Road Impressions

The Ford Mustang 2.3 Ghia Turbo

Back to the drawing board?

If there was a Worst Car of the Year Award the Ford Mustang 2.3 Ghia Turbo would surely be a prime candidate for the laurels. It would certainly have my vote. The best thing about this American “compact”, which Ford Personal Import Export Ltd. are marketing through their eight dealers in the UK, is its tyre equipment: ultra-low profile Michelin TRXs. Even those remarkable tyres have to struggle to make this two-door saloon even half-tolerable. Its performance, though quoted in the brochure as “0-60 m.p.h. in 10.4 sec.” feels mediocre, its progress in all mechanical departments is rough and harsh, the test car was full of rattles, some of its finish appalling, and there are innumerable infuriating details like a speedometer majoring in k.p.h. with the tiny m.p.h. inner scale effectively illegible at night time.

To cap it all, this emasculated “pony car” is left-hand-drive, though a right-hand-drive conversion is promised for the end of the year. Why anybody should wish to spend £7,757 on this apology for the original, muscular Mustang is beyond me.

From some angles, especially three-quarter rear, the Turbo Mustang is undoubtedly attractive and the neat design of the alloy wheels deserves special praise. The overall recipe sounds tempting too on paper, albeit the cake is barely edible. Turbocharging on a mass-production car is still very much a novelty, though undoubtedly the coming thing. In this US Ford’s case a Garrett AiResearch T03 turbocharger is attached to a suitably internally strengthened 2,300 c.c. four-cylinder in-line, single-overhead-camshaft Pinto engine. Carburation is by a twin-barrel, downdraught Holley D9ZE-MD/ND carburetter and solid-state electronic ignition completes the picture. The quoted power output is 120 b.h.p. A four-speed manual transmission is standard. The front suspension has a variation on the usual Ford McPherson strut theme in that the coil springs are not co-axial, and zero scrub radius geometry and an anti-dive upper control arm are incorporated. Four-link location is employed for the coil sprung by rear axle. Steering is by rack and pinion, the test car’s having the optional power assistance, and braking is by servo-assisted, ventilated front discs and rear drums.

This Mustang is variously described by Ford as a sports car and a saloon. I can understand their confusion: the boot has the width of a saloon and is shallower than that of my Alfa Spider; the cramped rear seat is little more than a shapeless perch with poor knee room, yet the car’s overall length is nearly 15′. Ford should settle for the European “coupe” designation.

The two doors are long, yet rear seat access remains difficult. The interior is typically American, overpoweringly bright red from floor to ceiling in the metallic silver test car. As the Turbo Mustang has Ghia specification trim the upholstery is in pleasantly soft cloth, an effect spoiled by acres of nasty, rough plastic (including the steering wheel) and fake veneer. American technology has yet to discover adjustable seat backs — or so it seems — and European readers will find it hardly credible that this £8,000 “exclusive” (Ford’s term) motor car has fixed and far too upright back rests and a non-adjustable steering column. I was uncomfortable driving down to the shops in this enforced, upright seating position, let alone attempting a long journey.

This “exclusive” car does have a simplified form of central locking for its two doors and a button for electronic unlatching of the boot lid — only when the ignition is turned on — is tucked inside the lockable cubby-hole lid. Gimmickry includes a digital clock with elapsed time facility and a graphic display of warning lights within the shape of a car, which shows the health or otherwise of tail and brake lights, low beam illumination, washer bottle level and fuel tank. There is a check button to test the system. The screen washers did not work, thus making this test car illegal. The wiper facilities include an intermittent speed which is almost fast enough to be regarded as constant. There is a pull-down map light in the roof, together with an interior light. Unlike most American cars, which have foot-controlled parking brakes, this Mustang has a conventional centre lever sprouting out of a locker cum arm rest. Pull-knobs control not very effective ventilation.

Past experience of turbocharged cars has shown them on the whole to be smoother and more quietly accelerative than their normally aspirated relatives. This Mustang does not follow the norm. True, the turbocharger is unobtrusive in that it is free from throttle lag and flat spots. Alas, it is also unobtrusive in that it feels to do very little for the performance; there is certainly none of that surge forward one expects as turbo boost rises. A little green light in the dashboard rather than a shove in the back gives evidence that the turbocharger is boosting at pressures within acceptable limits. Maximum boost pressure is 6 p.s.i.; a weird and frightening buzz and a red warning light on the dashboard announce that this pressure has been reached and the waste-gate opened. A similarly disturbing Hammer Horror shriek is emitted when either door is open, just in case one fails to notice the improved ventilation . . The test car’s smoothly progressive turbocharging system was attached to a bag of nails, or so the rough, harsh and mechanically noisy Pinto engine felt. Indeed the whole drive line felt rough and the car not “all of a piece”. The gearchange is acceptable, but nothing like those we are used to on European Fords and the ratios have the most horrendous gap between third and top.

The power steering is not so overlight as on bigger American “tanks” and reasonably positive, if a little lacking in feel. By normal American standards the suspension is stiff and roll is not over-prominent. Handling misbehaviour is kept in check by the limpet roadholding of the TRXs, which prevent either end from becoming wayward, though they are not allowed to work at their most efficient in this Mustang application.

From a distance the test car’s finish looked fine; closer examination revealed patchy and rough metallic paintwork (an option — the metallic finish, that is) and a distorted nearside rear pillar, complete with what appeared to be vice marks in the steel.

A contemporary monthly magazine has a name for cars like this. It calls them “lemons”. — C.R.