The latest variant of the Ford Mustang Mach 1 has touched down, so to find out more, Ford was able to set us up with motorsport legend, and Mach 1 ambassador, Rick Kelly!
It was back in 1969 when the very first Ford Mustang Mach 1 was born. The car was designed by Ford as the bridge between the regular Mustang GT and Shelby GT350 in the pony-car line-up, plus the Mach 1 served as the 'performance Mustang' answer to rivals in the muscle car class.
The Mach 1 nameplate was a success, and Ford offered the variant in the second-, fourth- and fifth-generation Mustang, with each model adding its own design flair.
But all that was a very long time ago.
Fast-forward 17 years and the Mach is back with the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 – again a performance variant to sit between the V8 GT and more specialty Shelby models.
It has been tweaked, tuned and tested, so much so that Ford says it is the most track-capable 5.0-litre V8 Mustang ever.
It's a big claim, so to find out if Ford's right, we felt we should ask someone who knows their way around a racetrack – two-time Bathurst winner and Mach 1 ambassador, Rick Kelly.
Rick, you obviously know the history behind this much anticipated Mustang Mach 1.
Can you please tell us your very first impression?
I've got to say that its bold, muscular styling is something that certainly hits your eyes. You walk up to it, but really it's a sleeping giant, so it doesn't look like a track car that you expect with big wings hanging off and everything else. But it certainly is more than capable. But like you said, the history around it, the Mach 1, is something that's pretty cool.
Obviously, it was built to celebrate Chuck Yeager breaking the speed of sound in his aeroplane so long ago now, so I love that side of the history of the Mach 1. When you look at the badge on it, it certainly represents a lot around that.
Not sure if you're aware of it – a little bit of history with the stuff I used to play with in the past. I built a little remote-control jet car to have a go at land speed records, and some are obviously quite aware of the different records. Both land speed and in the air as well. So to have a car that represents such significance in that area is pretty cool.
And I'm so happy that it is back after such a long time.
A 5.0-litre V8 engine, 345kW – six more than the standard Mustang – 556Nm of torque.
Talk us through the straight-line speed and traction, as we know that this thing is capable of going fast.
Yes, that's very good with the numbers. I don't remember the numbers, I just know how it feels inside the car, and it feels quite impressive from a straight-line point of view. It has got some grunt!
The first thing you'll notice is that you hear it, which is really, really cool, and it puts you back in the seat. This one is optioned with the Recaro seats, which are more than capable of holding you.
When it does take off in a straight line, obviously in cornering as well, the thing I've loved most about the power and acceleration is the gearshifts in the manual. So, obviously with this box it's got the flat-shifting [gearbox], and I've never actually done that in a road car. I've only ever done it in the race car.
The first time I did it, holding your right foot flat on the throttle, just pushing the clutch, you expect the engine to rev out. And I was a little bit nervous about what would happen, but it's really, really impressive.
So, one thing with straight-line speed is you've got to take into account the gearshift. It's one thing having a heap of power, but if it takes you a second to change gears, you lose all of that acceleration. And obviously, you know your speed from zero to 100, or wherever you're going to, is going to be greatly affected. So that was one thing I've really loved playing with.
Ford has also enhanced the ride and handling of this Mustang, all thanks to its redesigned front-end suspension set-up.
So talk us through it, and give us a sense of what it's like handling corners and is it challenging at the limit?
That's a really good question actually, because the one thing that you always have with a road car when you take it to a track, is that it rolls around a lot. It's hard to stop on the second or third lap because the brakes are done and it's not a lot of fun. I was really interested to see how this handled on the track.
I had the chance to drive it around Broadford [Victorian State Motorcycle Complex] and have a little bit of fun, and it surprised me a lot. There's a lot of change of direction at Broadford, but it's really, really flat and really stiff when changing direction, which is good.
It gives you exactly what you expect from any of your inputs, whether it's steering, brake or throttle, and that's a big thing.
It needs to be something that looks good, but it needs to be fun to drive at the limit, and once you get it there, it is exactly that. It's a lot of fun, and you're not thinking about what the car's going to give me. It gives you exactly what you expect, and that's something I think is pretty critical.
From a track point of view, the tyres on this thing are really well matched to the chassis, which I think is really important. So it's quite hard to get any sort of slip, whether it's understeer or oversteer on the car, and that gives a driver good confidence as well because it doesn't want to bite you.
