When it comes to the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1, you can hear the howls from suburbs away. And that’s just the owners.
In case you missed it, there’s been an outcry over this car on social media. Depending on which thread you read, local Ford Mustang Mach 1 buyers missed out on a bunch of promised features, or are a bunch of sooks. As with many dilemmas, the truth is somewhere in the middle.
Ford Mustang Mach 1 owners were right to be upset about missing features – and Ford was in the wrong, which it quickly admitted – but no amount of trolling, threats of legal action, or banging of fists on service counters was going to change anything.
In promotional material in the lead-up to the local release, Ford Australia inadvertently listed as standard some features that were in fact not available on the Mach 1 – even in the USA – such as radar cruise control and rear parking sensors (due to unique bumper designs).
Ford Australia also initially incorrectly listed as standard an important piece of high-performance hardware – a track-ready 'Torsen' limited-slip differential.
However, only examples sold in the USA were available with this component. Ford Mustang Mach 1 editions made for right-hand-drive countries did not receive this option, because the company determined the Torsen differential was too aggressive for road use in those markets, including Australia.
While these errors in the promotional material (which have since been rectified) may have seemed like an innocent oversight to Ford head office staff, the scale of the drama was exacerbated by the fact that buyers of such vehicles sweat the details, and many took the missing equipment – and the inattention to detail – as a personal affront.
Unfortunately for Ford Australia, it highlighted the fact the promotional material for the Mach 1 was put together by paper-pushers, not enthusiasts.
Hopefully, the public lashings have stopped by now. After all, the person or persons who made the error are someone’s daughter, girlfriend, wife, or mother, or son, boyfriend, husband, or father.
We’re told the person and/or department involved are now acutely aware of the gravity of the mistake and didn’t lose their job. And Ford Australia says it has come up with a better way of cross-checking data in future. Especially on cars bought by enthusiasts.
To make good, Ford Australia offered free servicing for three years and a track day experience to all 700 customers of the Mustang Mach 1. If everyone takes up the offer, it will cost Ford a cool $1 million by our estimates.
As with previous limited editions of the Ford Mustang, the Mach 1 is designed to slow the sales slide typical of performance coupes and muscle cars towards the end of their current model cycle. The current-generation Mustang is now six years old, and a new one must be around the corner.
After the initial hype, demand for the Ford Mustang has been mostly in freefall. But special editions such as the Mach 1 give sales an intermittent boost.
For the uninitiated, the Mach 1 slots between the regular Ford Mustang GT – a version of which has been on sale in Australia since late 2015 – and the Shelby GT350 edition exclusive to the USA. When Australia didn’t get the Shelby GT350 or the subsequent supercharged Shelby GT500, local fans cried foul.
So Ford Australia has been trying to answer the call of enthusiasts ever since, with versions of the Mustang that meet our stringent noise and emissions laws.
The Ford Mustang Mach 1 was able to pass Australian regulations more easily because it is made up of a range of parts from the earlier Bullitt edition, and has other heavy-duty components developed for the Shelby cars that don’t make noise, such as additional coolers and revised suspension components.
Of the 700 Ford Mustang Mach 1 editions coming to Australia, all have been wholesaled to dealers and about 100 remain in showroom stock as this article was published.
Not everyone was happy with Ford’s offer of compensation. Ford Australia says about a dozen buyers got a refund or their deposit back because they wanted a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 with the full enchilada – or used the equipment omissions as an excuse to get out of the deal because they’d over-committed themselves financially.
Which then brings us to the obvious question: Is the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 still the real deal, or did Australia get a watered-down version?
Spoiler alert: we reckon it’s still the real deal, but before anyone has a cry or buys a Cavoodle, please hear us out.
Contrary to the naysayers, the Mach 1 is not simply a Mustang GT with stripes. It also comes with unique wheels, a unique grille, and a new front bumper, with functional ducting to cool the front brakes. But the changes are more than skin deep.
All 700 examples of the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 come with a raft of other high-performance parts, such as an external cooler for the mechanical limited-slip differential, an external cooler for the six-speed manual transmission or 10-speed automatic transmission, and an extra cooler for engine oil.
Indeed, the Ford Mustang Mach 1 has more additional cooling than the locally developed supercharged Mustang R Spec.
The limited-slip differential is the same 3.55:1 unit in the standard Ford Mustang GT, but the extra cooling gives it longevity – and prevents overheating – during repeated high-speed driving such as a track day.
A longer undertray beneath the front of the car has ducts to better direct airflow to the front brakes.
A larger brake booster is fitted to better handle repeated heavy use, although the brake discs and calipers are the same as those fitted to the standard Mustang GT in Australia.
Fortunately, Ford Australia product planners got the brakes right in the first place. All V8-powered Ford Mustangs sold in Australia since day one come with epic six-piston front callipers clamping discs the size of pizza trays (380mm), while the rears are single-piston floating callipers clamping 330mm discs.
The front brakes do most of the work, so that’s fine. Here’s hoping Ford gets the brakes right on the next-generation Mustang, and gives all variants the same excellent stopping power.
The rear subframe has stiffer bushes and borrows the rear toe-link from the Shelby GT500.
There are new front and rear swaybars, the front springs are a little lower, and Ford has recalibrated the electric power steering to give the Mach 1 a more intuitive steering feel.
The Michelin Pilot Sport 4 S tyres are the same type and size as those equipped on the Ford Mustang GT (255/40R19 front, 275/40R19 rear), but the rims are half an inch wider (9.5-inch on the front and 10-inch on the rear).
