Taming a Mustang

Driving one of the Tour de France Ford Mustang 289s

The Ford Mustang can be regarded as the first fruit of the American Ford Motor Company’s lavish competition programme, which began in earnest in 1962, although it was undoubtedly in the planning stage before their European rally and racing programme got under way. Realising that the market for pure sports cars in America is very limited (the Chevrolet Sting Ray sells about 25,otto a year), Ford stylists created a sporting looking car which could still seat four people and then handed over the finished article to the engineers to fit suitable running gear. This they did simply by transferring most of the mechanical bits of the Falcon saloon car to the Mustang, and although many people were disappointed that the highly touted new car did not have lots of overhead can and a sophisticated suspension layout, the engineers compromised by providing a fairly simple car in standard layout, with masses of options to turn the car into a fairly hot competition vehicle. The standard Mustang is pretty innocuous; having a 6-cylinder 101-b.h.p. engine and a 3-speed manual or automatic transmission, but having the advantage of selling in the U.S. for about £800, which has caused the Ford factory in Detroit to expand its production facilities several times to keep up with orders. Numerous performance options are available, ranging front 300-b.h.p. V8 engines to disc brakes, and even to an independent rear suspension layout. This latter is of the wishbone type, very similar to that of the Jaguar E-type; in fact, Ford engineers tried all the best all-independent sports cars at their Dearborn proving grounds, and came to the conclusion that the E-type’s layout would suit their purpose best. Initially, only 100 cars with this suspension will he built to qualify the car for GT racing in America under S.C.C.A rules, but Ford confidently expect to tackle Sting Rays next season—and beat them.

The Mustang’s competition debut in Europe was made in the Spa-Sofia-Liege Rally in August, when two cars were driven by Bo Ljungfeldt/Fergus Sager and Peter Harper/Peter Procter. Neither car lasted long, Ljungfeldt crashing at night due to failure of the lights and the other retiring with brake failure. Even while these two were taking part in the rally, three more cars were being prepared for the Tour de France and, as you may have read in last month’s issue; they won the Touring category with apparent ease, beating the formerly all-conquering 3.8 Jaguar into third place. Procter and Andrew Cowan won, with Harper and David Pollard second, ahead of the Consten/Le Guezec Jaguar. Two other Mustangs, those of Ljungfeldt and Frenchman Henri Greder retired, the former being disqualified and the latter blowing up the engine when trying to make up time after having brake trouble.

To find out just what it takes to make a Jaguar-bearer we arranged to borrow one of the rally Mustangs from Alan Mann, who prepares most of the American Fords entered in European competitions at his modern factory, only 50 yards from the Byfleet banking at the late-lamented Brooklands. From a quick glance around this large workshop it is obvious that Ford are prepared to spend a good deal of money to obtain success, for it is equipped with all the necessary machinery to carry Out any job on these American Fords. Several rows of Falcons and Mustangs stand along the walls in various states of preparation, together with some Lotus Cortinas which are also prepared at Byfleet. Wall racks hold vast quantities of springs, disc brake sets, differentials, gearboxes, engines, complete suspensions and all the other bits and pieces which go to make up a motor car. Vast piles of tyres in one corner of the shop indicate the rubber-burning propensities of these big cars, most of the tyres being huge Goodyear racing covers.

When we expressed the view that one of the Falcons or Mustangs would make an excellent road car, Alan Mann told us that several other people had had the same idea and wanted to purchase one of them, but the cars are imported only temporarily for competition work and no import duty is paid. After their term of duty they have either to be sent back to the U.S.A. or have the necessary duty paid; both methods are too expensive for cars which are pretty well worn, so Her Majesty’s Customs and Excise Officers solemnly stand by while Alan Mann’s mechanics sorrowfully cut the cars in half with oxy-acetylene torches.

With this sad thought in our minds we took away the Ljungfeldt/Sager car to spend a week or so of driving under normal road conditions, The Mustang is in many ways similar to the Falcon which we tried after the Monte Carlo Rally earlier this year, and both the under-bonnet layout and the cockpit are almost identical. The engine is the 289 high-performance unit, being a V8 with a capacity of 289 Cu. in. (4,727 c.c.), which is the same size as used in Cobras and the Falcon Sprint. Only a relatively mild state of tune was specified for the Tour de France cars, a single 4-choke Holley carburetter looking rather lost on top of the big engine. This passes the gas through a complicated inlet manifold casting to the modified cylinder heads, which have a 12-to-1 compression ratio. The rest of the engine is fairly standard although Holman and Moody, the American tuning experts, put the engines together, which makes more than a little difference. The engine is mated to the Ford 4-speed gearbox which replaces the BorgWarner box as used on the Falcon. This drives to a rigid rear axle, on leaf-springs and located by a Panhard rod, which has a limited slip differential made by Detroit Automotive. Alan Mann’s mechanics amazed us by changing the axle ratio from 3.9 to 3.5 in less than zo minutes! He reckons that given due warning, the right parts and the necessary mechanics, he could practically rebuild a Mustang in an hour! The rear springing is stiffened by the addition of an extra leaf and stiffer shock-absorbers, while the front coil-springs are also stiffer than standard, together with harder shock-absorbers, which are Armstrong all round. Girling disc brakes are fitted on the front wheels with drums on the back wheels, assistance being provided by a vacuum servo. Unlike the Falcons, which used many glass-fibre body parts, and consequently came in for some unjustified criticism, the Mustang unit construction body/chassis is the standard steel unit, even down to the full interior trimming being retained, so that no one would be in a position to criticise this time.

