US: Jay Leno drives the 05 Ford Mustang GT - Ford Forums - Mustang Forum, Ford Trucks, Ford Focus and Ford Cars
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US: Jay Leno drives the 05 Ford Mustang GT

Ford Mustang GT

by jay leno

Jay Leno with his own 1965-vintage Mustang Shelby GT and the new model

It’s not the same when they launch a new car nowadays. I remember the date the Mustang was introduced as if it was my birthday. It was April 17, 1964. Down at my local Ford dealer the cars had been brought in under cover and the windows in the showroom were draped in curtains until 9am, when the Mustang was revealed. It was like a movie premiere.
We had lined up to see this. I remember being so excited. Suddenly this was the coolest car in our neighbourhood . . . mind you, that wasn’t hard.

Me and my friends used to hang out at the Dairy Queen of an evening waiting for cool cars to drive by. It didn’t happen very often and if it did it was usually after we’d gone home at 11pm. The phone might go at 11.20 and someone would say: “You just missed a Mustang!”

There had never been a car launch like it and in some ways the Mustang was a bit too racy for its time. Promoting the basic model (which had a six-cylinder engine) especially to women buyers Ford made a play on the title of Helen Gurley Brown’s book Sex and the Single Girl by running the advertising line Six and the Single Girl. Some magazines refused to run the campaign and in a conservative town like Boston, where I came from, it was like running a condom ad. But it meant the Mustang was seen as a car in which the frumpiest secretary could appear like a sex goddess.

I guess the Mustang was America’s answer to the Jaguar XK120 or even E-type. The styling was outrageous for the era. The price was affordable. The performance was excellent.

It wasn’t long before the Mustang got roles in the movies. I remember that scene from Goldfinger where Bond is stuck by the side of the road and the girl in the Mustang pulls over to pick him up. The shot cuts away to the speedometer and you see it climb . . . 98 . . . 99 . . . 100! A hundred miles an hour. It was a big deal then.

I guess the film the Mustang is most associated with is Bullitt. This was one of my all-time favourite car movies. Not just because of the chases but because it is great for watching the mistakes. For instance the Dodge Challenger loses five hubcaps during a chase. It only had four wheels! The Mustang was absolutely right for the movie. The star of the film was a single cop. Policemen don’t have much money so a Mustang would have been a perfect car for him. It was also the perfect car for the average guy watching the movie in the theatre.

Anyway, the Mustang started off very strong (selling 700,000 in the first nine months and so becoming the fastest seller ever) but it was panned by some in the car industry, saying that it would never be collectable because too many were made. It also received criticism because it had solid rear suspension. Lee Iacocca, the Ford executive in charge of the project, said that the solid rear axle was fine, that Americans didn’t care about going round corners because they preferred it to perform from stoplight to stoplight. This was the era of hot rods, don’t forget. He was right.

But then, as happens in midlife, the second generation of the car, the Mustang 2, got fat and lazy. It still sold because it was a Mustang, but it was not the same car that wowed the world in the mid-1960s.

I hear when Ford was looking at the Mustang name in the mid-1990s there was a suggestion it could take a Mazda and rebadge it as a Mustang. Now there’s nothing wrong with Mazdas, but they are not Mustangs. There were a lot of letters and e-mails to Ford complaining. Thankfully, they dropped the plan, and all credit to them.

The Mustang is a state of mind. You expect it to be certain things, and a rebadged Mazda is not one of them. That would have been like divorce. In fact the new 2005 Mustang is a bit like staying married to the same woman and her having a boob job, a tummy tuck and liposuction. The original is still there, only the parts are better.

I found out pretty fast that the new car, which goes on sale here in America next month, has the right genes. I have had the test car for three or four days and I have an equal number of thumbs-up for the Mustang (which costs $24,995 or £13,667 for the V8) as I have for a Mercedes-McLaren SLR and a Porsche Carrera GT (both over £300,000!). I could see people look across at the car. They were mouthing “Is that the new Mustang?” I’d mouth back YES!

You can tell from the moment you set eyes on it, it has character and heritage. It has the little rear side window just like the early ones. But I think even if this was the first ever Mustang and came without the expectation and heritage, it would still draw a lot of interest and sell well. It looks great, especially for $25,000. I mean, how do you build a 300bhp car for that money?

You can see where Ford has saved money, though. For instance, unlike the original there’s no chrome. The sound system is great but seems to take up half the trunk. How times change — in the original Mustang the big optional extra was to have one speaker in the front and one in the back. The big deal was the dial to switch the sound from the front to the rear speaker.

If you like driving then you are going to like this car. It is far more high performance than the last Mustang. So many cars have a notchy transmission that takes 40 miles to warm up but this has a nice, smooth-shifting manual five-speed. It has an all-new chassis that gives a much tighter and firmer ride than the previous one.

This is the American idea of a sports car. It tracks well and it does what Americans consider the way to go round a corner: in slow, and power out. The whole experience is fantastic. It rumbles with the right note, it pulls strongly, and it rides with enough firmness to make you feel you are not on standard American suspension.
There are some things the original does better, though. The old car is great fun to drive. With skinny tyres you could slide the back out on the original very easily — you got more of a sense of speed.

My Mustang is a 1965 Shelby GT 350 (a souped up sporting version) with 306bhp and a side exhaust. Today the basic 2005 V8 Mustang is as powerful as the original racing Shelby and, by comparison, a fraction the price. I wouldn’t call it a sports car but it is the best value sporty car out there.

There is nothing else like this being made in America any more. The new Pontiac GTO is a fine car but it is Australian and it is $37,000 and not selling well. The Pontiac Camaro and Firebird are gone so the Mustang is now really one of a kind, just as it was in 1964.

Most people who want a high-performance American car would want a Corvette and maybe a Viper. But a Mustang has a lot of the good things of a ’Vette or Viper without the cost. This is the sort of car you could strive for when you get your first job. It is achievable. I would buy one, probably in Bullitt-green.

For Ford, the Mustang is a halo car. It will improve the image and it will show that Ford is making a serious attempt to get back into the car business and not just make trucks, which is its core in the US. It will put young people back in touch with sports cars and not just SUVs.

Let’s face it, the Mustang never really went away. It has always been around in one form but this, at last, is a reincarnation of the original. It might have taken 40 years but Ford has got the Mustang back to how it should be.

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.....
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