For us in Europe, the Ford Mustang Mach 1 is something of a consolation prize. The celebrated GT350 and GT350R versions of the sixth-generation ‘Stang were never officially sold here, so the arrival of a more track-focused pony should go some way to making up for that omission. At the same time, the Mach needs to fill the void left by those cars back in the US, where they’ve just been binned from the line-up along with the Bullitt special edition.
When test mules were first spied rumbling their way around Dearborn, the hope was Ford had merely made a cheaper, Coyote V8-engined version of the GT350. What the Blue Oval has actually done isn’t quite that enticing, but there’s plenty going on here to elevate proceedings beyond the kind of driving experience offered by the GT.
What we get is a bunch of parts not just from the GT350, but the GT500 too. The front subframe, rear diffuser, rear tyre spats, front splitter and heat exchangers are off the 500, while from the 350 there’s an intake manifold and an oil cooler. In the US there’s also a ‘handling package’ which adds the GT500’s rear wing and Michelin Pilot Cup 2 tyres like the ones found on a GT350R, but that’s not available here.
To go with all that, there’s a unique calibration for the MagneRide adaptive damper setup, new front springs, stiffer anti-roll bars and tweaked EPAS software. To ensure it’s never mistaken for a GT, Ford has added big, round openings in the front grille, a load of stripes, and some lovely retro Mach 1 badging.
All of that added stuff on the outside looks great, but on the inside? It’s not anything like as distinct, and it’s lacking the kind of track focus seen in the GT350 and 350R. The main problem is the seats – they’re the same wide, squishy chairs as the GT, which will be an important note when we’re out on track shortly. But hey, you do get the Bullitt’s cueball style shifter, which looks awesome.
Pushing said lever into first reveals that same burly, slightly baulky shift we’re used to in the Mustang. A few corners in at Thruxton circuit, the UK’s fastest track (we sampled a Focus ST Edition here at the same event), I’m reminded of the ‘Stang’s gaping pedal layout that makes heel and toe shifts pretty awkward. For once, I don’t mind the auto rev-matching system being difficult to switch off.
The Coyote V8 up front sounds as good as ever even with the adoption of petrol particulate filters in its exhaust system, offering up a beautifully rumbly mid-range and smooth, creamy top end. This is the last naturally-aspirated V8 on sale in the UK, and thankfully it’s a jolly nice one.
It’s no different to the GT in this regard, then, save for the slight and unnoticeable power uplift – straight-line performance has always been a Mustang 6G strong suit. But when it comes to corners? That’s a traditionally weaker area for this car, but the Mach 1 specific fiddling has improved the car’s dynamic behaviour noticeably.
It’s tidier at the rear now, and more willing to change direction quickly. Around the faster, code brown-inducing corners at the far end of Thruxton, a GT would probably feel pretty sketchy when heavily loaded up; the Mach 1 feels stable and confidence-inspiring. The stiffer setup has also sweetened the steering, which always felt pretty meh before.
The Mach 1 remains, however, unmistakably a Mustang. It still feels heavier than it actually is, and can get uncomfortable when pushed really hard. Plus, when you’re pulling decent lateral G on track, those barely-there seat bolsters do a poor job of pinning you in place. It’s less of a problem away from circuit driving, but when you’re there, it’s off-putting to have your bum constantly sliding around.
The transformation here simply isn’t as thorough as it was for the GT350, so this thing won’t be troubling a BMW G82 M4 or the incoming M2. Also, when you’re out on the road, the damping can be pretty harsh regardless of the driving mode you’re in.
But I don’t mind that it’s more ‘GT+’ than ‘GT350 lite’. Because it retains that traditional Mustang character, it has a feel-good vibe no other 450-500bhp coupe can match. Where it really differs from the pack is how it’s a joy to drive at any speed, thanks in no small part to the V8 sitting under the long bonnet.
Plus, all of those Mach 1 specific details like the decals and the retro badging are thoroughly lovely. £55,185 may seem steep when it doesn’t feel long ago that the pre-facelift GT debuted in the UK at a bargainous £32,995, but the Mach does feel worth it. Take that money elsewhere, and you’re unlikely to enjoy yourself this much.