New Car/Review

The Ford Mustang GT, The car that started it all.

by Larry Weitzman

Lee Iacocca was a vice president at Ford in the early 60's. He had a vision a small sporty car based on the Ford Falcon chassis. That vision became a reality in April of 1964 in the form of the Mustang. It carried a very affordable base price of $2,368 and the "pony" car was born. In the first year of production through 1965, Ford sold almost 700,000 Mustangs and an almost equal amount in 1966.

The Mustang is the biggest success story in automotive history. It has been copied, but the original pony (Mustang is a horse) car, is still the class sales leader, thirty five years after its introduction.

The new 1999 Ford Mustang GT is a 35th anniversary edition. It has a new body on an improved chassis. This is the eighth body in the series (including the dismal Mustang II of mid 1970's) and its attempt to capture the flair and flavor of the original 1965 is remarkably successful.

The original 1965 Mustang rode on a long 108 inch wheelbase. Overall length was 181.6 inches. It was powered by either a straight six of as little as 101 hp (170 cubic inches) up to a 289 cubic inch "hi-po" motor of 271 gross hp. Tranny was a three speed Ford-O-Matic, a three speed manual or a four speed manual. It was fast (for its day) and cute, but it certainly doesn't compare to the 35th anniversary model of today.

The Mustang was made even more famous by Steve McQueen in the 1968 movie "Bullit", where McQueen drove a '67-68 Mustang GT fastback with a 325 hp, 390 cubic inch V-8 chasing a 440 cubic inch, 375 hp Dodge Charger through the streets of San Francisco. Two Mustangs were actually used, and they did receive modifications to the ignition and induction systems to keep up with the Dodge. It is one of the greatest chase scenes ever filmed.

Continuity was somewhat lacking as the same green VW bug and yellow Pontiac Le Mans appeared in several different scenes during the chase. In one scene during the twelve minute segment, Mc Queen gives an excellent demonstration of rear axle tramp while backing up. The Mustang and Charger were so fast, a special camera car built up from a 66 Corvette was used for filming. The shots of the speedo at over 100 mph were real and speeds exceeded that. It's worth renting. So much for my Gene Shallit imitation.

Back to reality, the 1999 Mustang GT is the best ever, period. The new body has a chiseled look with crisp lines and surfaces. From the gorgeous triple tail lights, sculptured side scoops to the squared off front end with great looking jeweled head lamp assemblies, this Mustang evokes thoughts of '65. It is an instant showroom classic.

But lighting off the engine and a blip of the throttle will tell you that 1965 is gone and no Mustang from the past compares with this 1999 offering. The sound will bring back memories. Going through the gears to redline sounds like your watching NASCAR on TNN and Mark Martin is leading a race. It's that good.

This year the base and GT get significant power boosts using the same engines as last year. The lock the hood and throw away the key 3.8L 90 degree V-6 gets a sizable boost in power with horsepower up by 40 to 190 hp at 5,250. But the real story is the muscling up of the 4.6L SOHC V-8. It now produces a whooping 260 hp @ 5,250 rpm and 300 lbs-ft of torque at 4,000 rpm. That's up from 225 hp and 285 lbs of torque.

Ford added new higher lift, longer duration camshafts, bigger valves, improved and increased intake airflow and revised the combustion changers which improves fuel economy, emissions and power. Who says you can't have it all.

In terms of performance, the Mustang GT is the third quickest car I have tested (just behind the Corvette and E55 AMG Mercedes). It feels like it has a Rockwell rocket booster as it literally blasted from 0-60 in an average of 5.8 seconds with one run at 5.52 back up with a 5.73 and 5.74. This GT is so much faster than the original that the vacuum created as it would quickly pulled away from the 65 (as if it were standing still) would suck the coolant out of the 65's radiator.

Passing also is nearly instantaneous. 50-70 runs were accomplished in only 3.3 seconds and going up hill only slowed that time to 4.4 seconds. I used second and third gears as the rev limiter kick in at about 68 mph in second gear. Using only third gear shows the real power of the 4.6L mill. The GT still "managed" 50-70 mph is only 3.8 seconds and up a hill slowed that time to a scant 5.2 seconds. Even using third gear alone, the GT recorded some of the fastest passing times I have encountered.

It's not just that the GT is fast, it is how it does it. First it makes sounds so good, they should make a CD and sell it. Not loud, but solid. Second, is the flexibility of the 300 lbs of torque generated. Step on the gas in any gear and it makes beaucoup power. Third is the wide power band, from 1,500 rpm all the way to the rev limiter at about 6,200 rpm. It pulls like a freight train.

Power is put to the ground via a 5 speed manual tranny that is very positive, but a little notchy. This was in contrast to the 5 speed GT that I drove on the track as Willow Springs. It had a positive, yet butter smooth 5 speed. Maybe this one was not as broken in. It still allowed, however, quick shifts and accurate control of the car in all phases of driving. Power is delivered to a standard limited slip rear axle, which is enhanced by optional ($230) switchable all speed traction control.

Ford also did their homework on the chassis dynamics. There have been improvements in noise, vibration and harshness (NVH) and improved steering feel with a turning circle reduction to under 38 feet. The rear track has been widened by 1.4 inches with a 1.5 inch increase in jounce travel.

What this adds up to is razor sharp handling but at the cost of some ride comfort. The GT will not be mistaken for a Crown Victoria. On Ponderosa Road, the washboard was tolerable and in the two tight bumpy corners, the live axle had some movement at speed. In the smoother twisties, the GT really struts it stuff. Roads like Latrobe and Green Valley were simply no match for the prowess of this GT. My experience at Willow Springs, made me a believer. I was able to drive it harder and effortlessly. It was one of my favorites.