The Mustang is uncannily like the Falcon to drive, and if blind-folded the driver would be hard put to it to tell the difference. He sits in a Restall bucket seat in front of the dished 3-spoke wheel with the cranked gear-lever being nicely placed on the transmission tunnel. The standard instrument cluster is retained but a separate panel is mounted on the steering column to take an 8,000-r.p.m. tachometer; oil-pressure gauge and water temperature gauge. This panel hides the strip speedometer from view but it was disconnected anyway as the tyre size and differential change made it hopelessly inaccurate. The normal windscreen wiper, heater, cigar-lighter, winker and lights switches are retained but the lights are supplemented by a batch of four Cibie iodine vapour lamps on the front bumper which practically burn holes in the scenery when switched on. The switches for these arc mourned on the transmission tunnel, together with a chronometer, an auxiliary windscreen-washer switch, a hooter button for the co-driver and the switch for the second fuel pump which pumps fuel from a small wing-mounted tank into the main tank. We discovered, when we forgetfully asked a filling station attendant to “fill her up,” that the two tanks hold 30 gallons between them! However, with fuel consumption varying between 10 and 15 m.p.g. it didn’t take long to empty the tanks.

The Mustang has a rather Jekyll and Hyde character on the road, being exhilarating on smooth straight roads and rather trying on bumpy, twisting roads. This was entirely due to the 6.50 x 15 in. Goodyear Stock Car Special tyres, which are fine for flogging down the Mulsanne straight at 150 m.p.h. but not much fun for negotiating some of the horrors which pass for roads in rural England. The tyres were put into a dither by small bumps, and things like cat’s-eyes and white lines sent them completely crazy; add to this some wet and leaf-strewn lanes and you can see that we had a trying time. We are assured, however, that on Dunlop SP tyres, which were used on some of the road sections of the Tour de France, the car handles extremely well.

The engine is as turbine smooth and as powerful as we have come to expect from American V8s, and with around 290 b.h.p. at 5,500 r.p.m. to play with the rally Mustang doesn’t hang about. We were planning to take some performance figures, but our fifth-wheel electric timing device parted company from a previous test car at 90 m.p.h. and did itself no good. As there was no speedometer we couldn’t even correct that, and to cap it all the rev.-counter failed! The times would not have been as good as those of the rally Falcon we tested because of the higher axle ratio and the fat Goodyears, which refused to spin even under the influence of 6,000 r.p.m. in 1st gear.

The Mustang called for a special driving technique when passing through towns for the exhaust system was extremely noisy and this became tiring after a while. The reason was simply that the Alan Mann mechanics did not have enough time to fashion piping to wind its way over the back axle, with the result that they just bent the pipes to emerge under the doors. However, the torque of the V8 allowed the car to be trickled through towns: in top gear with less than 1,500 r.p.m. on the clock, which got over the noise problem. The Ford gearbox is first class, with excellent ratios, almost unbeatable syncromesh positive movements and almost total lack of whine. The rally Mustangs, like all Mustangs at present, have left-hand drive and are not very pleasant to drive in crowded conditions even though they are narrow by American standards.

Although the big tyres do not help the steering, the recirculating ball steering is remarkably light above parking speeds and on smooth roads is very accurate; on rougher roads the tyres transmit much of the feel of the road’s surface to the steering wheel, and it becomes something of an effort to hold the car on line. The brakes are good in normal use, requiring low pedal pressure, and being most consistent and fade-free. However, the failures discovered in rally use seem to indicate that they may be marginal under continuous hard use.

The rally Mustang is a very different cup of tea from the standard product, as one might expect, for the former is a taut racing car and the latter is typical of American cars with floppy suspension, low-geared steering and suspect brakes. Somewhere between the two lies a very attractive road car, and when Ford of America have sorted out their findings and done their sums, American drivers are going to be offered a very acceptable road car. When that happens we shall be able to re-quote the old phrase “Racing improves the breed.”—M.L.T.