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FIRST DRIVE

Mustang pays tribute to the original Mach I

The limited-edition model has a shaker hood scoop like the one on the '69, but now a V-8 rests underneath.

May 14, 2003|Jim Mateja | Chicago Tribune

The Ford Mustang celebrated its 39th birthday April 16, and a larger, redesigned 2005 Mustang will be built off the same platform as the current Thunderbird.

The prototype car attracted a ring of admirers at the recent Chicago auto show, many of whom could be heard engaging companions with "I remember when" stories.

Though a new Mustang is coming, Ford Motor Co. opted to bring out a limited edition of the current model for 2003, the Mach I. Actually, it's a new Mach I designed to call attention to the Mach I that debuted in 1969.

The original model featured a fastback body style, front air dam, rear spoiler, leather-trimmed "comfort weave" seats and a shaker hood scoop mounted on the carburetor through an opening in the hood.

And shake it did.

The 2003 Mach I model pays tribute to the original with an air dam, spoiler, comfort-weave seats, an aluminum shift-lever ball and polished aluminum brake/clutch pedals.

And yes, a shaker hood scoop, though now a fuel-injected V-8 rests underneath.

But that scoop still shakes.

I asked Mustang brand manager Paul Russell why Ford brought out a Mach I when it has a Cobra SVT in the lineup and the new Mustang is just months away.

"When you have the heritage we do with the Mustang, it's great to be able to leverage it," Russell said. "Mach I will serve as a bridge between the current and new '05 Mustang by continuing to build excitement for the new one."

Equally important, he acknowledged, Ford decided it would be better to sell a limited-edition Mach I as the current Mustang reaches the end of its lifecycle instead of offering $1,500 incentives on leftover Mustangs to make room for the '05.

I tested the Mach I, which with its 4.6-liter, 305-horsepower, 32-valve V-8, also serves as a bridge between the GT -- with its 4.6-liter, 260-horsepower V-8 -- and the Cobra SVT -- with its 4.6-liter, 390-horsepower, supercharged V-8.

"With the Mach I we wanted to put more brute force into GT without supercharging it, but at the same time utilizing a shaker hood scoop," Russell said.

The Mach I has brute force for sure. Quick flight off the line. Not as quick as a supercharged Cobra, and not as stick-to-the-pavement handling as a Cobra with its independent rear suspension versus the Mach I's solid rear axle. But fun nonetheless, with a quarter-mile drag-strip type of charm.

The chassis has been lowered about an inch to give it decent, though not Cobra-like, road manners. A luxury sedan this is not, and enthusiasts applaud that. Traction control and four-wheel anti-lock brakes are standard.

A roomier cabin would be appreciated, which the larger '05 promises to deliver.

Perhaps bringing out a Mach I was designed to rub General Motors Corp.'s nose in the fact that the Chevrolet Camaro and Pontiac Firebird are no longer around to battle Mustang.

Russell insists that the demise of its rivals didn't influence another Mustang rendition.

"We may have won this war [against Camaro and Firebird], but they'll be back and it'll be a great time with a new rivalry," he said.

Russell said Ford would sell 6,500 2003 Mach Is and planned to produce "a couple thousand, maybe a few more, for '04."

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