Can you mea­sure some­thing that’s hot and cool in equal mea­sure?


Grand tour­ing and smok­ing tyres

THIS STORY BE­GINS WHERE THE LAST one ended. If you re­mem­ber, Ford dis­abled line lock dur­ing the press drives of the Mus­tang. We had to strike back. So I built a healthy lead on the sup­port car Ford had sent for our drive from Chen­nai to Hy­der­abad and when I was sure there was no one from the Blue Oval in sight of this beam­ing red Mus­tang, I quickly went through the steer­ing con­trols to en­gage line lock, burn some rub­ber, do the right thing. But guess what, the same party poop­ers had kept it dis­en­gaged. That’s when we found a newly built and aban­doned oc­troi post, wide enough for six lanes of trucks and cer­tainly wide enough for a few donuts. You can see what hap­pened next. The child in me is at peace now.

Back on the high­way

The en­gine is bur­bling at a steady pace, a long and straight dual car­riage­way takes me into the sun­set, and the ex­haust note is break­ing into a hymn that’s rare in this part of the world. It’s rarer still that I’m not driv­ing some­thing tur­bocharged, and it’s rarest that the Amer­i­can mus­cle at my helm feels com­pletely at home in south­ern In­dia. I’ve never felt so ex­otic, so far away from our head­quar­ters in Pune where fast and ex­pen­sive cars make weekly vis­its. The beauty of it is that the Mus­tang isn’t ex­otic by price, lux­ury or tech­nol­ogy, yet ev­ery minute with it seems to feel spe­cial. “Is that a Ferrari, or a Nis­san GTS (yeah the guy meant GT-R), or maybe Jaguar?” No, it’s a god damn

Mus­tang! The In­dian ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem needs to add a chap­ter on the Mus­tang in the syl­labus. How can they not know it is a Mus­tang, and why aren’t petrol­heads be­ing bred in schools? Al­right square roots do take time to learn and the fo­cus is on get­ting a job, but what's the harm in teach­ing kids to dream? Show them the love for cars, the joy of the open road, and take them on a road trip! Be­cause if a road trip ever needed a sym­bol, it would be the sil­hou­ette of a Mus­tang. It’s the car that has made en­thu­si­asts out of trav­ellers, and built a tem­ple around the good ol’ Amer­i­can V8.

As the crowds of Chen­nai van­ish from the rear view mir­rors on the Mus­tang, I come to grips with how hot the Mus­tang re­ally is in this part of the world, and am wel­comed by the cool easy-go­ing at­ti­tude of the mus­cle car. Ev­ery time we drive a car with such a big en­gine and 400 horse­power, we feel that we’d be do­ing a dis­ser­vice to it by go­ing easy on the gas. With ev­ery stretch of open road, go­ing pedal to the metal is the only log­i­cal re­ac­tion. But not with the Mus­tang. It em­braces the whole cruis­ing at­ti­tude with as much com­fort as a tacho nee­dle hov­er­ing at 6000rpm. This du­al­ity tugs at a petrol­head’s heart­strings. There’s a light bur­ble at 2000rpm and you can cruise all day as the am­bi­ent noise of its V8 feeds the senses with the Mus­tang’s la­tent en­thu­si­asm. At high­way speeds, driv­ing in sixth, I de­cide I need to hurry to the next toll booth, so I step


on the ac­cel­er­a­tor. It takes a cou­ple of sec­onds to drop a few cogs (yes the gear­box is not the quick­est), the mus­cle on the bon­net rises as the rear squats, and a wave of torque is fol­lowed by 396 horses. The Mus­tang takes me past Nel­lore.

We’ve got the pony for two days with a flight sched­uled out of Hy­der­abad the next evening, so we de­cide to stop over for the night at Guntur. Guntur is about 415km from Chen­nai and should take not more than seven hours, but nu­mer­ous stops for pho­tog­ra­phy and film­ing slow our progress. The high­ways are oth­er­wise smooth and traf­fic sparse. It has a fairly de­cent ground clear­ance of 137mm so com­pared to other sportscars, it’s not as dif­fi­cult to drive on our roads. The nose clears eas­ily, but its long wheel­base makes the un­der­belly kiss the higher speed humps if you don’t sidescram­ble over them. The sus­pen­sion is on the softer side, which is good for a grand tourer, but you’ve got to brake be­fore a pot­hole or a speed breaker and not on it oth­er­wise the com­pressed dampers will re­duce clear­ance even more. It’s not as cumbersome as I am mak­ing it out to be though. You drive a Mus­tang as you would any other reg­u­lar car, and some­times the mind gets car­ried away. It’s not as ex­pen­sive, even as a CBU, so that fear of driv­ing some­thing del­i­cate goes out of the win­dow. Plus it’s a mus­cle car. It’s a lit­tle crude in the head like all blokes walk­ing




out of a gym, and you’ve got to treat it like one. I like that.

Oh lord, it's pun­gent!

