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Opinion: Australians still have a knack for performance muscle

By Dylan Campbell, 27 Oct 2019 Features

Australian performance muscle demand opinion feature

Is the Ford Mustang R-Spec the comeback of the Aussie-developed performance car industry?

If you don't share your toys with Australia we’ll bloody well just make our own. That’s effectively the story behind our cover car for the November 2019 issue of MOTOR, the surprise Ford Mustang R-Spec.

With Ford USA unable to send hotted-up Shelbys like the GT350 and GT500 our way, Ford Australia, together with Herrod Performance, has taken upon itself with great effort to offer a locally-developed, supercharged Mustang for those to whom 339kW is simply not enough.

The manual-only R-Spec (or R-SPEC if you ask Ford) is to be ‘built’ on a new assembly line within the old Broadmeadows factory precinct. Fancy that! And it’s to offer between 400 and 500 kilowatts for, hopefully, less than $100K. You can read more in MOTOR’s exclusive story in the issue and as much as I’d like to say we didn’t see it coming, of course this has been percolating in the background for some years now.

It’s a pretty big deal. HSV might be keeping the Australian car manufacturing dream alive on a small scale by rebuilding Camaros in Clayton, Victoria. And certainly more work is involved converting a car to right-hand drive, to OE standards, than would be fitting what is basically a turn-key supercharger package. But the Camaro SS and ZL1 are not Australia-specific. They’ve not had their suspension re-engineered. HSV’s engineering ambitions haven’t had to do with what’s under the bonnet. And Rob Herrod – the R-Spec’s second-stage manufacturer – and Ford’s own engineers, will tell you that you can’t just bolt a Roush/Ford Performance supercharger to a 5.0-litre Mustang V8 and be done with it. To get it to give you all its potential, as often as possible, takes quite a lot of work.

It might be a stretch to say but in decades to come the R-Spec could be remembered as the closest we got to an Australian-developed car since the local Commodore bowed out two years earlier.

But I wouldn’t be thinking this is the comeback of the Aussie-developed performance car industry. To be a little blunt it’s probably closer to a death throe. Instead, this car is important because it might just start a figurative fire big enough that the smoke can be seen from certain towers in Detroit.

Ford Australia’s ambition is surely to sell between 500 to 1000 R-Specs. Its only real hurdle is that the car won’t be offered in automatic. And why is that? Ford Australia won’t admit it but we’re hearing they just couldn’t get the supercharger and the 10-speed automatic to get along, battling with all the same self-protecting, temperature-related power issues that have affected every automatic Mustang we’ve driven in anger, be they naturally aspirated or aftermarket supercharged. But the R-Spec’s prospects bode well when you consider Ford Oz managed to sell 700 manual-only Bullitts.

The bigger deal with the R-Spec is that if it is a success, it surely proves the case for engineering future GT350 or GT500s in right-hand drive. And if cars like those come to Australia and prove a hit, those in charge at brands like Chevrolet and Cadillac would be deaf and dumb to not see the opportunity for cars like Camaro and CT5-V/CT6-V as well. The right-hand drive Corvette is an encouraging sign from GM.

It’s only a matter of time before American car company powerbrokers realise little Australia is cashed up and showing all the withdrawal symptoms for relatively affordable, large, rear-wheel drive cars with dirty great power outputs.

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