Ford's original ponycar turns 40 and hits the spa for a full body makeover By Matt Stone Photography by the author Motor Trend, 2004-02-01 00:00:00 1979. Jimmy Carter was president. There were no such things as an iPod, a DVD, or an MP3. Britney Spears, F1-championship runner-up Kimi Raikkonen, and Nike $90-million teenager LeBron James weren't even born yet. It was also the year when Ford brought an all-new Mustang to market. And it hasn't done so since. In car years, 25 is an impossibly long time, although Ford gave the Mustang many updates along the way. Two of them--for 1994 and 1999--were substantive remodels. Factions within the Blue Oval brass tried to kill the car at least twice during those two-and-a-half decades. And the current car has become woefully long in the tooth. Still, Mustang has, at times in spite of itself, become one of the most iconic nameplates in automotive history. All that is behind us now: Ford has rededicated itself to the Mustang's future and, as a 40th-birthday present, wiped clean the pony's slate with a truly new lineup that shares just about nothing with the old one. We got a first taste of it a year ago (February 2003) with GT and convertible concept cars that foretold the upcoming Mustang's story without showing its entire hand. Now, the real thing is ready for prime time: The racy, hunkering fastback on these pages is a production spec 2005 GT, wearing only subtle skunk stripes and slightly beefier rolling stock to dress it up for the auto-show circuit. The new Mustang, in both V-6 and GT forms, will make its auto-show debut just as you read this, with the convertible appearing a few months later. The entire lineup comes to market this fall. The new look will be the subject of much debate and bench racing. Our short take is that it's a bold, aggressive shape liberally frosted with memorable design cues from golden-era Mustangs. The stance is substantially beefier than the previous car's. "As we searched for inspiration early on," says Larry Erickson, Mustang design chief. "We went back to look at the old ones and asked ourselves, 'Which ones do we really like?' The cars that came forward were the 1965 Shelby, the 1967-1968, the 1969-1970 Boss, the original Bullitt Mustang, and so forth. But it's not a pure retro car; it's really a very modern form." We asked Tom Matano, who led Mazda's design effort during the Miata, MX-6, and RX-7 years, to break it down for us. Dimensionally, the new car, using a GT coupe as the example, is 4.4 inches longer than its predecessor, atop a wheelbase that's been increased by a legroom-improving 5.8 inches. The 2005 is about an inch narrower, although track has increased more than two inches. Early rumors had the Mustang based on a shortened version of the DEW98 platform that underpins the Lincoln LS, Ford Thunderbird, and Jaguar S-Type. That's only somewhat true. "We started with DEW98 as a natural beginning because it was the last major rear-drive platform we did, and we have experience of taking multiple nameplates off of it," says Hau Thai-Tang, the Mustang's chief nameplate engineer. "We learned a lot about making a convertible from it when we did the Thunderbird, and we knew we weren't going to achieve the structural stiffness targets we were aiming for [for the Mustang]. Because the Thunderbird has no rear seat, we were able to add some structure behind the front seats. We didn't have that flexibility with the Mustang, because it must have a back seat." So the platform needed major structural enhancement and materials optimization in many areas, which it got. The result is that so much has changed, in terms of components and dimensions, it's effectively a new chassis. Thai-Tang adds that "at the component level, there's about 35-percent reusability from other Ford products. But in terms of pure DEW98 carryover, there's not a lot; the front chassis rail architecture, floorpans, trans tunnel, saddle-style fuel tanks are similar. The rest is new." Weight distribution improves from the current 57/43 to a better-balanced 52 percent front, 48 rear. Torsional rigidity of the new car versus the old? Double. Either of two engines can reside beneath the Mustang's aluminum hood. "Our goal was simple," comments Terry Wagner, manager for the modular V-8/V-10 engine programs. "We wanted the most attainable 300 horsepower we could get, because the Mustang is about bang for buck." Though the GT's 4.6-liter V-8's aluminum block is architecturally similar to that of the previous car, it differs substantially in detail. It's up top where the engine gets radical, in the form of new single-overhead-cam aluminum heads featuring three valves per cylinder. With two intake and one exhaust valve, the engine offers several other Mustang firsts, such as variable cam timing, drive-by-wire throttle, and magnesium cam covers. Mercedes-Benz uses three-valve-per-cylinder layouts to great effect in most of its current powerplants, and Ford has adopted this architecture for several of the same reasons: It allows for a central spark-plug