The drive is shap­ing up to be a proper road trip with a few snack halts, a few tank ups, plenty of tolls and a fair bit of night driv­ing. We reach Guntur past mid­night but are look­ing for­ward to the com­ing morn­ing. If there’s one thing the city is fa­mous for, it’s the pro­duc­tion and sale of chillies. Vishnu couldn’t wait to shoot the Mus­tang here. In his heavy Ta­mil­ian ac­cent, he would keep look­ing at the Mus­tang and say “It’s so hot, anna.” Maybe a trip to the chilli mar­ket would shut him up for good. So at 7 am, we drive the red Mus­tang over a weigh­bridge in to the mar­ket and we are as­ton­ished by the sheer size of the place. I wouldn’t be able to give a foot­ball field count for it but we were told that 40,000 gunny sacks of chillies leave the mar­ket ev­ery day. That’s 10 lakh ki­los of chillies a day. Can you imag­ine the amount of spice around us?

In one of the yards, we de­cide it would be a nice place to take some pho­to­graphs so Vishnu gets the bright idea of fling­ing a fist­ful of chillies in the fore­ground. It doesn’t work but kicks up quite a bit of the spice in the air and it’s un­bear­able. You be­gin to sneeze like you’ve caught an al­lergy and if you make the mis­take of rub­bing your eyes, that’s the end of the drive.

Thank­fully it doesn’t last long and we are out of the place be­fore the morn­ing trade com­mences.

Dash to the air­port

It’s no more than a six hour drive to Hy­der­abad from Guntur so we take it easy. Af­ter a visit to the chilli mar­ket, we freshen up at our ho­tel, have a lazy break­fast and drive out of town around noon. The nar­row state high­way get­ting out of Guntur gives an idea of the Mus­tang’s com­fort be­cause it doesn’t feel too huge for these roads, the seats are large and com­fort­able, and if you want your friend to sit in the back seats, con­sid­er­ing it’s a two-door car, the space isn’t too bad to sour your friend­ship. We’ve got all our bags and pho­tog­ra­phy equip­ment in the boot, yet there is space for more. It is a very prac­ti­cal car. Ford hasn’t made it dif­fi­cult to live with in any way, none of the hard sport­ing seats, low seat­ing po­si­tion or low pro­file tyres that would make a car im­pos­si­ble to live with on In­dian roads. Even the sus­pen­sion is soft enough to cush­ion the bumps with­out feel­ing too loose. If there is one thing, the in­te­rior feels a lit­tle cheap, but I can look past that as we red­line through the next gear and the di­als glow to a bright red as I up­shift.

By the time we have built up a steady pace, we spot a large plot of land with more chillies left to dry in the sun. An­other photo op then. It takes a while to cross into Te­lan­gana from Andhra Pradesh, the third state we would be driv­ing through with the Mus­tang. The air­port is just an hour and a half away as the sun sets on us but the traf­fic thick­ens. I switch the steer­ing to its Com­fort mode and the drive to Sport. The weight of the steer­ing wheel in Sport is a bit too heavy for driv­ing in traf­fic and the throt­tle is a bit too lazy in nor­mal. This com­bi­na­tion works well as we make our way to the outer ring road that leads to the air­port. If you have been on this road, you’ll know that it is a per­fect fin­ish for a


drive in a fast­back like the Mus­tang. It’s wide, has very lit­tle traf­fic and it turns in so marginally, it feels straight at the wheel. In the pitch dark of the night, there aren’t any street lights, but the moon lights up the mus­cu­lar lines on the bon­net and one last time I step on the gas. The front lifts as the rear squats and the long bon­net eats up my view of the road ahead. Long bonnets re­ally need to be manda­tory on ev­ery car. The joy of the long nose of a rear-wheel drive car lift­ing up un­der full throt­tle is best ex­pe­ri­enced than ex­plained.

The ro­mance of driv­ing the Mus­tang comes from the love it has re­ceived since the Six­ties. It’s a pop cul­ture hero in the USA, but its global ap­peal is hard to fathom. Es­pe­cially in coun­tries where cars are driven on the cor­rect side of the road since it has al­ways been a left hand drive car. For those out of the USA, its huge fol­low­ing prob­a­bly comes from the king of cool, Steve McQueen pi­lot­ing it in Bul­litt. The chase se­quence wrote the Mus­tang in to the his­tory books and in the bucket list of ev­ery petrol­head. It sure did in my list, and as we handed over the keys of the ’Stang at Hy­der­abad air­port, I ticked one off my list. The Mus­tang felt right as we cruised, as it did with my right foot mashed in the fire­wall. It’s cool and hot in equal mea­sure, some­thing you can’t quan­tify on a Scov­ille scale.

Left: Drive with a lead foot and you will ex­pe­ri­ence the range anx­i­ety of an EV but go easy on it and you will get a very re­spectable 8kmpl on the high­way. Be­low: The driver’s view in­cludes a bon­net bulge among other things


Left: The Mus­tang may be a per­for­mance car but it han­dles In­dian roads well. Right: Men­ac­ing pair of head­lights are strong enough in the ab­sence of street lights. Be­low: The home stretch - outer ring road in Hy­der­abad

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