A Classic, re-engineered

IMG_2166a_4e44c084813c7-lightboxOnce the tedious details of employment and permanent lodging were squared away, the next most important milestone was to select a suitable mode of transport that would satisfy dual needs; namely provide a reliable wagon to secure the weekly grocery shop, transport us to the local ski mountains, ferry various visiting relatives to and from YVR, etc. and secondly, slake this old man’s thirst for something a little fruity.

Now, my darling wife has always been a fan of Jeep’s Grand Cherokee, and so, upon arrival, we duly purchased a newish model with a simply ludicrous amount of whistles and bells. Highlights? Well, I could drone on about the electric everything, incredible stereo, ‘trail-ready’ off-road system, DVD for the back seat passengers, 8-way air conditioning and heated seats. This was all important to her. Me? The 5.7L Hemi V8 putting out 350bhp sealed the deal nicely.

So, given the shopping trolley was now secured, I required a ‘commuter’ car to propel me from home to my place of business (25kms) in the least annoying way possible.

I have been fortunate enough to have owned and driven many extraordinary machines over the years: TVR, BMW, Audi, Lotus, Lamborghini, Maserati, Ferrari. Indeed, one of my all time favourite automotive memories is a few laps of a wind-swept airfield in Suffolk with a certain Mr Yu many years ago, where I was schooled in the best way to hustle an F355.

[Didn’t that involve me spinning it at one point? -Ed]

That said, the motoring dynamic in North America is markedly different. The civilized motoring world jokes about there being no corners over here, and any domestic vehicle required to exercise a spirited lateral manouevre is roundly expected to fall off the road with all four wheels pawing at the air. Motoring on this side of the pond is all about cruising, standing quarters and traffic light GPs. So, with that in mind, a North American muscle car it had to be.

The choice, then, was really a 3-way one, with options for Ford’s Mustang, Dodge’s Challenger or Chevrolet’s Camaro. In top-spec trim, all put out a decent amount of bhp aimed at the right wheels, are available as 2-door coupes (preferred over a heavy, wobbly convertible), can be had with a six-speed manual ‘box and make a glorious racket when you prod the loud pedal hard enough. And they all come with the right number of cylinders in the time-honoured configuration.

After a few weeks surfing the classifieds and doing no small amount of interweb-based research, I happened upon this little beauty. The 2011 Ford Mustang GT ‘California Special’.

Ford’s iconic Mustang has been through many iterations in its almost 50 year history, and yet has managed to stay true to the original design ideals. Whilst there have undoubtedly been some misses with regards driving dynamics, the current 2011 version represents a thunderous gallop back to form. Style-wise, a lot of the original features are still in evidence – the overhanging nose, the bonnet bulge, the tapered rear end, the side intake pods: all pay homage to one of car-land’s most revered designs. And then there’s the power plant.

Having pranced around various engine configurations, this new GT has settled with a bang on an all new, all aluminium 5.0 (‘five-oh’, in local parlance) litre variant of its small block V8 (the first in 16 years), with many, very clever internal trickeries resulting in a normally-aspirated 412bhp. This is A Good Number for any sports saloon. It is An Especially Good Number for an American muscle car that has often been accused of offering more show than go. Indeed, a car magazine in the US tested one they had on loan a few weeks back, and the true bhp figure was in excess of 435. Not too shabby, then.

And boy, is it a sublime engine. The trademark deep-throated thrum and woofle at tick-over and town revs swiftly transform to a NASCAR-aping howl once the right ankle flexes and the revs start to climb. The sound is as emotive as it is intoxicating, and there is no electronically controlled, active exhaust butterfly valve shenanigans to artificially create aural nirvana. This is big displacement, big performance mechanical engineering at its sonorous best.

In terms of bar-stool bragging rights, this car impresses even further. 60mph from rest comes up in around 4.5 seconds, and the standing quarter is dispatched in 12.8 seconds at 111 mph. Whilst only paper numbers, they are important ones in this market as, crucially, they position this new GT ‘Stang as faster than the Challenger, level pegging with the more powerful Camaro, and only a mildly fluffed upshift behind the considerably more expensive Shelby GT500. Which, by the way, is a ridiculous machine – all supercharger whine, rock hard suspension and attitude. In a straight line at least, the new GT is a match for the best Europe has to offer, at a considerable price discount.

On the road, the ride feels firm and planted, although the solid rear-end can become a little lively over an undulating surface. Many revisions have been made to this year’s suspension set-up, but with no race-tracks on the immediate horizon, it’s hard to make an informed judgment on how this car handles when really pushed. Suffice it to say, for the type of motoring I shall be undertaking the vast majority of the time, the uprated suspension, Pirelli P-Zero rubber and stiffened chassis will make for an entertaining drive.

And then there’s the drama. With this much easily-accessible power at your disposal, temptation is but a ankle flex away. This is the sort of car you blip on the down-shift for absolutely no reason; you hold onto a lower gear when decelerating to revel in the pops and bangs from the exhaust on the overrun, you let the traffic ahead pull clear just so you have an excuse to mash the throttle for a couple of seconds and let the power-plant squeeze you back in the beautifully sculptured seats and assault your ears with the sound of a mechanical masterpiece.

In very many ways, I’m loving my new machine. Visually, the classic Mustang shape has been augmented in this California edition with a deep chin spoiler, a uniquely revised grill with off-set pony logo, two-tone rear-lid spoiler, side vents, GT-500 style rear diffuser and sumptuous 19” grey / machined alloys. Internally, you get some nice detailing on the seats, carbon-fibre trim, a bone-rattling,very-many-speaker satellite audio system and colour-adjustable ambient lighting (pointless, but fun). You also get one of the slickest and most precise gear-changes I’ve come across in a performance car: In a land of vague, uncontrollable, auto-box drudgery, a tightly configured short-throw manual six feels as a chilled glass of Evian to a parched desert nomad.

Next step is to take this machine to its next stage of evolution – a full Borla S-Type exhaust system and Cold Air Induction upgrade should see the bhp figure up around the 500 mark. I have also watched many times the YouTube footage of similar ‘five-ohs’ that have undergone these same modifications and, with the speakers turned up to 11, dribbled quietly into my tea.

More to follow.

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Daniel Scott