location, increased intake flow, higher compression, less detonation, enhanced low-end torque, and improved combustion precision, which helps with emissions. Compression is a relatively high 9.8:1, and the engine redlines at 6250 revs. Its 300 horsepower at 6000 rpm makes it a match for the expensive, hand-assembled, 305-horse DOHC four-valve engine used in the SVT Cobra through 1998, and its 315-pound-feet torque rating outguns the much respected 5.0-liter overhead valvers of the 1987-1995 Mustangs. Why three valves? "Three real drivers," states Phil Martens, group vice president, product creation. "The first is torque and refinement. It has a nicer, and broader, torque curve than the two-valve version. The second is efficiency, from a combustion/emissions standpoint and in terms of fuel economy." Finally, the engineering team felt this configuration provided the power curve linearity that would be maximized by the five-speed automatic and close-ratio, five-speed manual transmissions. Not to be ignored is that it's more cost-effective than a DOHC, four-valve layout. The engine shares about 40 percent of its componentry with the 2004 F-150's Triton 5.4-liter, about 30 percent with the old SOHC two-valve engine, and the other 30 percent is new and Mustang-specific. "And wait until you hear it," says Wagner. "Three of the team members on this engine are racers, and many own Mustangs older than they are. This engine had to be right and had to sound and feel like a torquey American V-8." Two transmissions will be offered: a Tremec 3650 five-speed manual and Ford's own 5R55S five-speed automatic, the latter another Mustang first. Don't write off the base powerplant as strictly for rental car use. The old, grumbly 3.8-liter OHV 90-degree V-6 has given way to an updated 4.0-liter V-6 rated at 202 horsepower. This engine is an inherently balanced 60-degree design and is also a SOHC unit. It's much the same "Cologne" unit as found in the Ford Explorer, but this is its first appearance in a car platform. It, too, can be had with your choice of a five-speed manual or automatic. What of the current Cobra's supercharged DOHC V-8? An SVT-ified version of the new Mustang will break cover in mid-2005. We expect at least 400 horses this time around, mated to a six-speed manual transmission, possibly offering sequential manual control. More about the next Cobra as its development story progresses. There's been much speculation about the new Mustang's suspension offerings, but the answers are straightforward. Although the DEW98 has a fully independent suspension with upper and lower control arms up front, it wasn't utilized. "The 4.6-liter V-8 engine didn't fit between the upper control arms of the front suspension of the DEW98s double wishbones, which also helped with affordability," explains Thai-Tang. In its place is a MacPherson-strut design, which few agree is the best option in terms of handling potential. BMW has proven, however, that it can be made to perform, so we'll withhold final opinion about this engineering decision until we've driven what Ford hath wrought. Drag racers and Ford's accountants will be pleased at the standard live axle out back. "Among our customer groups that know and care what sort of rear suspension their car has, a large number of them want a solid rear axle; they're primarily the core enthusiast drag racers, and they like the durability, reliability, and ease of modification with it, changing axle ratios, etc.," says Thai-Tang. "There's another group that wants the sophistication and cornering advantage of an IRS, and we're going to offer it on the upcoming SVT Cobra. Unlike the last time, when we kind of shoehorned the IRS in [an older platform]; this time, we've designed the rear architecture to accommodate both right from the beginning." The previous car's cabin had been showing its age for decades; even the last-generation's double-cockpit layout was tired and awash in marginally assembled, mediocre plastics. That slate also has been wiped clean by an attractive new layout that promises higher comfort levels, vastly improved ergonomics, more front and rear leg- and headroom, higher-quality materials, and better detailing. The top-line GT interior is splashed with aluminum and aluma-look plastics that recall the 1967-1968 cars. And how's this for cool? The 2005 Mustang will be the first production car in the world to offer driver-configurable instrument lighting. Just like selecting wallpaper for your computer screen, the Mustang owner will be able to scroll through preset color choices or custom-configure the lighting from hundreds of combinations. Trick. Unlike the Camaro, Firebird, Javelin, Barracuda, and Challenger, the Mustang lives. Ford has underscored its commitment to America's first and still one true ponycar by spending hundreds of millions of dollars to give the Mustang its first complete retool in two and a half decades. Everyone at Ford with whom we spoke is legitimately enthusiastic about the project, and that includes a lot of hard-core sports