Less is more

Motor Sport gets back in the saddle 53 years on from our first acquaintance

It’s always a special moment when a freshly restored racing car rolls out for the first time. The culmination of countless hours of fastidious labour, not to mention near-forensic detective work that took place before work began, it’s a great privilege and considerable responsibility to be offered a shot behind the wheel.

For Henry Mann, son of Alan and torchbearer for the rejuvenated Alan Mann Racing, this is a special car. One that hails from a brilliant period in his father’s career as Ford’s chosen preparer in Europe. And it’s the sole-surviving Mustang from the Blue Oval’s mighty effort to win the Tour de France.

Henry’s nervous at Goodwood, as all preparers are at a first shakedown run. He’s also at pains to stress this car is built to authentic specification, and very much not that in which Appendix K race cars run today. This much is clear from the steel wheels and remarkably road-standard interior, but it’s what’s under the bonnet – or rather my right foot – that’s most different: a 289cu Ford V8 with a little under 300bhp compared to about 450bhp that most Mustangs, Cobras and GT40s boast today.

Being a shakedown means this is by no means a definitive track test, but the demeanour of this road-rally Mustang is clear from the off. It’s compliant and torquey, benign where a pure racer would be edgy and aggressive. The motor sounds and feels sweet, with a nice elastic spread of power and torque, but without the immediate snap and haymaking punch these engines routinely deliver in full-2017 tune.

I love it for this, because it offers a true window on what the drivers were working with back in the day. And that’s the point of this car. It’s significance is such it would be a crime to fast-track it through decades of historic competition car evolution, not least because it would also have to run with full race seats and a roll cage. As it is, climbing into this car, perching on its driver’s seat and clipping the lap belt takes you straight back to the 1960s.

It also means we can do what this car was originally built to do and take it for a blast on the public roads. It feels deliciously naughty to head out of the paddock, down through the tunnel and push the proud red nose into regular traffic. Away from the open expanse and smooth tarmac of the circuit the TdF Mustang’s competition pedigree becomes more apparent. It’s a more serious proposition, firm and fast, physical. And fun. Great fun.

Perhaps the biggest eye-opener is how tough it must have been to drive this car for so many miles at serious speed. Tough physically because the control weights are chunky, the driving position isn’t ideal and the seat doesn’t provide a lot of support; tough mentally because it’s from a totally analogue era that required you to manage the machinery for every inch of every mile.

It’s a hugely covetable car. One that will rightly make Mustang aficionados go weak at the knees and a rare period-correct restoration project that preserves a fascinating piece of Ford’s lesser-known motor sport history. Richard Meaden