The Ford Mustang raises many contradictory emotions. On the one hand, I love the car. Its history, impact on the auto industry, and numerous special versions including the notchback 5.0L Fox-body LX, all excite the car freak that lies within. On the other hand, the Mustang is excessively common, both as a classic car and the subject of ridicule, and I tend to dismiss it.
About the special editions, the recent run that includes the Boss 302, GT350, and Bullitt, are responsible for some of my most memorable car rides from the last decade. The Bullitt especially sticks out in my mind as I was one of the lucky ones that got to cruise San Francisco streets at its helm. The 2004 Mach 1 also held a special place and given that the new Mach 1 is Bullitt ++, I was expecting a treat.
No track use for this dedicated track-focused sports car
Unfortunately, there was no treat to be had unless I intended to drive the Mach 1 on a perfectly flat and smooth surface, and certainly not on a track. The issue was the otherwise incredible Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires. The tester had already clocked nearly 10,500 km on the original-equipment tires known for wearing out very quickly. What remained of the tires caused the Mustang to tramline ferociously making it very difficult to drive. The weather during my time with the Mach 1 wasn’t great either.
Adding injury to frustration, this car was equipped with the $4,500 Mach 1 handling package. Part of the kit are the aforementioned Sport Cup 2 tires as well as the rear spoiler with Gurney flap, front aero splitter, and the front-wheel lip mouldings, for a grand total of about 150% more downforce than a regular Mustang GT. Finally, it also features a recalibrated MagneRide suspension. Despite all this, as spec’d by Ford, track time was strictly prohibited.
Notwithstanding the tires and frustration, the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is exceptional. The main reason is found beneath the hood. The Coyote 5.0-litre V8, which was massaged slightly for the Bullitt and now the Mach 1 (open airbox, Shelby GT350 intake manifold, and larger 87-millimeter throttle body), is rated at 480-horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm. Pushing the V8 is an absolute delight, more so when rowing the Tremec 6-speed manual transmission’s gates.
Under load, the V8 produces a scrumptious sound. It idles with intent and loves to rev as though it has no redline. Shifting requires a firm hand and a strong left calf, but this is how it’s supposed to be. The driver can feel the TORSEN limited-slip differential digging in when thrusting hard. Essentially, the Mach 1 isn’t for lollygagging or simply cruising – it’s meant to be pushed.
Having said that, the aforesaid MagneRide suspension makes what could have been a punishing sports car to drive surprisingly civil. In the most comfortable mode, normal, the Mach 1 is relaxed enough for daily commutes but does feel eager and not especially happy at lower speeds. This is in contrast with the Bullitt which was always comfortable. Perhaps it’s more of a mindset than the actual car.
The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is fitted with serious aero, heightened downforce, and increased brake cooling for the ultra-powerful Brembos. Its purpose-built configuration pushes itself on the driver and it might be why it’s not as tame as the Bullitt. The Mach 1 also looks far more aggressive than the Bullitt.
Wears its purpose on its sleeve and butt
This is why I prefer the movie-inspired car over the Mach 1. The Bullitt is stealthier and more elegant. It’s just as potent, enthralling to drive but can and does fly under the radar, at least visually. The Mach 1, especially with the handling package, sends a message to all Camaros, Civic Type Rs, WRX STIs, and any other sports car that it’s for real and fast.
There’s no doubt that Mach 1 is a stunner. It carries over just the right amount of visual force from the GT350, borrowed attitude from the GT500, and the Bullitt’s powertrain. It is, in a few words, a perfect Mustang.
Within Mach 1’s cabin, however, there’s far less fanfare. Except for a plaque, it’s all Mustang GT. My only qualms with the interior is that the tester did not have the optional $1,800 Recaro seats – Why they were left out of a loaded $76,500 car, I don’t know. My other issue with the ‘Stang is an old one: The steering wheel’s spokes are far too thick and busy to be fitted to such a car.
The Mach 1 is incredible
Of all the emotions and memories, I have tied to the Mustang, sitting near Carroll Shelby at the 2004 NYIAS for the reveal of the 2005 Mustang is tops. I said hi, added that I was a fan, he nodded and then turned to watch the event. Every time I drive a Mustang, I love the car and it reminds me of the 8 seconds I shared with Shelby.
And like all other Mustangs including the GT350, save for the Bullitt and Boss 302, I quickly forgot about the Mach 1 – I never felt connected. It’s me, I know, or perhaps the tires. I closed my Bullitt review with the following: “I was at ease with the Mustang Bullitt almost immediately, in very few words, we were cool. Quite frankly, not many cars have rattled my cage in so little time as has the Bullitt.”
The Ford Mustang Bullitt had a soul. The Ford Mustang Mach 1 is only spectacular.