The speedometer sets the mood. Stencilled across its face are the words “Ground Speed”.
For decades, we have been denied the automotive embodiment of romantic American imagery and its dramatic, hearty sense of humour.
Muscle cars, until Ford‘s burgeoning global “One Ford” policy birthed this new generation of Mustang, have thus far had their steering wheels exclusively on the left.
Finally, though, we can drive our very own pony cars on the Queen’s side of the road in 5-litre, convertible GT format.
I pick up the car from Ford Australia’s Broadmeadows headquarters. This plant used to be a lynchpin of Australia’s automotive manufacturing industry, churning out large sedans, pick-up trucks and sport utility vehicles (SUVs) for the local market and limited export.
A victim of changing consumer demands and unsustainable costs, however, its machines have fallen silent since last year. It was joined this year by Holden and Toyota’s Australian operations. The desolate, empty industrial premises and stark sky provide a hauntingly beautiful backdrop for the dark grey Mustang.
I have with me two other adults, a nine-year-old and their luggage for a week. Two full-sized suitcases, a hard-case carry-on luggage and two duffel bags all fit into the boot somehow. By the end of the trip, we will have covered some 600km without any sore backs or cramped muscles. As far as space goes, there is little to complain about.
That should not be surprising, however, as the Ford is a large vehicle – something which is brought into sharp focus when we head into the heart of Melbourne city. The coffee here is excellent, as you might have heard, but the streets in this central business district are chaotic.
Trams share extremely limited road space with parking lots and traffic coming in all four directions. The words “cut and thrust” come to mind and those are things small hatchbacks fare better at.
I am constantly outmanoeuvred and carved up in the frenzied hustle. It is far more agreeable to let the Mustang burble contentedly around, never deploying its full complement of horsepower while soaking up the envious stares and approving thumbs-up from pedestrians and fellow motorists.
We head out to the countryside, where the Mustang can finally stretch its legs. As the density of buildings thin out, we encounter the wide-open straights of the Melbournian suburbs. Here, the Mustang is predictably glorious. A squeeze of the throttle and its big naturally aspirated engine clears its throat with a characterful roar, rearing the car up in a manner that is almost heroic.
ENGINE 4,950cc 32-valve V8
POWER 410bhp at 6,500rpm
TORQUE 530Nm at 4,250rpm
0-100KMH Under 5 seconds
TOP SPEED Over 250kmh
We drive for about an hour in the direction of Mornington Peninsula, a long appendage of land on Australia’s southern coast that houses holiday homes, resorts and a wide variety of rural and aquatic leisure activities. The coastal roads winding atop cliffs illuminated by a searing orange sunset between the towns of Mornington and Rosebud give us an opportunity to examine the muscle car’s true athleticism.
There were times before when an American muscle car was not much more than an ox cart yoked to a V8. In fact, this is the first generation of Mustang with independent, integral-link rear suspension. Accompanying this newfound sophistication is a limited-slip differential and high-strength manufacturing techniques that have increased rigidity by 28 per cent over the previous car.
So the car acquits itself well in the bends, settling quickly on its springs and exhibiting an agreeable and unthreatening balance. But it will never challenge a Porsche in agility, poise or fluidity.
Nevertheless, the Mustang delivers fun in its own unique way. While in other sports cars, sensory gratification comes from the seat of your pants and the tips of your fingers, the satisfaction here is wholly in its theatre.
With its sprawling, rugged topography peppered with big box stores and fast food drive-throughs, there is no Commonwealth country more appropriate than Australia in which to sample an American pony car.
By the time the suburbs have given way to gorgeous natural landscapes, I find myself quite enamoured with this lovable, big-hearted automotive icon.
The writer contributes to Torque, a motoring monthly published by SPH Magazines. Story first appeared on The Straits Times.