car, musclecar, and racer types. This much also is clear: The cars you see here are just the start. Look forward to an ongoing rollout of special and higher-performance variants, but closer to the new model's debut, not just as a means to keep an old car marketable, as was the case with the previous-generation Bullitt and Mach 1. Happy 40th, Mustang. We look forward to taking you out for a ride. DESIGNER TALK Upon first glance at photography of the 2005 Mustang in production form, I felt something has been lost from last year's concept car. That show car was dressed up in high-performance guise, with pronounced air intakes on the hood as well as side air scoops derived from the 1968 Shelby GT 350. The production GT shown here is a bit more "standard," indicating additional packages to follow. The show car is a modern interpretation of the 1968 model, with crisp lines and a sophisticated feel. These high design qualities are expected of Ford's worldwide director of design J Mays's signature design philosophy. He has given us a higher design quality that, in my opinion, was lacking in domestic automotive design. Comparison of the old and new Explorer, Expedition, and Navigator bears this out. The production Mustang, however, falls short of the higher esteem of the show car, which took an old theme to a new level of modern design and raised the bar of design quality. The overall feel of the front end is quite good. It shows the car's stance and poise. However, the bottom of the air intake on the front valance is too thin for the overall mass of the front bumper. From the side, the longish rear overhang and flat vertical profile of the rear bumper make the rear half of the car heavier than the front half. The rear view also shows good stance and good proportion of the upper and lower body. Overall, the tautness of this view is a vast improvement over today's Mustang, and the three-element split taillamps are the right direction to maintain the heritage. Inside, the production model actually looks better than the show car. The center stack is cleaner than the concept's and appears well laid out with high design quality. For the final appraisal of the new Mustang, I have to withhold judgment until I see it on the road among other cars. I praise Ford's selection of the 1968 Mustang as the base for the 2005 model, and I look forward to the other versions of this new generation. 01 Large air-intake on thefront bumper suggests "hot" motor within 02 Grille-mounted foglights evoke 1968 Shelby GT and 1969 Mach 1 03 Clean and well-toned line from tip of front fender to the rear 04 Rear quarter window recalls the 1966 Shelby fastback 05 Great tire/wheel opening relationship 06 Strong stance, pronounced fenders on four corners 07 Well-executed Mustang signature taillamps and center badge on rear 08 Twin-canopied dashboard reminds me of the one I used to sit on in my uncle's 1965 model 2005 Ford Mustang GT POWERTRAIN/CHASSIS Drivetrain layout Front engine, rwd, 2-door, 5-pass coupe Engine type 90* V-8, alum blk/hds Valve gear SOHC 3 valves/cyl Bore x stroke, in/mm 3.55x3.54 / 90.2x90.0 Displacement, ci/cc 281.0 / 4606 Compression ratio 9.8:1 Max horsepower @ rpm 300 @ 6000 Max torque @ rpm 315 @ 4500 Specific output, hp/liter 65.1 Power-to-weight, lb/hp 11.4 (est) Max engine speed, rpm 6250 Transmission 5-speed manual or 5-speed automatic Suspension, front; rear MacPherson struts, coil springs, anti-roll bar; live axle, coil springs, anti-roll bar Brakes, f;r 12.4-in vented disc; 11.8-in vented disc ABS Wheels 18x9.0 cast alum (17x7.0 standard) Tires 255/45R18 DIMENSIONS Wheelbase, in 107.1 Track, f/r, in 62.3 / 62.5 Length, in 187.6 Width, in 72.1 Height, in 54.5 Cargo capacity, cu ft 12.3 Curb weight, lb 3425 (est) Weight, f/r % 52/48 (est) CONSUMER INFO Airbags Dual front, front side Base price $26,900 (est) On sale in U.S. Fall 2004 Could It Happen? MT photoshop Last summer, Carroll Shelby announced he was going to end his car-building career where it started: with Ford, although he wasn't exactly clear on what that meant. But, as his legacy was established with Cobras and Shelby Mustangs, it's only logical that this reassociation will be founded, at least in the beginning, on the same types of hardware. Squint at the new Mustang, and it's easy to visualize Shelby GT350 and 500 versions of it. The rear quarter windows are an obvious Shelby cue--that also cured a potentially nasty blind spot--and the new GT wheels resemble the optional Shelby/Crager units available on the original. Our exclusive photo illustration just finishes the job of creating the next Shelby Mustang that we hear Ford is already at work on. The major rub will be one of branding, as, since 1993, the top-dog Mustang has been the SVT version, which has been (unfortunately) labeled a Cobra. Last time we looked, that moniker was originally made famous by Shelby. And which limited-edition Mustang will get the bigger motor? SVT chief John Coletti and Shelby himself will have to duke that one out--and we want front-row seats. --M.S.