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http://driving.timesonline.co.uk/article/0,,12529-1794313,00.html

September 25, 2005

The Sunday Times

Ford Mustang
By Jeremy Clarkson
Bite the Bullitt, buy the fantasy


The new Pontiac Solstice is America’s first attempt at making a sports car in more than 50 years. And not since David Beckham’s wayward penalty kick against Portugal have we seen anything go so wide of the mark. It is comically awful.
And that sets a question. How come America’s massive car industry can’t make what is basically beans on toast? A light, zesty, pine-fresh car with an engine at the front, a simple foldaway roof in the middle and rear-wheel drive at the back? Lotus can make a sports car using nothing but a melted-down bathtub and the engine from a Rover. Alfa Romeo can make a sports car using steel so thin you can read through it, and an engine that won’t start. Then there was Triumph, which made a sports car even though its entire workforce was outside the factory warming its hands around a brazier and chanting.

So what’s America’s problem? Well, here in Europe early cars were expensive coach-built luxury goods for the tweedy and well-off. It wasn’t until the 1940s that cars for the common man came to France, Germany and Britain, and it wasn’t until the 1950s that they came to Italy. They haven’t arrived in Spain even today.

As a result we still have an innate sense that a car is something you save up for, something a bit decadent and exciting. Whereas in America the everyman Model T Ford came quickly after the introduction of internal combustion so there was never a chance for cars to earn that upmarket cachet. As a result, they’ve always seen the car as a tool: nothing more than an alternative to the horse.

In Europe we talk about style and how fast a car accelerates. In America they talk about how many horse boxes their trucks can pull and how much torque the engine produces.

If you do encounter someone over there who’s fond of performance cars they’re only really interested in how much g can be generated in the bends, whereas here those of a petrolhead disposition don’t care at all about grip, only what happens when it’s lost and the car is sliding. Then you are into the world of handling. A world where nothing but skill keeps you out of the hedge.

There’s more, too. From day one American motor sport was all about sponsorship, which is why the oval raceway was developed. It meant the whole crowd could see all the sponsors’ names all the time. The cars never zoomed off into a wood.

Here, they did. Motor racing was a rich man’s game, held far from hoi polloi on airfield perimeter roads. And on twisty tracks like this, grip was nowhere near as important as decent handling.

Add all this together and you start to understand why we have Lotus, Ferrari, Maserati and Aston Martin. And they have the Ford F-150 Lightning pick-up truck: 0-60mph in a millionth of a second. Enough space in the back for a dead bear. And on a challenging road about as much fun as a wasabi enema.

They also have the Ford Mustang and last week that’s what I was using to cruise up the 101 from Monterey to San Francisco. The sun was shining, 104.3 the Hippo was massaging my ear bones with soothing West Coast sounds and, like everyone else, I was doing a steady 65mph, my heart beating in slow monotonous harmony with the big V8.

This new version has been styled to resemble the original from 1965, and that’s a good thing. Less satisfactory is the news that it’s also been engineered to resemble the original with all sorts of technology that in Europe would have been considered old fashioned by Edward Longshanks.

There’s no complex double-stage turbocharging here; no elegantly machined swirl chamber to extract the best possible power and economy from the smallest possible engine. It’s a 4.6 litre V8 with just one camshaft, three valves per cylinder and the sort of power output the average European would expect from a juicer.

The platform for the new Mustang comes from a Jaguar S-type. But then the Americans take it back in time by fitting a solid rear axle such as you’d find on a Silver Cross pram, and a Panhard rod, dismissed by Newcomen as being “a bit too last year”.

So what’s it like to drive? Well, the previous day I’d taken it on a hard lap of the extraordinarily beautiful Laguna Seca raceway, which, because it’s the curliest track in North America, is regarded by racing drivers all over the world as one of the greats. Mansell. Villeneuve. Even Top Gear’s Stig go all misty eyed at the mention of it.

And frankly it was more than a match for Ford’s big daft horse. Its brakes were cooked by turn six; the final slow corner completely overwhelmed the live rear axle; and through the fearsome Corkscrew, which twists down a gradient so steep you can’t even walk up it, I’m afraid Mr Ed was about as pin sharp as a punt gun. I damn nearly soiled myself.

Is it fast? Well, you get 300bhp, which is about 200bhp less than BMW gets from a similarly sized engine. But nevertheless it will get from 0-60mph in 5sec and reach a top speed of 150. That’s not bad for an ox cart.
But by European standards this car is rubbish. Its engine has wasteful, unused capacity that turns fuel into nothing, it couldn’t get from one end of a country lane to the other without running out of brakes and it handles like a newborn donkey.

There’s more, too. It’s got a gruff engine note, its interior has the panache of an Afghan’s cave and . . . and . . . and I can’t go on. You see, I’m running through all this car’s bad points but I’m afraid my mind is consumed by the bit where I was doing 65mph on the 101, listening to some Eagles on 104.3.

And then by the subsequent memory of grumbling along the waterfront in San Francisco itself, the city setting for Bullitt, the film that etched the Mustang for all time on the petrolhead’s radar.

