2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Like GTO, another musclecar icon nameplate returns
By Jack Keebler
Photography by David Freers
Motor Trend, December 2002
Heritage is big these days. And if you've got it, you might as well flaunt it. Fortunately for Ford, the Mustang packs heritage by the boatload.
At the moment, the revival of this much-storied Mustang model is helping extend the life and sales potential of the current platform while a new one is simmering on the product-development stove.
Mustang Chief Engineer Hau Thai-Tang calls retro variants like the new 305-hp Mach 1 and last year's 265-hp Bullitt Mustang "Buzz products." "We're trying to leverage some of the things that have worked in the past--our heritage," says Thai-Tang. "But we also want to deliver the bang that goes along with the exterior and interior styling cues."
Thai-Tang explains that with the improved "bang" given the newly supercharged SVT Mustang Cobra, "we cleared out some room [in the lineup] to do a car like the Mach 1 without any overlap." True, the Mach slots neatly in between the aforementioned 390-hp Cobra and the GT, which remains at 260.
·Great V-8 sound
·Platform showing its age
Just in case you haven't taken Ponycar 101, the original Mach 1 was a Mustang performance model introduced in 1969, offered only in fastback-bodied form. Most were powered by 351 "Windsor" or "Cleveland" V-8s; the top-dog Mach carried a potent 428 Cobra Jet that was embarrassingly underrated at 335 hp. The Mach 1 was just one element of a golden-era Mustang lineup that also included the Boss 302 and 429, plus the last of the Shelby GT 350s and 500s. Those, indeed, were the days.
At the test track, it proved clear that this reborn Mach 1 is far more than period graphics, '60s/'70s-style Magnum 500 wheels, "shaker" hood scoop, and semi-gloss-black deck spoiler. Our five-speed-equipped Mach 1 shot to 60 mph in 5.3 sec and cleared the quarter mile in 13.8 sec at 102.5 mph. That's all over the 5.2 to 60 and 13.5 at 107.3 posted by the last Camaro SS we tested--which cost a good five grand more. If you feel you need a bigger Mustang hammer, the $34,750 SVT Cobra gets to 60 in just 4.7 sec and does the quarter in 12.8 at 113.2 mph. How fast did you say you wanted to spend?
Providing the all-important bang in place of those oldie-but-goodie 351s and 428s is a unique version of Ford's 32-valve cast-iron block/aluminum-head 4.6L DOHC V-8. This is the same one used in the 390-hp Cobra, but without supercharged assistance. Ensuring that the Mach motor breathes properly is a functional scoop that mounts squarely atop the intake manifold and pokes through a cutout in the special plastic hood. Talk about heritage: The Mustang team says the new scoop is made on the same tooling as the '60s originals.
This ram-air scoop ducts the charge forward into the air cleaner and through a twin-bore 57mm throttle body. From there, it's a quick trip into a set of high-flow four-valve heads packing the 5.4L DOHC V-8's intake camshaft and its own high-performance exhaust cam. A special set of exhaust manifolds, resonators, mufflers, and polished tips let the Mach speak its own distinctive boom and burble.
Take your choice between the standard five-speed manual and a four-speed automatic with beefed-up internals. As noted, our tester was a stick, and the reward was a slick gate that proved easy to negotiate, along with a relatively light clutch (considering the torque being transmitted). Like the Cobra, the live rear axle has 3.55 gears. Combined with a 0.62:1 fifth gear, that means relaxed 1700-2000-rpm freeway cruising. The EPA numbers are 17 city and a respectable 25 on the highway.
The Mach's ride is sporty, well balanced, and everyday friendly. To properly tune the chassis for the extra power and engine-mass increase, the car sits a quarter-inch lower than its GT sibling. Its roll stiffness has been increased via higher-rate springs, while retaining the GT's 26.5mm front and 23mm rear anti-roll bars. The team also fitted higher-performance, gas-pressurized Tokico struts and shocks for better wheel control on rough surfaces. "It tends to be a bit more tied down," offers the Mustang chief. "It's like the difference between a base 3 Series BMW and an M3." We agree that this state of tune is right on for the street-minded enthusiast driver.
The Mustang's power-assisted rack-and-pinion steering benefits from a stiffer Cobra-spec intermediate shaft, which translates to quicker chassis responses. The desire was crisper turn-in and better on- and off-center feel. The rack does respond quickly, but the extra heft of this engine's cast-iron block was fairly obvious as we wove through the cones in our slalom test. Recall that the naturally aspirated Cobra engine was originally all aluminum, so this is a bit of a step back. To enhance stopping power, the team fitted the Cobra's excellent 13-in. Brembo rotors and twin-piston calipers in front; out back are 11.6-in. vented discs squeezed by single-piston calipers. It all combined for a best 60-0 stop of just 119 ft, despite what looked and felt like lots more nose dive than usual. These brakes had no trouble shrugging off several 100-plus-mph acceleration runs without a trace of fade.
Some of the other Mach model goodies are "comfort weave" leather buckets, unique gauge faces, a polished-aluminum shifter handle (with an aluminum trim ring on the shifter boot), and optional metal-trimmed pedals. The seats are a terrific styling element that are supportive and look similar to the originals in a '70 Mach 1. The Mach's instrumentation does a great job of imitating the dark cluster graphics in the old car. But what was difficult to read in 1970 is nearly as tough in 2003.
The other retro cue that falls short are the 17x8.0-in. nouveaux "Magnum 500" wheels. They don't even come close to looking as cool as the authentic chromed steel Mag 500s on the original; we blame the lack of rim offset (depth). Unfortunately, the rim depth required for that "deep dish" look would've caused steering kickback problems, according to Ford Engineering.
Unlike most other limited-production models, the Mach 1 is available in several different shades: yellow, black, white, red, blue, and a dark-gray metallic. The factory guys say they're set to build 7500 of these attention-grabbing coupes--with 5900 orders already posted. The good news is that more production can be had, if necessary. We also feel the fully equipped, sub-$30K price point is fine.
As any enthusiast who ever lifted a hood knows, Ford's current generation of computer-managed, injection-fed modular V-8s are well mannered and shake little at idle. Long gone are yesteryear's radical cams and over-jetted carbs that caused all that stoplight snorting and shuddering. But thanks to the new Mach 1, you can once again look across the hood, nail the throttle, and enjoy that distinctly American musclecar feeling, as the engine rocks on its mounts and the hood scoop nods its acknowledgement.
Some slices of history are worth repeating.
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.....