07/13/09 02:07PM Ford, Mustang, Pony Cars

A Pony Ride for Grown-Ups
Ford Does it Again!!!!!!!!!!!!!

New Mustang isn't cheap, but it does make the heart go vroom

Ford has released the redesigned 2010 Mustang, following the debut of Chevy’s new Camaro earlier this year, and last year’s Dodge Challenger

Not since the early ’70s have these three pony cars fought for Americans’ hard-earned cash.

Not since the early ’70s have carmakers paid homage to the popularity of some of the best that America had to offer way back then.

While all three muscle cars have a loyal following, Mustang lovers seem to be breed apart.

With a test drive looming last week, we put a request on DelawareOnline asking owners of ’65 Mustangs to call. In the category of “Be Careful What You Wish For,” the next two hours will filled with call after call from passionate Mustang owners from the mid-’60s.

All were keenly aware of the new ’Stang, but all they really wanted to tell me about was their old car.

I had to ask the Web site to take the notice down. Quick.

But late that night, I got a call from Erich Bollman, of Christiana Muscle Car Restoration, near the Port of Wilmington. He kindly offered to make an older model available for photos, so car fans could compare the two.

Hidden among the trucking companies and scrap metal yards near the port is the father-and-son business that they may as well call “Mustang Nirvana.” There was everything – absolutely everything – anyone could ever want to make this car faster and better – not to mention the people who know how to make that happen. They work on anything from drag racers that take only nine seconds to run a quarter mile to a ’60s fastback Mustang that came to Bollman more rust than metal. They also worked on a beautiful 1969 Boss 302 Mustang, Bollman’s personal car, which he had driven to work that day. His first car, a 1965 Mustang, sits in a corner of the shop with a cover over it.

Driving the new Mustang

When Hank Berry, of Bayshore Ford in Pennsville, N.J., handed me the keys to the shiny new GT, he had a knowing smile on his face.

“Have a good time,” he said casually. “Bring it back whenever you’re done.”

Unlike the Camaro and Challenger, the Mustang was never discontinued, and Ford has taken advantage of its many years of experience to refine the car and give customers what they want in “their” Mustang.

The Mustang, painted “Brilliant Silver,” had a 4.6-liter V8 engine with 315 horsepower and 325 foot pounds of torque. It came with a five-speed automatic transmission that was smooth, but I would have gone with the five-speed manual and saved $995. I’m one of the guys who think manual transmissions make a car much more controllable and should be a must-get option on a performance car.

Even before getting into the car, gearheads will notice a few things about the new pony.

This test-drive car’s sticker price was $38,890, and for that much money, my feelings about the interior were mixed. The seats were excellent, very comfortable and with lots of leather trim and electronic adjustment options. The dash had really attractive retro-style gauges, although it also had a plastic look and feel, and drivers don’t want plastic at that price.

The highlight of the interior is its glass skylight that almost fills the roof, stretching to the back window. It lets in an amazing amount of light, making the interior feel remarkably open. A shade can be pulled across if the sun is too bright. It’s a $2,000 option, but one I would go for.

The rear seats are very small. Children and the vertically challenged would be fine. A briefcase and a laptop will fit just perfectly, too.

The louvers that cover the rear side windows look awesome from the outside. I found they seriously hampered rear-quarter vision, though, even though the side mirrors are very large.

But they look so cool, I’d probably get them anyway if I were buying the car.

Bollman really liked the look of the new car.

“It’s very athletic-looking with an aggressive stance,” he said. “I really think Ford pulled the retro look off pretty well with the new car, but were able to allow it to be its own car. It’s a new enough look to attract people on its looks alone, but also appeal to the Mustang lovers as a tribute to the past cars.”

He particularly liked the black rear grill like the one he has one his ’69.

His approval is quite a compliment from a guy who is one of only 50 owners of a specially built drag racer put out in 2008, the Cobra Jet, as a tribute to 20th anniversary of the first time Ford offered a race version.
The new body even improves on the looks of that car, Bollman said.

Love that vroom

As I started the car, two things happened.

A big smile spread across my face as the V8 growled to life. I’m a real sucker for a nice-sounding car, and Ford really got the sound right on this car, partly because all manufacturers have learned to tune the exhaust for specific sound characteristics.

The other thing was that a Bayshore technician made a point of showing me how to turn the traction control on, a good sign to a car nut. I will admit that I am biased toward a car that’s a great handler when the road gets twisty.

Traction control is a computer-controlled device on lots of new cars that helps to sense when a drive wheel – one of the wheels powered directly by the motor – is slipping on the road. The computer takes control of the wheel, without input from the driver, to cut or increase power to that wheel to stabilize it so the driver doesn’t lose control. (I bet this will be mandatory on all cars soon because insurance companies and others are going to like the safety aspects of it.).

Taking some of the great back roads near Wilmington, I found the steering very good – much better then I expected. It has a nice, almost sports car feel on back roads. But the live rear axle made the rear tricky on rough roads.

A live rear axle (also called a solid axle) is a straight steel rod that connects the two wheels. The result is a rear end that tends to bounce around on bumpy surfaces and lose traction.

I think of a live rear axle as a somewhat antiquated system with a distinct disadvantage over an independent suspension, which allows the wheels to move up and down separately. That system allows wheels to better hug the road.

That said, Ford has done a fine job of optimizing this system, which has been around since Roman chariots. Why Ford doesn’t change it is common talk among car fanatics and testers everywhere.

One really nice feature of the 2010 Mustang is the low feeling of the side doors. When testing the Challenger and Camaro, I felt as if I was sitting very low and had a hard time sensing where the sides of the car and wheels were, especially on curvy roads.

The Mustang felt near perfect.


The torque of the engine makes it feel powerful from the moment it begins idling. Maybe too powerful. It’ll sure make drivers feel confident when they have to merge into traffic or pass a tractor out in farm country. I suspect many will find themselves testing the car’s acceleration just for fun of it.

While driving the car every day may be a mundane, undramatic affair, this baby will never stop reminding you of its potential for long, fun weekend drives in the country.

The car looks better than it has in many years, and, comparing it to the 1969 Boss 302, it’s easy to track the design genealogy. This year’s Mustang comes in four models, from basic to racy, with a boatload of options owners can choose from.

With the 2010, Ford has a car that will more then stand up to the competition from Chevy and Dodge.

Now, if the economy will just get better, who knows where all this muscle car mania could take us?

Cars like the Z28 Camaro and California Special Mustang may be in the near future.