You see, I kept thinking I’m in a Mustang in San Francisco on a glorious September afternoon. And I liked that a lot. I liked it so much that I became consumed with the notion of maybe taking a small part of the experience home with me.

The numbers look good. Because the Mustang is made from pig iron and lava it is extraordinarily cheap: $25,000. And £13,800 for 300bhp is tempting. Even if you factor in the cost of shipping, changing the lights and paying Mr Blair some tax, it’ll still only be £22,000.

For that you could have a Golf GTI, which, alongside Ford’s canoe looks like the Starship Enterprise. It’s more practical, easier to run, and around Laguna Seca undoubtedly it’d be a whole lot more competent. Whenever I drive a GTI I’m always full of admiration for its abilities, but when I was driving that Mustang I liked it. And that’s sort of more important.

Of course, the American way means they’ll never be able to build a sports car. It explains why the Pontiac Solstice is so dire. But the simplistic, covered wagon approach doesn’t really matter on a car like the Mustang, not when you’re doing 65mph in the sunshine and the Doobies are serenading you with Long Train Running. Not when it means you get a car this handsome for 13 grand.

The only worry is that if I did buy a Mustang, I’d get the car over here and on a wet November night realise that, actually, what I wanted to bring home was San Francisco.

The Mustang, then, is a great car in America. But here you’re better off with a Golf.

VITAL STATISTICS

Model Ford Mustang 4.6 litre
Engine 4600cc V8
Power 300bhp @ 5750rpm
Torque 320lb ft @ 4500rpm
Transmission 5 speed manual
Fuel 18/23mpg urban/extra urban
CO2 N/A
Acceleration 0-60mph: 5 sec
Top speed 143mph
Price $25,225 (not sold in UK)
Rating 3/5
Verdict Horrid but very loveable
 

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Discussion Starter #2
I'm in the UK, so I get to see Top Gear quite a bit, and Jeremy Clarkson is entertaining as hell. He is also extremely opinionated (see the previous comment) and I frequently disagree with him, but he is fun to watch (or read). I have not, having watched 20+ episodes of Top Gear and read numerous articles, been able to figure him out, but he is never boring.

I like the Solstice and would prefer it to most of the cars available in Europe, but unfortunately my Solstice order was cancelled when GM pulled the entire allocation from the overseas military car sales group. Maybe I should test-drive a Mustang? After all, it might be . . . fun? :devil:
 

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I guess they have forgotten about the Corvette coming over there and beating all Europe's fancy brands at Le Mans....
but it was good fiction reading for a change :lol: :lol: :lol:
 

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The Europeans will never understand that America is a wide-open high-speed country with long, straight roads that beg for high-speed GT cars, not sports cars. If you are among the minority fortunate enough to live near fun, twisting roads, then you might want to own a sports car - as impractical as they are.

For the vast majority of Americans, the experience of enjoying a drive on a winding, country road with easy access from their home, without the aggravation of traffic, and under relaxed circumstances where they aren't rushing to get away for the weekend or racing back for work, is going to be a rare moment of joy. Yet this defines the average driving experience for the average European, who commutes to work by train, walks to the local bakery and probably only uses their cars for getaways, vacations and occassional visits. Or when European moto-journalists want to test drive the lates European sports car.

So we are a different country with different needs. And our needs are generally filled better by an efficient, basic GT car than a costly, high-strung sports car. Frankly, I love independent rear suspension, but just how many of the average 100,000 miles put on your average Mustang GT are going to be miles where an independent suspension would make a useful difference in handling performance? One percent? Less than one percent?

My advice for for Clarkson is to study why the generally poor handling and heavy Harley Davidson motorcycles are the best selling bikes in America, while scorned everywhere else in the world. When he leans the answer to that question, he will begin to understand why the demand for US sports cars is so pitifully low and the demand for US pony cars, muscle cars and powerful GTs is so spectacular.

Or put another way, "Hey Jerramy, if I have to explain it, you wouldn't understand."
 

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jimbo said:
The Europeans will never understand that America is a wide-open high-speed country with long, straight roads that beg for high-speed GT cars, not sports cars. If you are among the minority fortunate enough to live near fun, twisting roads, then you might want to own a sports car - as impractical as they are.
Count me in as one that lives near Twisting country roads. I live in the mountians of East Tennessee, We have many many Sportscars around here, along with the muscle cars.... BMW z-3's and 4's. Miatas, Corvettes, Vipers,
you name it we got them around here... I have always enjoyed driving on these roads...
PS buy a sportscar and you will find twisting roads near you, you just have not looked yet... you will even take on-ramps on the interstate in a whole new way...
 

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Thing is, he actually admits that he likes the Mustang after spending the first half of the article bashing it (and America). You have to remeber that he works for the BBC. I dont think it's possible for any BBC writer to be any less critical of the US without endangering their own job. Even Tony Blair thinks the BBC is biased against America.
 

