The 100cc motorcycle drifts slowly off the highway. The front wheel crunches through the dirt on the verge of the road, the bike wobbles badly, and then, once stable again, heads straight for the trees. Still the rider doesn’t take evasive action. Far from it: he isn’t even looking. Neck swiveled around, eyes locked on target, he’s all but transfixed by the three lumps of Detroit iron bearing down on him through the heat haze – the trio ‘flying’ in tight formation.
Can’t really blame him, we must have been quite a sight, thundering down the road like a trio of angry World War II bombers. We repeat the formation shot a couple of times, getting tighter and faster on every run. And then before we know it, there’s a crowd – onlookers peering into viewfinders, chatting excitedly with each other and calling their friends. Bikes, cars, light commercial vehicles, haphazardly parked all along the highway. And, of course, everyone wants a selfie. Time to leave.
The twin-cockpit theme carries right through; what stands out, however, are the large swathes of bare metal.
To get away from the crowd, we head to an abandoned quarry, where rock, sky and a lack of reflections make for a great backdrop. We’d already scouted the area the previous day, but now in the soft early morning light, the three Mustangs just look stunning. So stupefying in fact, we initially just stare and marvel at the lines. The design just grabs your attention and holds it. What also seems to work fabulously is the evolution. The current canary yellow Mustang may be a half-century or so apart from the green ‘68 and silver ‘69, but the lines from the earlier cars have clearly influenced the new one. And is there any doubt this is plainly is the prettiest Mustang in years? Let’s not forget Ford made some real duds in intervening years, especially in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
A bit too much so-so plastic in a modern car, but at least it looks great. Functionality is excellent, too.
The lines on these three just work fabulously. Attractive enough to be mounted on a plinth and take center stage in your living room under a spot light, these are all cars you’d want to get as scale models of. To begin with, they all have the right stuff when it comes to proportions – the long bonnets, the tight ‘canopies’, the muscular haunches and the long tails. And doesn’t that steeply raked rear windscreen look insane? The aircraft-carrier-like bonnets look angry, too. The headlights are tucked under a bit of a brow for that extra menace, the grilles have an overbite, and then there are those strakes in the rear, the vertically aligned tail-lights. They say God is in the details: hell yeah! And that’s to say nothing of all the skirts and scoops.
More wood and more warmth on the ‘69, and doesn’t that shaker scoop on the bonnet look just fantastic?
Those of you who’ve seen the movie Bullitt (released 50 years ago, this year) will recognise the green ’68. Built to pay homage to the Mustang in that iconic Steve McQueen starrer, it’s a car that has all the panache of a movie star. The badge on the grille hasn’t been deleted, as on the movie car, and the chrome surround is still there, but that apart, it looks almost identical. The ‘blacked-out’ wheels, and even the single mirror. It almost looks military-spec. Tough, functional, deadly.
What must have the 5.8 Winsor felt like in ‘69?
The Mustang is a sportscar, but getting in and out of it is a breeze. The doors feel tough but not overly solid, and then, when I finally lower myself into the driver’s seat and slide my leg under the big steering wheel, I’m amazed to find there’s plenty of space, though the older cars were always more compact. The dash is a bit different from the one used in the film, but to my eyes the polished metal slabs and detailing here are just stunning. The sense of occasion is just massive. The two-tone silver-and-black theme just works for me. And those hooded instruments just look mad.
New ‘Coyote’ engine has the World War II bomber rumble, but also revs to 7,000; effortless, instant torque and searing pace.
I’m paying so much attention to the insides, I fall back from the other two cars and get lost. Time to grab the cue ball-like gear lever, go down a gear and play some catch-up. The clutch travel is super long, the ‘68 is as quick to steer as the Titanic, and you don’t so much as drive it with your wrists as with your elbows (and knees), but when I put my foot down, the ‘Bullit’ makes a wonderful noise. And I soon begin to catch up. Performance is, however, more measured than manic. The engine revs nicely for a motor of this vintage and is tuned sweetly, but that big chest-thumping, grizzly-like ferocity is missing. And that’s because under the hood there’s only a 3.3-litre (only!) straight-six and not a V8. Owner Manvendra Singh of Barwani says he’s torn between keeping his car ‘original’ and shoehorning a proper V8 under its hood. He has a couple of options – the 390-cube V8 could put out around 325hp and run the 1/4 mile in 13sec. And then there is another even crazier option – the even more powerful 428cu.in. Cobra Jet motor.
