It’s amazing how quickly the good things in life become our new normal, and we soon lust after something better.
When Ford introduced the Mustang in Australia at the end of 2015 – the first factory-made right-hand-drive in the pony car’s 50-year history – local fans were overjoyed. They couldn’t get to their nearest Ford dealership fast enough to put down a deposit on the car of their dreams.
Ford forecast it would sell about 1000 Mustangs in Australia per year, and coincidentally it arrived just before the homegrown Falcon reached the end of the line.
Once the Mustang went on sale locally, the waiting list stretched to 12 months at one point, and sales would peak at close to 10,000 Mustangs just two years later. Ford couldn’t ramp up production overnight, as there were 105 unique parts required to complete the factory-built right-hand-drive version.
It’s fair to say Ford executives in Australia and the US were blown away by the sheer number of customers who had been waiting for generations to buy a Mustang.
When the Mustang far exceeded sales expectations, Ford responded by raising the price several times, blaming currency pressure, but in reality it was to pocket more profit. Ford was banking plenty of cash and buyers were still asking for more.
So imagine how incensed diehard Ford fans felt when they learned the high-performance versions of the Mustang such as the Shelby GT350R and Shelby GT500 – with staggered introductions in the US to keep the car fresh over the years – were not going to make their way to Australia?
The Shelby versions were ruled out for a couple of reasons: the cars reportedly don’t meet Australia’s vehicle noise regulations, plus Ford had never budgeted or planned on doing right-hand-drive versions of these models. Enter from stage right Australia’s independent Ford performance guru Rob Herrod, who has been transforming cars from the Blue Oval brand since his early twenties.
Herrod started hotting up Ford XD Falcons in his modest workshop on the outskirts of Melbourne, and has worked his magic on every Falcon since then to the very end, including the last of the supercharged Falcon GTs.
When the Mustang arrived in Australia, Herrod’s business went into overdrive. He has modified more than 500 Mustangs locally in the last four years alone. This didn’t go unnoticed by Ford Australia or his connections in the US.
As Herrod ramped up his Mustang business, he forged a strong relationship with Ford Performance in the US. And then, at some point, the powers at Broadmeadows and Dearborn came up with an answer to the call for more Mustang power in Australia.
The US couldn’t build a supercharged Mustang for our market, so Ford Australia decided to build its own. What we have here is the Mustang R-Spec, the fastest and most powerful car Ford has ever sold in Australia.
It arrives as Mustang sales are in decline – typical of sports cars once they pass the halfway mark in their model cycle – and is also designed to shine a spotlight on the other, more affordable models in the range. Can't afford a Mustang R Spec or didn't get your order in quick enough? How about a Mustang GT instead?
The Mustang R Spec is imported from America as a standard GT V8 before Ford Performance parts are fitted locally. Approximately 60 former Ford production line workers have been re-employed to bring the project to life, from engine builders to the perfectionists who add the car's finishing touches.
The ladies who fitted the stripes to the last Falcon GT sedans sold in Australia also fit the decals on the Mustang R Spec.
Just 500 examples are being built, each individually numbered, on the same Broadmeadows site where the last Ford Falcon rolled off the line in 2016.
The big news is under the bonnet: a supercharger jointly developed by Ford and its US performance partner, Roush. For the tech heads it is an Eaton Twin Vortices 2.65-litre supercharger with a water to air intercooler that can handle up to 12 pounds of boost.
It has upgraded fuel injectors that are 60 per cent larger than those in the standard V8 – and a unique engine calibration that meets Australian emissions regulations – all breathing through a 3.0-inch exhaust designed by Herrod.
The standard Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres (255/40/19 front, 275/40/19 rear) are swapped from the standard wheels to lighter yet wider Ford Performance rims, though of course the tread on the road is the same width.
Inside, the Mustang R-Spec gets Recaro sports seats and the digital widescreen dash , with detailed engine information for track day warriors, as introduced on the facelifted Mustang two years ago.
All 500 examples come with a six-speed manual transmission only and, best of all, unlike other modified high-powered muscle cars, this one comes with a five year warranty and is sold through Ford’s national dealer network.
Ford is doing the final numbers on power output and fuel consumption, but in the US this package pumps out 522kW and 830Nm. All that in a showroom-ready car priced from $99,980 plus on-road costs.
Ford dealers we’ve spoken to reckon most customers have paid between $110,000 and $120,000 drive-away by the time registration, stamp duty and dealer delivery fees have been added. All Mustang R-Specs were sold out and allocated to dealers within 24 hours of the car being unveiled on the eve of the 2019 Bathurst 1000 motor race.
Ford says there may be a few left in showrooms scattered across the country, but only if another customer's deal has fallen over. The advice from Ford is to ring around and check if a dealer has one or can get one.
