Ford Mustang Mach 1 track drive: the fun run

Street Machine editor Andrew Broadley spends a night with the Mustang Mach 1 at Sydney Motorsport Park

Mustang Mach 1

Things we like

  • close-ratio manual 'box
  • sharper suspension
  • auto blip function

Not so much

  • tiny power increase over GT
  • we missed out on the Torsen LSD
  • they wouldn't let me keep it

I'm not bitter that Australia missed out on the Shelby GT350 version of the Mustang. Or the GT350R. Or the GT500. Or the GT500SE...

Okay, so I am. We've had more than a few cracks at fettling our own track-focused Mustangs, but until now there's been nothing that really scratches the itch for people who want to take their Mustangs on track.

And let's face it, if you have a rear-driver with a limited-slip diff and a V8, why the hell wouldn't you want to slide it around to your heart's content?

Scotty Newman's pretty good at that sort of thing and you can read his assessment here. Mine is more of an everyman’s perspective. I’m a car guy and a journo, but as the editor of Street Machine magazine, I’m generally more concerned with chrome-bumper classics than brand new hotness.

The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is the exception.

It concerns me greatly.

Motor Mustang Mach 1 23

For folks of my ilk, whose very existence is centred around rear-drive, V8-powered passenger cars, the new-car landscape is a pretty alien place. We’ve loved and lost the Camaro, and Chrysler has drawn a line through the Hemi-powered 300 SRT.

Meanwhile, Mercedes-Benz is fixing to replace the glorious twin-turbo bent-eight in the perennially awesome C63 with a hybrid four-banger set-up. Make no mistake; the times, they are a-changin'.

But then there’s the Mustang. It stands alone as the only affordably priced, V8-powered, rear-drive anything on the market. The last of the V8 interceptors… a piece of history. You can even have one with a manual gearbox, and in this day and age, that’s something in and of itself.

The retro angle on modern cars often comes across as contrived, but if you ask me, I reckon the Mustang pulls it off with aplomb. I’ve had the opportunity to drive both generations of Mustang GT that Ford Australia has brought to our shores, and have very much enjoyed them.

Motor Mustang Mach 1 85
I believe it’s how a car makes you feel that’s most important, and thus you should divorce your wife and buy a Mach 1 with the change.

That being said, while the FN model righted most of the wrongs of the FM as I saw them (namely, the slight houso vibe in the interior, wishy-washy six-speed auto and less-than-inspiring exhaust note) it remained flawed. As soon as you took it to the track, the GT would get hot under the collar, throw codes like frisbees and promptly engage limp-home mode.

For the vast majority of buyers, this is not the slightest concern. But for card-carrying bogans like myself who enjoy long walks on the beach and beating on cars like redheaded stepchildren, it presents something of an issue.

American buyers can opt for the Shelby models, but here in Oz we don’t have that luxury. That’s why the new Mach 1 is such an important car.

The Mustang Mach 1 is inspired by Ford’s ’69 factory hot rod of the same name, and they’ve certainly nailed the aesthetic. Being that the current Mustang silhouette harks tastefully back to its formative years, it wears the vintage-flavoured Mach 1 striping, badging and wheels very well indeed.

Motor Mustang Mach 1 30

It’s touted as the most track-focused Mustang ever sold in Australia, and is equipped with a bunch of sexy hot-up bits.

A lot of them, including the suspension tweaks, engine intake system, all-important cooling upgrades and Tremec TR-3160 six-speed manual gearbox (more on that later) were raided straight from the Shelby parts bin.

Engine output from the 5.0-litre Coyote V8 is up negligibly from 339kW in the GT to 345kW, but having driven both back-to-back on the street and on Sydney Motorsport Park’s nifty South Circuit, I believe the significant advantage the Mach 1 heralds has little to do with engine performance.

Perhaps most crucially, the Mach 1’s engine, transmission and diff coolers have rendered it entirely capable of sustained track use without it shitting the bed. And that’s a damn good thing, given that it’s an absolute hoot to drive in anger.

The Mach 1 feels more pointed than the GT, probably due to a combination of the MagneRide dampers (optional on GT), Mach 1-specific springs and GT350-sourced swaybar and subframe bushings.

Mach 1 also cops revised steering calibration, and it’s an improvement that’s evident over the GT on both road and track.

On top of the external cooler, the smooth and beautly intuitive 10-speed auto receives a Mach 1-specific torque converter and optimised calibration, but the six-speed manual is the clear winner for mine.

The Mach 1 runs an entirely new unit (the aforementioned Tremec 3160), and relative to the GT’s Getrag ‘box, its tightly-stacked ratios noticeably sharpen the Coyote’s delivery and make for a far more engaging and enjoyable drive.

Motor Mustang Mach 1 52

It feels faster, too. You change gears more often, but the shift action feels short, positive and wonderfully precise, so it’s not a chore.

For the hoons out there, the rev-cut permits merciless flat shifting, and the auto-blip function on downshifts makes you feel like Andre Heimgartner as you punt it around the track. That’s until the actual Andre Heimgartner takes you for a hot lap in the same car, and it becomes powerfully apparent that you’re nothing of the sort.

But I believe it’s how a car makes you feel that’s most important, and thus you should divorce your wife and buy a Mach 1 with the change.

Get a manual in Fighter Jet Grey, with the endearingly gaudy optional orange stripes and brake calipers. Only then will you know true happiness.

Motor Mustang Mach 1 57

Things we like

  • close-ratio manual 'box
  • sharper suspension
  • auto blip function

Not so much

  • tiny power increase over GT
  • we missed out on the Torsen LSD
  • they wouldn't let me keep it


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