Horse and hype power

The Advertiser - Motoring - - COVER STORY - JOSHUA DOWL­ING NA­TIONAL MO­TOR­ING EDITOR

I’M the envy of 4000 Aus­tralians right now, be­hind the wheel of the Ford money can’t buy.

That’s how many peo­ple are in the queue for the new Mus­tang, a car made fa­mous by dozens of movies, in­clud­ing Gone In 60 Sec­onds.

It’s the first time in the Mus­tang’s 50-year his­tory Ford has built its iconic pony car in right-hand-drive on a US pro­duc­tion line.

Ear­lier mod­els im­ported in the 1960s and early 2000s were con­verted lo­cally.

We’ll spare you the tech­ni­cal dif­fer­ences but it’s like when you take a brand new elec­tri­cal prod­uct out of its pack­ag­ing and try to repack it, it’s not the same as a fac­tory-boxed item.

Why is it such a big deal — and why is it so sur­pris­ing — that Ford made the Mus­tang for smaller for­eign mar­kets?

It costs al­most as much to de­sign, de­velop and en­gi­neer a right-hand-drive variant as it does the orig­i­nal left-hand-drive car. Yet only about 5 per cent of the Mus­tangs made will be right-hand-drive, de­spite the strong de­mand Down Un­der.

Ford is no doubt re­lieved that its gam­ble to make a right­hand-drive model ap­pears to have al­ready paid off, how­ever. The car gi­ant fig­ured it would sell only 1000 Mus­tangs in its first year here but it has taken four times that many de­posits.

Walk into a show­room to­day and place an or­der for a new Mus­tang and yours will be de­liv­ered be­fore Christ­mas — if you’re lucky.

This is the sort of in­ter­est that brought chief en­gi­neer Carl Wid­mann all the way from Detroit for the lo­cal me­dia launch of the new Mus­tang.

He wants to un­der­stand why we love the car so much and why so many Aussies bought one be­fore they even “saw it, sat in it or test drove it”.

He also wants to re­duce the wait­ing time — but he’s not mak­ing any prom­ises just yet.

The Mus­tang fac­tory in Michi­gan is al­ready work­ing flat out, 22 hours a day, six days a week, to meet global de­mand.

Aus­tralia-bound cars get sent to the port in Bal­ti­more to start their three-month jour­ney via the Panama Canal.

Some su­per-keen cus­tomers have found apps that en­able them to track the progress of their Mus­tang, once they find out what ship it’s on. Ford’s not ac­cus­tomed to such at­ten­tion.

“The in­ter­est in this mar­ket has re­ally sur­prised us … and we need to un­der­stand it bet­ter,” Wid­mann says.

As well as the un­ex­pected de­mand, a cause for the 12month de­lay is that there are more than 100 unique parts, big and small, for the right-hook mod­els.

When it came to fore­cast­ing how many cars it would build — at least a year in ad­vance of go­ing on sale, in the ramp-up to pro­duc­tion — Ford played it safe and or­dered a lim­ited quan­tity of those unique parts.

That means it can’t pump more right-hand-drive cars out of the fac­tory. Not yet.

Mean­while, I have the keys to a new Mus­tang V8 to see what the fuss is all about. I nearly crash it — not be­cause of over-ex­u­ber­ance on my part but be­cause this car turns more heads than a Fer­rari and other gawk­ing driv­ers, un­wit­tingly, nearly veer into me.

The first sur­prise to me is that the “sport” sus­pen­sion isn’t nearly as un­com­fort­able as it was on the orig­i­nal Mus­tang V8 tested in the US more than a year ago. With the promised re­worked sus­pen­sion, the Mus­tang feels taut but not bone-jar­ring on Syd­ney’s crum­bling roads — it’s the most com­fort­able “sport” sus­pen­sion I’ve driven on.

Free of the city and sub­ur­ban out­skirts, the Mus­tang just gets bet­ter. The su­per-sticky and su­per-wide Pirelli tyres (as found on Fer­rari, Porsche, Mercedes AMG and other per­form­ers) have an as­tound­ing level of grip.

The sharp and ac­cu­rate steer­ing feels more like a Mazda MX-5, not some mus­cle-car beast.

The V8 revs freely and sounds spec­tac­u­lar. To be frank, if not picky, I’d love a bit more grunt at lower revs.

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