, the Mustang ensued, coming out in various shapes and sizes, some of which now seem odd since Ford has recreated the Mustang in the image of those 1970-era cars. So has Dodge, with Challenger, and Chevrolet, with Camaro.
A few months ago, Ford announced that it may eliminate production of nearly all its cars, in favor of the newly popular and various sized SUVs. People throughout the country and indstry were shocked, but then Ford announced the only cars it would keep producing were the Mustang and the Focus. No more Taurus or Fusion, or Fiesta, which seems startling. But as long as the announcement said the Mustang would continue, all was OK.
I’ve driven some model of every Mustang ever made, and I owned a 1970 Boss 302 that I believe was the best road-racing-ready production car ever. It had gone through a lot of modifications and alterations before I sold it to a guy who wanted to restore it to original form. Among the reasons I relinquished it was because the newest generation Mustangs were so high-tech they could compete, in my mind, with all that was great about the Boss 302.
Right after the Fourth of July, my test-drive vehicle for the week was a new 2018 Ford Mustang GT, and it showed up practically glowing in an amazing yellow-orange that immediately struck me as a close proximity to “school-bus orange.”
It was thoroughly enjoyable to drive, if not to ride in as a passenger. My wife, Joan, put up with it for about 5 miles of Duluth-area, obstacle-course passenger-seat riding before she announced she was less than anxious to ride in it any more - Recaro bucket seats or not.
The finely-tuned suspemsion has toggle-switch dash settings you can adjust from normal to sport to track to dragstrip to special competition, and at each alteration it goes from firm to firmer, and the steering stiffens notably. As a driver, you love it; as a passenger, it gets pretty tiresome.
The thrill that conquers all such nitpicks, however, is the unbelievable sound that goes right from your shoe soles to your body’s soul in about one-tenth of a second. It is a spine-tingling rumble, reverberating through the neighborhood. Not really that obtrusive to your neighbors, but absolute music to your ears.
Climb in, adjust the seat, and the steering wheel, put the clutch to the floor and hit the starter button. Give it a second to let that great sound engulf you and the interior of the car, and blip the throttle a couple times if it’s not up to your standards.
Let out the clutch, gently, and try to do it smoothly enough to launch without a neck-snapping jerk or two. The big, wide rear tires grip like race tires — on dry pavement, at least — and they stick with precision in the tightest cornering, while the hyper-tuned suspension holds the car’s attitude in place.
Again, though, we go back to that engine, which smoothes out from that raw sound of low-rev power to a smoother roar as the RPMs built. Shift the slick 6-speed stick into second, then third, and you have swiftly attained any legal speed limit on any road in the country.
The 5.0-liter V8 has been tweaked and refined to deliver 450 horsepower and 410 foot-pounds of torque, which is perfectly regulated with that 6-speed and judicioius throttle control by the driver.
The neat and efficient interior has all the latest electronic-gizmo features of the contemporary car world, and that includes the taught suspension-tire combination and the quick steering. It also adds traction control, and a much appreciated hill-start feature that isn’t new anymore, but is great on a steep incline, when you have to make sure of your touch on the clutch as you launch, and when the car sits motionless as you release the clutch, it helps.
I found the width of the front tires was such that you need to pay extra attention on tight turns because the width and grip almost cause the car to steer itself. So be ready to manhandle the steering wheel just a bit to maintain your authority.
While the driving is an exciting venture at any and all speeds, and in any and every gear, the sound, and the almost-glow-in-the-dark color make the Mustang GT a cinch attention-grabber, for passers-by, pedestrians, and, yes, officers of the law.
The front end of the Mustang GT has a ferocious look to it, with the spoiler hanging down so low you’ll also want to be extra careful how close you get to parking lot divider curbs. The large mouth of the grille is impressive, especially when flanked by the slick, and sleek, LED headlights and their enclosure.
The silhouette is pure Mustang, and not the blocky 1966 original, but the sleek fastback of the 1969 and 70 road-racing Mustangs. It looks aerodynamically slippery, and you are surprised that there is something close to adequate rear-seat headroom under the steeply sloping roof. Even more surprising is the trunk, which opens to a large-capacity cavern that will house a lot of stuff when you hit the road. And hitting the road will be a temptation you will find difficult to resist with the Mustang GT.
Ford engineers have done great work with their engines in recent years, from the EcoBoost V6 and 4s which can mimic larger engines with their turbocharged efficiency. But they have not overlooked the 5.0 V8, obvioiusly. This engine is the mainstay of the F150 pickup line, unless you go for the EcoBoost, but it feels as it belongs to the Mustang.
With all the new, high-tech vehicles coming out, in sedans, compacts, SUVs and pickup trucks, there is so much to evaluate and test that I must admit I was not desperate to get my hands on the new, 2018 Mustang, even though I knew it had been redone with revised styling, and that the old and tired standard V6 had been dropped.
But once it showed up, with its charcoal-grey spokey wheels on the low-profile tires, and that stunning paint job — which shows off its millions of metallic grains only when you get close and check it in bright sunlight — only then did I realize how glad I was that I had been chosen to spend a week with the new Mustang GT.
Then I started the engine, blipped the throttle, and considered what might happen if I headed deeper into the North woods just to see how long it would take Ford to find me.