Ford Mustang Mach 1, High tech meets old tech
Road & Track
By Mike Monticello
Photos by Jay K. McNally
Apparently, the Ford development team isn't slacking off any, despite the fact that their Mustang has literally blown the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird out of the muscle-car market. Hot on the heels of the 2001 limited-production Mustang Bullitt GT comes this year's special Mustang, the Mach 1. Complete with a functional "shaker" ram air scoop that pays homage to the 1969 Mustang Mach 1 and its 428-cu.-in. Cobra Jet V-8.
The 2003 Mach 1 makes up for cubic inches with multivalve technology. It uses the 2001 SVT Mustang Cobra's 32-valve, 281-cu.-in. (4.6-liter) V-8. But if you look at the Mach 1's numbers — 305 bhp at 5800 rpm and 320 lb.-ft. of torque at 4200 rpm — you're bound to ask a big "what's up?" For the horsepower number is down from the Cobra's 320.
The reason is that Ford changed several engine pieces to give the Mach 1 better torque at lower engine speeds, at the sacrifice of peak horsepower. The biggest change is to the higher-flow cylinder heads, which were fitted with intake cams from Ford's 5.4-liter V-8. Different exhaust cams were also added along with a new set of exhaust manifolds matched to the cylinder heads.
So while the horsepower number may not look as good as the Cobra's, the Mach 1 has gained 3 lb.-ft. of torque that peaks at a much lower 4000 rpm compared with 4750 for the 2001 Cobra. In other words, Ford has just improved your chances at the highly coveted stoplight drag wars.
As far as exterior design cues go, any resemblance to the 1969 Mach 1 is purely intentional. Flat black is the color of choice for the hood stripe, shaker air inlet, extended front air dam, side stripes and rear wing. There are also new 5-spoke "Heritage" 17-in. wheels shod with Goodyear Eagles, size 245/45ZR-17.
The interior changes include "comfortweave" black leather seats (similar to the 1969 car's) and an aluminum shifter ball to work the 5-speed manual transmission (a 4-speed auto is optional).
The Mach 1 is more than just a fancy-looking GT with the Cobra's engine stuffed into it. The suspension has been worked over with stiffer springs and Tokico shock absorbers, and the ride height was lowered by a half inch. While it does not use the Cobra's independent rear suspension, the changes improve the Mach 1's handling without giving it a too-harsh ride. And you can take the Mach 1 deeper into corners than a regular GT because it uses the same Brembo brakes as the current Cobra, with the only difference being slightly less aggressive pads.
Ford invited journalists to drive the new Mach 1, along with the supercharged SVT Mustang Cobra and the SVT Focus, on a road course and an autocross. What we found was that the Mach 1 exhibits improved handling over a GT without the need to wind the engine to redline to get the most out of it, as with the previous Cobra. Plus, we found it easy to do burnout launches and powerslides out of the slow corners.
Most journalists (myself included) received their best autocross times with the Mach 1, not the high-horsepower Cobra or the little SVT Focus. Attribute this to the lighter, more nimble feel of the Mach 1 over the Cobra and extra power over the Focus. It was a different story on the road course as the huge power and more tied-down feeling of the Cobra gave it a distinct advantage.
But, with a starting price of $28,995, the Mach 1 is considerably cheaper than a Cobra. It also sounds better, as some editors find the supercharger whine to be less than pleasant. The Mach 1, on the other hand, sings out its V-8 tune with all its might, and yes, when you blip the throttle, the air scoop really does shake.
If you want a Mach 1, you better get your order in; only 6500 will be built and they are sure to go quickly. Though it probably won't be as collectible as a '69, the 2003 edition is sure fun to drive.
My first car was a 67 Mustang Coupe, 2nd one was a 67 Cougar XR-7, 3rd one was a 66 Mustang Coupe. Why did I get rid of these cars for ? I know why, because I'm stupid, stupid, stupid.
My next Ford.....