Muscle cars are back

by Andrew Frankel on 17th November 2011

Ford’s big news from this week’s Los Angeles Auto show was the unveiling of its new Escape SUV. I know this because that’s what I was told by an earnest and well meaning chap from Ford’s US press office.

But I must have looked distracted because he felt the need to tell me it was one of Ford’s new “world cars” that would be pretty much the same wherever on the planet they were sold. Still, I failed to accord him the attention his product undoubtedly deserved. “In fact,” said he, adopting a faintly conspiratorial tone, “what you’re looking at is pretty much the next Ford Kuga.”

Which was interesting to a point, but not half as interesting as the Ford that was preventing me from doing much more than nodding at what I hoped were appropriate intervals. What I could see and he could not, was that over his left shoulder sat the new Shelby GT500 Mustang, a car with a set of numbers as impressive in their own way as any I’ve seen.

The salient figures are: 650 horsepower, over 200mph and a likely price equivalent to about £35,000 at current rates, not, sadly, that Ford will ever officially put it on sale in the UK.

Unlike the Escuga, whose virtues were being extolled so valiantly by the man from the press office, this Shelby is the very opposite of a world car: one designed by Americans for Americans who live in America. Indeed with Chevrolet making a 580bhp ZL1 Camaro, I expect we’re in another golden age of American muscle cars, a fact most of us will realise only when the next fuel crisis kills them all off again.

However, one person who seems entirely abreast of the fact is the man whose name is on the car, Carroll Shelby himself. Well over half a century after his health forced him to hang up his helmet and over 20 years since he received another man’s heart, the former Le Mans winner turned up in Los Angeles in fine form proclaiming this to be “the best Mustang ever”. He went further: “I've always been asked, 'what is your favourite car?' and I've always replied, ‘the next one.’ Well, I'm taking that back tonight. This is my favourite car.”

Clearly it is in his interest to say so, but I expect he has a point. After all, consider what an engine with more power than a McLaren F1’s might be like in what is probably the only normal car (rather than SUV) still made today with a live rear axle.

But don’t dismiss it as some kind of over-engined folly from ‘over there’. All American though it is, its development has been overseen by Jost Capito whose previous work includes all recent fast Fords including the Focus RS500, and heading up Porsche’s racing department. “We have been through the car from end to end,” he assured me once I’d torn myself away from the Kugape. Everything important appears to have been changed from the engine – which increases displacement from 5.4 to 5.8-litres – at one end to the optional track-oriented Torsen differential at the other. In between there are new gear ratios, dampers, brakes… you get the picture.

He’s been on board at well over 200mph around the Nardo test track in Italy, honing an aero package that has increased downforce (or reduced lift) by 30 per cent. I asked him the inevitable question about Nürburgring lap time and it appears a formal attempt has yet to be made. “We’ve been there but the weather was not right for going fast.” He then immediately says, “but the Camaro does a 7min 41sec and we know we’re faster than that.”

All I can tell you without having driven it is that I lusted after that Mustang more than any other car at an unusually interesting LA show. A muscle car fan all my life, I can’t think of another from this genre that’s gone into unlimited series production that I’d want to drive more.

 

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