My admiration for the sixth-generation Ford Mustang grew significantly during this comparison.
I’d never really associated the quintessential Pony car with a textbook evolutionary treatment or design philosophy. The type of treatment that’s been ring-fenced by brands like Porsche, who are the gatekeepers of such an approach.
They’re the ones in the textbooks, not Ford.
The Stuttgart marque has been praised year after year for its ethos when it comes to the treatment of each new 911. A continuous evolution, that has somewhat bucked modern roadblocks.
By modern roadblocks, I mean technological advancements and new-age constraints. Air-cooled to water-cooled, manual to PDK, Mezger to new flat-six, the transition to electric power steering.
Porsche has continued to create products that are deemed modern classics before they’ve even hit the showroom. Whatever the issue, Porsche just made it work, doing all of the above while still creating a new, faithful-to-the-old rendition of the most prized asset in its portfolio.
But, believe it or not, the commonality of approach is not dissimilar in the Mustang lineage, when you compare generation one to generation six. It then becomes even more pronounced with this exact pair we have here.
The first is a 2020 Mustang R-Spec.
A big, bad, blown Pony that represents a passion project of many dedicated staffers at both Ford Australia and Herrod Performance.
The Ford Mustang R-Spec is a 500+ kilowatt homegrown monster. It was engineered and created using a combination of parts from the Ford Performance and Roush catalogues in the States, alongside some local calibration expertise.
Parked up next to it is my pal’s 1965 Mustang Fastback, which is another, big, bad, but aspirated, and locally created project. Joe Ora, owner of the '65, is an incredibly fussy and dedicated individual who tapped into some of our best and brightest when creating his ideal Mustang.
It’s no “American special resto-mod” style car, aka 'the fill it with body filler then throw some paint down' sort of thing. It's an Aussie tribute to a GT350, as he likes to put it. It draws inspiration from motorsport of the period, and is modified in such a way.
Its motor has been tinkered with by a local Aussie legend. A man who’s well known among circles for his knack of making old Fords fast and win races. Then there's the chassis: Modern-ish suspension, brakes, tweaks to the frame, axles and hubs, et cetera.
Furthermore, it was also painstakingly stripped back and rotisserie-built to a standard that’s almost not worth it cost-wise, if you’re half-sane and somewhat logical.
Subtle digs aside, that’s why we’re friends. We both have an admiration for cars and love to nerd out on the details and intricacies of what makes them special.
It’s also why I thought it would be fitting to compare these two, Aussie-built Mustangs on a casual afternoon, to see if there was any degree of continuity between the first generation and the current sixth.
After we’d fended off the swarm of people wanting to chat and take photos of the pair together, we both instantly acknowledged the subtle design cues that have transcended time.
The roofline, flat rear end treatment, location of badging, even the body lines, are all remarkably similar. It’s actually quite incredible how much this current generation borrows from its forefather.
I’ve watched the documentary, or propaganda film, depending how you view it, on the making of the sixth-generation Ford Mustang. I’d be lying if I didn’t feel somewhat inspired by the project, and the level of stress placed on the team that was ultimately responsible for ensuring its success.
It was clear Ford was keen to address the obvious shortfalls of the previous fifth-generation Mustang, which was considered a departure from form. The idea with the new car was to bring it back into line, ready for its first global debut.
Ford did achieve it, with the new Mustang crowned most successful sportscar of 2019, and arguably, our era.
Joe was quick to remind me the first-generation Mustang was actually a bit of a global car too, with examples having been assembled in Homebush, Sydney, as a right-hand drive car available from your local Australian Ford dealer.
A mutual friend of ours owns a significantly rare Homebush-built Mustang, that has been in his family from new, and was stored for 25-odd years in a shed. A story for another time, however.
The current car visually stands proud when next to the old one, which was something we both agreed on. Neither car shies away, nor attempts to be anything other than, a showy, two door coupe.
I personally hate the idea of retro. I find it offensive; a type of slur, used to denigrate whatever it’s applied to. Designs that fail in attempting to feel old-world usually result in looking gaudy, and plainly offending the original. These are the things which I consider retro, and the new Mustang doesn't fall into that category.
