The purr and growl of Ford’s latest Mustang muscle
It swaggers like Steve McQueen, and sounds like Barry White. Welcome to the newest instalment of an American icon
If you’re all about channelling your inner Steve McQueen, there’s really only one car for you.
In 1968 the smouldering Hollywood hot-shot starred as police officer Frank Bullitt in, yes, hit movie Bullitt. The swaggering McQueen radiated his regulation cool.
Some might say, however, that arguably the brightest star of his era was outshone by the film’s real draw: a 1968 Ford Mustang 390 GT 2+2 Fastback, which lights up perhaps the most electrifying car chase in cinematograph history.
As usual with scenes of automotive mayhem, multiple cars were required: two Mustangs, plus two Dodge Chargers for the bad guys. But in that singular tearing up of the streets of San Francisco the Mustang’s reputation was carved in celluloid.
(Movie trivia has it that when McQueen tried to buy the surviving Mustang a few years later, the owner, a Warner Brothers employee, refused to sell.)
Anyway, thanks to Ford’s introduction to Hong Kong this summer of the latest iteration of what it calls the “all-American muscle car”, you can now relive all your modern retro Bullitt fantasies. Sort of.
Read all the marketing moonshine you can stomach, it will never remind you that on stretches even of Hong Kong dual carriageway your high-priced, high-performance brute will be flapping its biceps in bemusement as it bumbles along at a maximum speed of 50 km/h (that’s a measly 31 mph in real money).
Nor will it caution that enforcing the same will be, a) speed cameras, or b) speed gun-toting police hiding in roadside bushes like sneaky schoolboys.
So much for those McQueen dreams.
It makes owing a mechanical marvel of Mustang (or Ferrari, or Porsche, or Maserati) proportions in the SAR seem rather pointless … unless you’re having a mine’s-bigger-than-yours contest in the golf club car park.
And for a while, it seemed that talk about the Mustang was all its prospective owners were likely to do.
Delays in shipping the first factory-minted right-hand drive Mustangs meant demand for the limited supply was rabid (what’s that you say? Crafty old Ford? Surely not.)
All 62 units ordered for Hong Kong were gone in six months – all spoken for and all dowries pledged right at the outset.
But back to the asphalt, and the car’s capacity for making the driver feel that little bit more king of the road. No misguided traffic restrictions are the vehicle’s fault, so let’s savour what can be achieved when this particular rear-wheel drive stallion is turned loose.
(Note to motoring anoraks: yes, the cloudy classification “muscle car” sometimes omits the Mustang; at other times it’s filed under “pony”, in a sub-section. We know. But one definition is, “a two-door car powered by a high-displacement engine”. Fine.)
The car tested had a five-litre V8 lurking under the bonnet – hood or bonnet? Trunk or boot? When in Rome do you do as the Americans? – which could have sent this wild horse on a 250km/h gallop.
It had 435 fellow horses concealed somewhere in its power plant, beasts that didn’t so much neigh and whinny as spit fire and roar when open motorway permitted deployment of the Mustang’s famous party piece: its eight-cylinder bellow, the voice of all unreason in this age of Perspex noise shields and cautious fuel husbandry.
It ate the outside lane as it hit its straps, keeping up a delicious Barry White baritone all the way to the first speed-camera warning sign.
On pock-marked country roads the lumps and bumps even provided a guilty pleasure through what felt like sports suspension and stiffened handling.
You can’t help but expect the V8 Mustang monster to rip its shirt, turn green and growl … unlike its little brother, also available here, with its turbo-charged 2.3-litre EcoBoost engine – a concession to these anti-gas-guzzling times.
Both models come with “six-speed SelectShift automatic transmission”, which, frankly, along with its relatives elsewhere, is tiresome. It betrays the now-familiar gimmick of using those steering-wheel mounted “paddles” so beloved of Formula One to change gear by – shock! – hand when in Sport mode.
Because you don’t have to use a clutch – there isn’t one – and are not required to display any arm-leg coordination, or any driving skill for that matter; it’s more like playing a video game than changing gear manually in a real car.
And it’s in the interior where Ford seems to have spared every expense. The steering wheel is less sporty than a fastback deserves and the console is supposedly aviation inspired, although I’m not sure precisely which bit.
Nor would I want so much plastic in my plane. Much of the airbrushed steel between driver and shotgun is in fact that plastic with the sort of finish that looks like it will eventually wear off on your fingers.
It makes the knobs and dials look cheap. Which they may well be. Which the car is not, because you’ll have to pony up HK$599,000 for the EcoBoost or HK$728,000 for the V8.