Thirsting for some V8 ‘action’, I go from the‘68 to the ‘69. The Mach 1 belongs to Manvendra’s son Siddhraj. Under the shaker scoop of the positively lethal-looking Mach 1 is a 5.8-litre V8 that churns out so much power and torque when it’s barely turning over, even a gentle tap on the throttle feels like a locomotive has just nudged me in the rear and taken over responsibility for propulsion. This four-barrel carbed M-code Windsor V8 puts out a crazy 522Nm of twist at just 3,200rpm. That’s not too far off from the 540Nm of torque put out by a Lamborghini Huracan. Of course, American power and torque figures were a bit optimistic, but I think you get the idea. And the 290hp isn’t insubstantial either. What dominates the driving experience, however, is the dam-busting flood of torque that comes in every time you flex the throttle. It just pulls and pulls with what seems like infinite power. And then there’s the unstoppable momentum, is so strong it just keeps going; it feels like the Mach 1 is as heavy as a house.
Hollywood mythology makes it from reel to real world.
Now this car is no spring chicken, and driving it is an upper-body workout and an exercise in hand-eye co-ordination, but cut loose all that power and even this old girl feels light on its feet. I also like the low-slung stance and the fact that it steers a bit faster than the ‘68. And yeah, the brakes actually feel like they work; at least a bit. What’s central to the driving experience, however, is that Ford V8. Imagine if Ford hadn’t started the V8 craze with the flathead in the Deuce (1932).
This is what they were driving in the summer of ‘69.
It may be the design that grabs you when you first look at the current-day sixth-generation Mustang, but get familiar with the car, drive it and eventually it’s that V8 that really blows your mind. The response, the free-revving nature, the ever-increasing power curve, the naturally aspirated bark, the soaring 7,000rpm redline, and the fact that it can run through almost three octaves from 1,500rpm all the way up; this dining-table sized Ford V8 has it all. And where the gen-six Mustang doesn’t disappoint either is the driving experience. The steering should really should have been better, but the car actually has fantastic fade-free brakes, a chassis that feels planted and reassuring, and a cohesiveness that’s sometimes hard to come by – even in cars twice its price. In fact, get on good terms with the new Mustang and you can even enjoy some friendly slip and slide – and that’s with the ESP switched fully on. Yes, nanny turns a blind eye to quite a lot of mischief.
Ground Speed: a jocular nod to its aviation heritage.
The driving experience is still very analogue, very old world. Yes, it’s big, still feels heavy and carries a lot of momentum. But begin to drive it hard and you are soon too aware of all that weight sitting on the front wheels, the lighter rear of the car and, if you exit corners hard, the possibility of steering the rear axle with your right foot.
Carry speed into the corner, a bit too much, wait for the rear to step out and then apply throttle smoothly; with a dab of opposite lock. Who says ponies can’t dance?
That’s an 8-track; the compact cassette followed.
The Mustang even has the right price. No wonder it’s become the best-selling sportscar in India, ever. And a lot of that success is down to the fact that Mustang today is true to its former self. Forget revolution. When you have something that’s this right, what you need is evolution. Just ask Porsche!
Q&A MANVENDRA SINGH OF BARWANI
You’ve had a few Mustangs in the past. Where does this love and respect come from?
Yes, I’ve had about six-eight cars of my own over the years. I was enamored by the styling of the Mustang. It was a radical car when it first came out in 1964 and then the fact that it became a Hollywood star also helped.
Tell us a little bit about the ‘68 and the ‘69 we are standing with.
The green one behind me is my all-time favourite car. I probably will never sell it, because I really like the shape, and I loved the movie Bullitt. You can see it’s a highland green car with same alloy wheels on it. The silver car belongs to my son Siddhraj and is a 1969 Mach 1, with a four-speed gearbox and limited slip differential.
Any more Mustangs on your wish list?
Yes, the Mustang which I would want – and there’s not a single one in India – is the original Shelby 350 GT. Most youngsters equate the Mustang shape with Eleanor (from the movie Gone in 60 Seconds) but the movie car has a lot of mods on top of the original clean lines. I somehow don’t like those front vents and spoilers. I like a much cleaner, neater look. The current car has the true essence of Mustang; and that’s the reason I bought this white owl.
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