Friday, August 19, 2005

Mustang GT ragtop proves nostalgia can be modern

It amazed me, too. That I found myself actually wanting to put the top down on my bright yellow Mustang GT convertible tester, that is. And driving the open-air GT was a total ball.

Long-time “Behind the Wheel” readers probably wonder what’s up because my negative sentiments about all open vehicles with fenders. I loved racing open wheel
Formula Fords, but open-air vehicles for the streets just don’t do it for me. Too much noise, vibration and cowl shake. Handling and acceleration compromised by excessive weight.

What is it about the heavily nostalgia-inspired 2005 Mustang GT convertible that makes it different? For starters, Ford moved the Mustang to the platform currently used by the Lincoln LS, Ford Thunderbird and Jaguar S-Type.

That platform starts out far stiffer and rigid than the old Fox platform underneath the Mustang for eons and Ford engineers took additional measures to cancel virtually all of the unpleasant shake, rattle and roll, even on all but the absolute worst D.C. roads.

Gone, too, is any evidence of cowl shake and shudder. Hit a bump and the GT convertible goes right on down the road. Only rare does even a hint of shake or windshield post tremor appear.

On the performance side, my five-speed stick shift tester came with the same 4.6 liter SOHC V-6 found under the hood of the GT coupe. That engine and tranny combination puts 300 horsepower at your beck and call, and is good for sub six-second rips from zero to 60 mph over and over, if you please. That just about exactly duplicates the GT coupe’s straight-line capabilities.

Handling is equally impressive, with the GT convertible feeling snug and secure going around all kinds of corners at dizzying speeds. There’s still a live axle behind the drive-shaft, but sophisticated shock and spring rates and 17-inch P-Zero tires provide gobs of road grip.

Best of all, the open-air GT allows full appreciation of the throaty growl produced by the engine. Even died-in-the-wool Chevy guys will sometimes admit they loved the distinct sound of the old 5.0 liter Mustang at full song.

Somehow, Ford has managed to massage the 4.6 liter’s exhaust system to duplicate the joyful noise. That means cruising is doubly fun in the convertible, especially for those who enjoy blipping the throttle on downshifts.
Styling? It took a while but I’m a fan now. This one is a home run, even if you never saw those epic Trans Am battles between Mark Donahue and Parnelli Jones in 69 and 70.