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toddwcarpenter said:
Thing is, he actually admits that he likes the Mustang after spending the first half of the article bashing it (and America). You have to remeber that he works for the BBC. I dont think it's possible for any BBC writer to be any less critical of the US without endangering their own job. Even Tony Blair thinks the BBC is biased against America.
So sad and oh so true. They don't call it the Bash Bush Channel for nothing. ;)
 

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Classic66vair said:
PS buy a sportscar and you will find twisting roads near you, you just have not looked yet... you will even take on-ramps on the interstate in a whole new way...
Tell that to somebody in Topeka, Kansas or in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I understand what you are saying, but the sad fact is many people live in regions of vast flat expanses that lend themselves to long straight roads with long sweepers or 90-degree turns at intersections. Not everyone has the roads of Boone, North Carolina or Durango, Colorado or Laconia, New Hampshire at their back door. Hard as it is for some to believe. Or if you don't believe me - go visit Florida.

If I lived in one of these places, I could probably find a lot more pleasure in the thrust of take-off or kicking out the tail during a throttle-on powerslide in a GTO, than driving for hours to find a road with a curve in it for my sports car.

I think this has a BIG reason to do with the relative low sports cars in America. Many people (most?) just don't have a fun place to drive them.
 

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toddwcarpenter said:
:agree: It would suck to be "most people".
Brother, you are truly blessed. On my last cross-country drive, I rode through the Appalacians from State College, Pennsylvania, down West Virginia and Virginia, into North Carolina, and across eastern Kentucky for the most breath-taking 4-day ride of my life. I would love to repeat that drive in my Solstice.

You have me very jealous, my friend.
 

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jimbo said:
Tell that to somebody in Topeka, Kansas or in Bismarck, North Dakota.

I understand what you are saying, but the sad fact is many people live in regions of vast flat expanses that lend themselves to long straight roads with long sweepers or 90-degree turns at intersections. Not everyone has the roads of Boone, North Carolina or Durango, Colorado or Laconia, New Hampshire at their back door. Hard as it is for some to believe. Or if you don't believe me - go visit Florida.

If I lived in one of these places, I could probably find a lot more pleasure in the thrust of take-off or kicking out the tail during a throttle-on powerslide in a GTO, than driving for hours to find a road with a curve in it for my sports car.

I think this has a BIG reason to do with the relative low sports cars in America. Many people (most?) just don't have a fun place to drive them.
I think the majority of Americans don't live in the places you named, most of the flat sections of the country are not nearly as populated as the number of people living in or near the foothills and mountianous areas..I can not think of one state east of the Mississippi River that I have driven in that does not have good roads to drive a sportscar. except for Florida. Also most western states have very good places to drive, it is mostly the center of the country that has the roads you talk about and the majority of Americans do not live in that area.
I have believe it or not driven across country from east to west and from north to south, and yes there are some very boring roads around the country, but anyway how many people in Bismark North Dakota are really going to want a car they can only enjoy a couple months of the year anyway...
there are other reasons for owing a sportscar than just twisty roads....
 

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The damn English just can't get over the fact that we kicked thier asses out in 1776.
 

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Don't we also have many more twisty roads than England does.... how big is it anyway?
 

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It wasn't until I first started travelling a bit around the US back in my early 20s that I realized just how flat much of this country is. Here in PA, we have all sorts of country roads that are pointlessly twisty, hilly, and meandering.

Here are a few shots taken around my home about an hour northeast of Philadelphia...just a Sunday drive. :) And you have to imagine the sound of the turbo'd MSM's engine hanging out at 6K rpms for proper effect.





 

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Classic66vair said:
Don't we also have many more twisty roads than England does.... how big is it anyway?
Sure we do. However, say 500 miles of twisty roads, for example, is a much smaller percentage of the total road mileage in the USA than it is in England. Now if you include the entire United Kindom, those British folks may just have a few more right-side driving twisty roads than we do in the grand ol' USA.

:)
 

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Discussion Starter #20
Classic66vair said:
Don't we also have many more twisty roads than England does.... how big is it anyway?
The United Kingdom is not much bigger than 90,000 square miles, but in the UK straight roads are few and far between.

In East Anglia, where I live, any straight section of road is invariably an old Roman road. It took the English centuries to undo the fine Roman engineering and give us meandering donkey paths with no shoulders, lot's of blind corners and more adverse camber than you could ever, ever, ever want.

A bit about size over here, drive eight hours in a (mostly) straight line and you will be coming to literally the end of the roads. Drive for eight hours in the U.S. and you will still be in Texas (or California), assuming that you started your journey in Texas (or California). Difference of scale leads to a much different perspective.

Similar differences are seen between U.S. and Japanese autos, what is a great, sporty little car designed for tightly packed urban centers in small countries makes almost zero sense for the majority of Americans. It is a technical achievement to get 240 HP from 2 liters, but in America where we are not taxed on the size of our engine a 4.6L 340 HP V8 will generally provide a better all-around experience.

I do agree with Jeremy Clarkson about one thing, a live rear axle, panhard bars and struts . . . WOW!!!! GO FORD MUSTANG!!!! Way to drag sports car technology into the past . . . . whatever were they thinking?
 
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