It’s not retro in any way. It’s a new thing, its own thing, that just has a decent amount of its principles and theming deeply rooted in the original. Consider it a true reinterpretation of design, not a faux, weird looking kitsch replica. It's looked to Stuttgart for inspiration here.
One area where things do differ are dimensions. More so, how interestingly they manifest themselves depending on the date of production.
Despite the old ’65 being 20cm narrower, it feels as if there’s acres more space in the cabin. Joe commented on how light and airy the old car feels compared to the relatively cramped cabin of the new car.
There’s no such thing as crash protection in the ’65. The new car, however, has thick doors and a big structure that eats up its internal cavity, all in the name of keeping occupants safe. The crudeness of the old car is downright scary. All of its metal uprights look like they’d bend at the sight of an accident.
Behind the wheel, the resemblances continue. Be it the typeface used on the gauges, to the modern car’s circular shift knob that probably took its inspiration from the popular aftermarket Hurst shifter found in Joe’s ’65. Once again, faithful in its approach.
Ergonomics have come a long way, however.
The ’65 sports a pedal layout that’s part sick joke, part unbelievable. It features a clutch pedal with less than a centimetre of clearance from the brake pedal.
Wearing any form of rimmed shoe, such as the RM Williams boot as I was, results in disaster. I found my footwear getting stuck under the brake after releasing the clutch pedal upward. Not ideal, and slightly comical in retrospect.
The steering wheel is still overly large, despite being a genuine Shelby item. Its thin wooden rim is beautiful, though.
The 2020 car feels a world ahead. The steering wheel is thick, and located in what feels like a more natural position when you take seating into account. The shifter is a stone’s throw away from the wheel, making the frequent gesture of shifting quick and easy.
Access to the second row is equally as challenging in the old car as it is in the new, which is beautifully ironic.
By now, I was sold on the fact that Ford has channelled the first-gen car into the latest rendition.
But, my appreciation was really taken to a new level when I became privy to their sharing of sheer driveline savagery.
Joe’s ’65 features a seriously hot, 372 cubic-inch small block Windsor V8, which made 600 horsepower and 750Nm clean at the crank. Combine that with a 1300kg road weight means its power to weight is actually greater than the 1770kg, near-on 700 horsepower Mustang R-Spec.
They’re both manual too, with the old car making do with a four-speed 'top loader' gearbox, and the R-Spec, Ford's latest and greatest six-speed unit. The shift action of the Hurst item versus the new car is somewhat similar. They both feel gritty, connected, like you’re partaking in a mechanical pastime.
Response under wide-open throttle is where the two share most similarity, however. They both just want to break the rear tyres away and obliterate it with a good old-fashioned American pummelling. Something only an aggro American V8 can do.
By supercharging the new car, they’ve retained that jittery and light switch like pedal action. I found that point of comparison between the two cars absolutely delightful and so wonderfully fitting. Both cars are keen to get on with the job, which is to go from zero to zero traction in a heartbeat.
They also both sing from the same V8 songbook, sounding different to each other, but complementary in the tones they produce. Joe mentioned he didn't feel like he was missing much of the quintessential V8 soundtrack in the new R-Spec, with its variable performance exhaust, when compared to his relatively straight-piped '65.
For me, both new and old delivered exactly what I wanted.
Again, in my case, meeting your heroes was all it was cracked up to be.
The decision to supercharge the R-Spec was a masterstroke. It’s the only way to get that type of keen delivery of power without stripping hundreds of kilos, which is an impossible task. It’s a way to make the new car stack up to enthusiasts, like Joe, who have come to expect that kind of performance from a weekend ride.
It’s clear why Ford sold out of R-Specs in less than 24 hours.
Both of these are beefed-up American sports cars. They’re incredibly infectious and crowd pleasing. It seems to bring such joy to those who are just casually observing. Getting both cars out there just doubled the amount of comments, passers-by, and the general public that simply wanted to share their thoughts on the pair of Ponies.
During my time with both, I grew an understanding of why particular decisions were made with the new car. As did Joe, for that matter.
The current car is faithful to the old in more ways than we both originally thought. We didn’t expect to find ourselves comparing the evolution story of the Mustang to the tale of the Porsche 911.
If that’s a sign of how complementary this pair are together, then consider Ford USA, Ford Australia and Herrod Performance earning top marks during this assessment.