And it couldn't be anymore fun than with the GT, downshifting then braking upon turn entry and flicking the gearshift into the appropriate gear as you power out of the apex with the finest of sound effects as the engine winds towards redline. It was never better. Bumps do effect the line somewhat, but it's part of the fun and this GT is pure fun.

The steering is improved with superb on center feel. Mind you there is some understeer, which reduces an inept driver's chance for error, but it's manageable. Besides, most people will never get this GT to 70% of its potential. It's just nice to have the handling and quick safe reaction ability available for safety.

On the highway, the GT takes on a more relaxed nature. The engine only turns 2,000 rpm at 70 mph and is a distant murmur. Wind and tire noise are kept at a minimum. Even with the huge 245/45X17 inch high performance tires mounted on five spoke 17x8 inch alloys, it's reasonably quiet. It also is very smooth. There is no tar strip or joint intrusion and big bumps are swallowed whole. It would be a great trip car, especially down Highway 49.

Stopping is done via large 4 wheel discs (ventilated front) with standard antilock. Stops were sure, straight and short. However, the pedal placement was somewhat unconventional. The placement of the throttle was far forward with respect to the brake and clutch and seemed distant. It made it difficult to heel and toe.

Fuel consumption, even with my right lead foot averaged 18 mpg in and around El Dorado County. The EPA says that the GT should obtain 17/24 mpg in a city and highway cycle. With some restraint (mind you that will be difficult) El Dorado County driving should yield 20-21 mpg. A well mannered V-6 would probably get about 24-25 mpg. Fuel tank is 15.7 gallons. The Mustang is an economy car is more ways than one as I will discuss later.

If the GT isn't enough Mustang for you, Ford recently brought out a special Mustang called the Cobra. It comes out of the Ford skunk works called the SVT (Special Vehicle Teams). It has a 32 valve, DOHC 320 hp version of the same 4.6L V-8 and independent rear suspension. It is smoother in bumpy corners and a bit faster (magazines report 0-60 from 5.2-5.5 seconds).

On the inside, the Mustang sports a very complete instrument package in a double cowl design. Under the driver's cowl are a medium sized speedo and tach left and right with four ancillary gauges for fuel, temp, oil pressure and voltage group in pairs flanking the main gauges.

The center console has a stacked controls for the climate systems, the radio and cassette, with a separate CD player below. My test car had the Ford Mach 460 sound system with eight speakers. If you don't like the sound of the engine, at least you can play your favorites exactly like they were recorded with more volume than a group of politicians bragging about their accomplishments (is that an oxymoron, a politician accomplishing something for "the people"?). The 460 is the wattage capability of the Mach amplifiers.

The rest of the center console has two cupholders and a storage compartment below the armrest.

The seats were leather and reasonable comfortable, but considering the ability of this true sports car, more padding in the right places would be welcomed during spirited cornering. But the front accommodations, were anything but confining.

The rear seats are usable, although headroom is at a premium. I did use the GT as transportation for a golfing outing. The four of us did fit, but the jokes from the two lucky rear seaters about their accommodations were plentiful.

The trunk easily handled the four golf bags. The factory claims 10.9 cubic feet. It's shape makes it feel even bigger. If that's not enough room, the rear seats are of the split folding variety.

The rest of the Mustang's economy can be found in the sticker price. A base model stickers for $16,995 with destination charges of $525. Standard equipment includes AC, power windows, locks, truck release, am/fm stereo with a CD and cassette, tilt, four wheel disc brakes and alloy wheels.

The GT I tested lists at only $20,965 plus destination. It came with six options all of which I recommend: The convenience group ($550) which provides a driver's power seat and cruise control and some other items, dual illuminated vanity mirrors so you can make sure you look as good as the Mustang ($95), the Mach radio system ($395), switchable all speed traction control (a bargain at $230), leather seat trim (a $500 giveaway) and the great looking 17 inch alloys to $500. The total was $23,760 which may be the best performance buy available anywhere. If you were to want a four speed automatic tranny (perish that thought, at least in the GT), add $815.

The super slick convertible GT bases at $25,490 and a Cobra runs $27,995 for the coupe and $4,000 more for the convertible.

Placerville's Harrell Motors has a selection of new Mustangs. If you want to experience the flavor of the past with the improvements and performance of the future, this is the motor vehicle that will do it best. Check one out, it will make you smile and laugh, and for your motor heads, stepping on the go pedal will elicit goose bumps. During your test drive, stop at the video store and rent Bullit. If they don't have a copy, I have the laser disc.

SPECIFICATIONS 
Specifications
Price                                    $16,995 to about $32,000 (a 320 hp Cobra convertible)

Engines
3.8L OHV V-6 190 hp @ 5,250 rpm
220 lbs-ft of torque @ 2,750 rpm

4.6L SOHC V-8 260 hp @ 5,259 rpm
302 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,000 rpm

4.6L DOHC 32 valve V-8 320 hp @ 6,000 rpm
317 lbs-ft of torque @ 4,750 rpm

Transmission
5 speed manual

4 speed electronically
controlled automatic

Configuration
front engine
rear wheel drive

Dimensions
Wheelbase                                 101.3  inches
Length                                    183.2  inches
Width                                     73.1   inches
Height                                    53.1   inches
Weight                                    3273   pounds
Track (front/rear)                    59.9/60.1  inches
Trunk Capacity                        10.9   cubic feet
Fuel Capacity                            15.7   gallons

PERFORMANCE
0-60 5.8   seconds
50-70 3.3   seconds
50-70 up hill 4.4   seconds
Top Speed Reported at near 140 mph, but its a lot more relaxed near 70 mph (you pick which side)
Fuel Economy
EPA 17/24 city/highway, my estimate us 20-21 mpg in El Dorado County, 24- 26 mpg on the highway
at legal speeds
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