But obviously, you know there's a lot of work that's gone under the skin of this car. To be able to produce that level of grip on the track, and that sort of feel that it does give you, they've taken a lot of parts off, you know, the GT350 and 500, which I think are really good. When you look at this car, the story is told underneath the skin, not just by the looks of it, and that's what makes you think that the Mach 1 is pretty cool.
You mentioned the racetrack. Let's delve a little bit deeper, because Ford claims that this is the most track-capable 5.0-litre Mustang.
Can you attest to that? Have you had much track time with it yet?
I got the chance to spend a day at Broadford, which is a nice little track offering all sorts of different corners, so you get a really good idea of fast, medium and low-speed corners, changing direction and everything else. What you just mentioned is really quite difficult, from the point of view of having to make it acceptable on the road when you're driving down to the shops to get groceries or whatever it might be. It can't be too harsh, too loud and too aggressive. So driving to Broadford was a three-hour drive for me, and it was all on the highway.
On the way, you get to thinking 'Can they really produce a car that's going to give you this and then handle well on the track?', but they have achieved that really well.
I think the biggest thing is what they've done with the suspension. Making it stiffer, it rolls just how I like. The car is really well matched to it, but overall it's the capability that it's got to repeat it lap after lap. That was the most surprising for me, because as you know, you put a road car on the track, you jump on the brakes at one of the bigger long stops on the track, and it pulls up really well.
So, what it does is it then sets an expectation in your head – that's where you can brake. Normally, on the second lap you're quicker, and you come around and brake at the same point and just run straight off, because the brakes are hot and it can no longer do it.
The assurance side of the car is what I think impressed me. We were at Broadford all day, and the repeatability lap after lap with that is really good.
Obviously, with any performance car, when you push everything to the maximum its cooling is a big thing. So with the heat exchangers that Ford put on this car, and the extra cooling that it's got front and rear, it's made it really, really nice from that point of view.
And it's something that you don't have to worry about. So you can belt around the racetrack all day and then take your helmet off, hop in your normal clothes, and drive it out the front gate and down to the shops without a worry – which was quite impressive.
We know that Mustangs sound great. Just how loud is that performance exhaust?
I'm also keen to know if you've ever switched it on quiet mode.
Yeah, it's a really good question. There are so many different things that I've learned about this car, and unfortunately I didn't learn about the quiet mode until I'd already left home at 4:30 in the morning to drive to Broadford. But it is quite loud until you turn that on!
Yes, I have used it, because when I drive into the carpark to pick my little fellow up from school, everyone tends to stare at you when it's not on, so it is a car that turns heads. But I think being able to adjust things like that is what makes it fun.
It's also got a lot of different dash modes you can turn on that can change her. It's fun because if you get sick of one, you can change it. But you also have different requirements on the road to what you do on the racetrack. So being able to change it to track mode and have it also change a few other things for you, as well as changing the dash, is pretty cool and something I really enjoyed.
Let's set the scene... Ford to call you tomorrow. They want your input on the next-generation Mach 1.
What's one thing that you would change with this car?
It's a good question, and this really does sound quite silly, but when I've driven a lot of road cars on the track, it's quite easy from a handling point of view to be able to say you need to look at X, Y and Z to make it easier to drive, or faster, or whatever you're trying to achieve.
It wasn't so easy to pick a fault with this on how it handled on the track on different corners. I think the only thing you can change from a performance point of view is dialling the car into the track conditions on that day. And so that's something you don't really want to do, because you want something that's nice and broad and you can take everywhere, which this does really well.
The only thing I did a couple of times was bump a button on the steering wheel as I was turning around the track. I think it activated Siri on my phone and I was asking for, you know, an Uber order. But apart from that, there's nothing else that you would really change on it.
What impressed me was being able to convert from road car to race car and back without changing anything, which is pretty cool. Not worrying about servicing and what you've done to the gearbox, and all those big things. So I think they've done a great job, and rather than critique it, I'm just happy to drive it!
The Mustang is currently the best-selling sports car in Australia. But what makes the Mach 1 the car for the enthusiast?
Well, firstly, I think you know the capability on-track is one thing, but the history behind it is another.
When you drive around, you do tend to see a few Mustangs here and there, but this one turns the heads of all the Mustang owners. And a lot of other people as well. When I first took this car and parked in a few places, I had a lot of people coming up and taking photos because it does look quite different from the normal one.
But, like I said, its capability and the history behind it are things that I think attract a lot of people to it.
Alright, well, now that I've been sitting here listening to the history and all about it, and looking at it for so long, I think it's time to go for a drive.
Absolutely, that's where it comes alive. Let's do it!