The Mustang Mach 1 is the car equivalent of an, erm, bucking bronco, writhing and gyrating underneath you. It really is sex on a stick.
The first thing I notice when I pick up the Mach 1 on a wet Auckland afternoon is the stick shift. I don’t remember the last time I drove a manual, but it must be two decades ago or thereabouts.
I need to reverse the car out of a park in front of actual car people and then get it into first. What could go wrong? I stall it.
But it doesn’t take too long to get the hang of things, and pretty soon I’m doing an impressive 35km/h through early-rush-hour motorway traffic. The rain clears, the sun comes out and all is right with the world.
Even with the stop-start motorway traffic I manage to have a little fun and make the engine roar like a wounded beast.
The Mach name was first introduced as the performance Mustang in 1968 and it has appeared intermittently ever since. This 2021 version is the first since 2004, and it is fair to say Ford have made something special, though, inexplicably, they are promoting the Mach 1 as “50 years of turning heads”. I don’t think they do the new maths so well.
The car has a five-litre V8 producing 348kW and 569Nm of torque. This is a lot. Its cue-ball gear shift controls a Shelby six-speed transmission – a cosmetic touch that is carried over through all Mach 1s.
Cosmetic changes from a standard Mustang include a more aggressive front grille, rear spoiler, and race-inspired Recaro seats. It costs $97,990.
Under the hood, the powertrain includes the same intake as a Shelby GT350 (one of many parts borrowed from Shelby), a “competition-ready” chassis with stiffer sway bars, and a couple of side heat exchangers to keep the car running harder for longer.
Also, you can’t buy one. Ford are bringing 50 into New Zealand and they are all sold. Making the car available to me is not part of a sales push. It’s just that they understand motoring writers’ childish needs for fun and distraction.
Drive modes are Standard, “My Mustang”, Sport+, Racing and Dragway. With most cars I review, I put them into Sport and generally leave them there. With the Mach 1, I leave it in Standard the entire time except once when I was playing with the controls at the lights and put it into Racing mode as the lights turned green. It is not a mistake I repeat.
Most of the time I am in this car I am smiling a silly grin. Occasionally, the smile is replaced by a facial expression alike Edvard Munch’s The Scream, coupled with fear that I may have evacuated liquid down below.
The sight of the aggressive Mustang grille in their rear-vision mirror is enough to make the drivers of three lesser vehicles pull over to let me pass. That just never happens any more.
Steering is quite heavy for a sports car and requires a tad more input than its European brethren. But this can be altered through the control panel, where you can also swap the exhaust from just plain super loud to absolutely bonkers crazy-arse loud – if you don’t like your neighbours.
I’m supposed to be working on my little farm at Paparoa, getting ready for spring. But instead, I leave several hours early to drive back to Auckland via Mangawhai, Matakana and Helensville. It is about as circuitous a route as you can get on this narrow part of this island of ours.
Driving the Mustang on the back roads of Northland is meditative and I find driving well and at decent speed cathartic. The manual gear box requires total concentration. There’s no room for mental cruise control as you barrel towards a 45km/h corner at 90km/h and work out best gear, safest approach and how hard to brake, if at all.
It’s not a car, it’s a state of Zen.
For an opposing view, let’s turn now to my colleagues.
A few days into my week with the ’Stang, I pick up BusinessDesk editor Pattrick Smellie from Auckland Airport. He’s not overly impressed.
In the interests of newsroom collegiality, here’s his review: “Matt won't let me review this car in a proposed new feature known as "Passenger Seat Driving Adviser" because I found it very odd. The seat clasps you with the fervour of an elderly relative, the acceleration is sufficient to cause whiplash and interrupt conversation, and the whole thing is so absurdly aggressively masculine as to confirm my snowflake status to the point where the Snowflake Institute has promised to send me a special badge.”
Smellie drives a Honda Jazz.
This all prompted head of news Rebecca Stevenson to label him “Mustang Smellie”. I am so annoyed I didn’t think of that. Funny buggers, my colleagues.
My summation: the Mach 1 is ridiculous — ridiculously good.