On the road
Ford let the media loose in the new Mustang R-Spec at The Bend racetrack in Tailem Bend on the outskirts of Adelaide, so we can’t tell you what it’s like on patchwork roads or in start-stop traffic. But the early signs are good.
The first thing you notice is how muted the supercharger is compared to other types. You can still hear it (inside and outside the car) but it’s less intrusive and more liveable.
The biggest surprise, though, is the sheer acceleration. With more than 500kW and 800Nm – or more than 670 horsepower in the old money – you could expect this might be a handful.
But the epic power delivery is measured, metered out according to each gear. Ford calls it “boost by gear”.
There is certainly no shortage of grunt. That said, during our first track test session the engine coughed (other journalists who experienced the same thing described it as a brief hesitation) on wide open throttle in a straight line. The Mustang R Spec I was driving did this in the exact same spot each lap, near the end of the main straight while still flooring the accelerator.
Ford engineers thought the car might have been running low on fuel (the Mustang has a “saddle” tank) or that the stability control may have kicked in, but they weren’t the culprits. It was traced to the engine’s built-in temperature sensors that protect the internals. The V8 got too hot after just one lap (we were first out on the track, so the car hadn't been thrashed before it was our turn).
We've since learned it may have had the wrong calibration for temperature sensitivity. The other car tested later in the day – a look-a-like mock-up R Spec and one of the early prototypes – did not display the same symptoms.
It is worth noting, however, that despite the epic power upgrade the Mustang R Spec has just two coolers on the entire car: one is the larger of the radiator options for the Mustang V8 out of the US factory, the other is the aforementioned water-to-air intercooler for the supercharger. The supercharged Shelby Mustang GT500 sold in the US – which has similar power and torque as the Australian-tuned Ford Mustang R Spec – has six heat exchangers.
By comparison, the Chevrolet Camaro ZL1 we track-tested the week before has 11 coolers and never once raised a sweat or cut power even after countless high-speed laps.
If you plan to do serious track days in the Mustang R Spec it may be worth adding more cooling. Herrod is in the process of putting together an aftermarket cooling package for the Mustang R Spec, for those who want to push their car to the limit.
The Mustang R Spec also gets Ford Performance suspension, which lowers the car, but doesn’t seem to impact ride comfort dramatically. Although we were on a perfectly smooth race track I reckon you could live with the suspension as a daily driver, though you should expect plenty of noise from the wide and sticky tyres.
There are also thicker, adjustable sway bars underneath. They leave the Broadmeadows assembly area in the setting Ford thinks is ideal, but customers can adjust them if they think they know better. The only catch: you’ll need a hoist and a spanner to do so.
Overall, the Mustang R Spec sits surprisingly flat in corners and the steering is super-sharp. As the day wore on, our confidence grew behind the wheel.
Some enthusiasts have commented on the fact that the tyres are unchanged – instead switching to slightly lighter and wider wheels – but to be frank the Michelin Pilot Sport 4S rubber is nothing short of superb.
The lateral grip is profound, and not far off a semi-slick tyre. On smooth surfaces they’re quiet, too. They’re a nice finishing touch to the car and I can now see why Ford didn’t change them. Sticking with this rubber also avoided the need to do a new stability control calibration.
The six-piston Brembo brakes up front are also unchanged, but they are more than up to the task, with good pedal feel, next to zero fade, and plenty of bite.
Indeed, the Mustang R Spec is blindingly quick point-to-point, but like all performance fiends we wanted to find out how it goes in a straight line. In fact, it took us quite a few attempts to get a decent 0 to 100 km/h time.
Manual rear-drive cars with a lot of power take some finesse to launch. At least the Mustang's six-speed manual only needs one gear change to get to 100km/h. First gear runs out at 85km/h and second gear runs out at 131km/h (GPS).
Our first attempt was a woeful 5.5-second run, then we hit a 5.1 followed by a 4.9. Finally we pulled a 4.6-second time after launching at about 2200rpm to 2500rpm and feathering the throttle ever so slightly, without melting the clutch.
When we reported the result to the Ford engineer in charge of the Mustang R Spec – who watched with interest from the pit wall – he said 4.6 was about as good as it gets without frying the tyres.
Of course, if this was an auto, it’d be quicker again. For the record, we’ve previously recorded consistent and repeatable 4.6-second 0 to 100 km/h times for a standard Mustang V8 with the 10-speed auto.
But, of course, the Mustang R-Spec is not just about straight-line acceleration. It’s so much more than that, in the way it delights the senses and how it feels to drive.
I know a lot of Ford fans are mourning the loss of the Falcon GT, but its spirit absolutely lives on with the Mustang R Spec.
The only downside is they’re all sold out.