Horse and hype power
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.