Ford says wider wheels with the same-size tyre have the effect of stiffening the sidewall, which provides a more precise steering feel and makes the sidewalls more resistant to lateral load – and creates a slightly wider contact patch as there is less crowning of the tyre.
The six-speed manual gearbox in the Mach 1 is different from the Mustang GT and has slightly different ratios. The Mach 1 comes with a heavy-duty Tremec 3160 six-speed manual with a twin-plate clutch for better durability during track days.
First gear runs out at about the same speed on both six-speed manuals (86km/h), but second gear in the Mach 1 is more usable (it tops out at 125km/h rather than 132km/h in the Mustang GT, which is a touch long), while third gear runs to 173km/h rather than 196km/h.
It means on a track day the Mach 1 will spend more time in the heart of the engine’s power band in second and third gears.
The 1:1 ratio in the Mach 1 is fifth gear (rather than fourth gear in the standard Mustang GT), so the ratios between first and fourth are closer in the Mach 1, making it easier to find the optimum gear in a mix of track conditions. (During our track test on a tight course we only used second and third gears, such was the elasticity of the engine’s power delivery).
Magnetically controlled dampers – optional on the Mustang GT – are standard on the Mach 1 and have been tuned for performance driving, though are impressively comfortable on the open road.
The engine is the same spec as the 5.0-litre V8 in the Bullitt. So it has an open air intake like the Bullitt and Shelby GT350 (you can see the air filter when you open the bonnet) and an 87mm throttle body which, combined, deliver a bit of extra noise and a handful of kilowatts.
The torque rating is the same as the Mustang GT (556Nm) but peak power is 345kW rather than 339kW.
A bi-modal exhaust is standard and ranges from stealth mode to noise complaint at the press of a button.
The only options: $3000 for leather Recaro sports seats (do it), and $650 for prestige paint (black, orange, grey and blue), which is every colour except white. Grey examples have the option of an 'appearance pack' that adds orange highlights to the car and $1000 to the bill.
ON THE ROAD
In an attempt to address concerns that the Australian-delivered Mustang Mach 1 can’t handle the heat, Ford rolled out half a dozen cars and put them on a racetrack. In this case, Sydney Motorsport Park at Sydney’s Eastern Creek.
We were let loose on the tight, shortened course on the south-eastern corner of the circuit normally used for car club track days. It’s not the circuit I would have chosen to demonstrate the strengths of the Mach 1 – given the tight and twisty sections over the back – but the car’s performance turned out to be a welcome surprise.
The Ford Mustang Mach 1 felt more nimble than an 1800kg car ought to, and steered with a level of precision I’ve not experienced in a Mustang before.
The magnetically controlled dampers and the revised swaybars helped keep the Mach 1 planted. The standard Mustang GT – an example of which was on hand to show the difference – felt just as quick in a straight line, but it wasn’t as confident in corners and the suspension was less settled.
The brakes were profoundly good and only began to show the earliest signs of fade after five or so laps in anger. But after the cars (and the drivers) had a rest for a few minutes and tyre pressures were checked, we were let back out again. And again. And again.
In the end it became difficult for organisers to lever media out of the cars after each session. Myself included. So I got out of one Mach 1 and walked over to another, hoping no-one noticed I was simply switching cars rather than sitting out a session. (Don’t worry, we all got a turn). In the end, I tired out before the car did.
None of the Mach 1 cars on hand went into limp home mode (a Mustang GT trait when it overheats, otherwise we might have had them as highway patrol cars) and all ran like clockwork. That said, with an ambient temperature of about 10 degrees Celsius in the dark of night, it wasn’t exactly hot work.
However, the exercise did demonstrate the broader ability of the Mach 1 compared to the Mustang GT.
Earlier in the day, we did a long road loop where we were able to sample Mach 1 in the daily grind, in both manual and automatic guises.
Although the route was hand-picked by Ford, first impressions are that the engineers have finally smoothed out some of the bumps, hiccups, and missteps in the 10-speed automatic. On this test drive at least, the 10-speed auto shifted smoothly and intuitively. Here’s hoping it wasn’t a fluke and Ford has finally executed a decent calibration of the transmission that’s shared with General Motors.
If GM engineers can make the 10-speed auto a smooth operator in the Chevrolet Camaro, then surely Ford can do the same for the Mustang (and, while we’re at it, the Ranger and Ranger Raptor).
As for the six-speed manual gearbox, I couldn’t pick the difference in feel of the shift action or the clutch. Both felt light and easy. You may read otherwise elsewhere, but based on one hour in a Mustang GT manual and one hour in a Mach 1 manual, the difference to me wasn’t obvious on the open road. Perhaps with more time it would be more apparent.
Confession: at first glance, I thought the Ford Mustang Mach 1 was a sticker pack. But the joke’s on me.
The differences under the skin may be too subtle for some, and detractors will say the Mach 1 is not worth the almost $20,000 price premium over a standard Mustang GT. I can see their point.
However, all these ingredients cost time and engineering resources – in addition to the hardware. While the changes may not be as obvious as some buyers might have wanted, they all add up, and combined they take the current-generation Ford Mustang to the next level.
I reckon this is the best iteration and most completely thought out version of the Ford Mustang to adorn Australian showrooms to date.
Only customers can decide whether the price is delusional or good value, but the car itself is pretty special. The benefits are most obvious on a racetrack, but it also drives better on the road.
In the same way Ferrari drivers rarely take their cars to the limit, and four-wheel-drive fanatics commute in the suburbs with jacked-up suspension and all manner of recovery gear, chances are Mustang Mach 1 owners will rarely exploit their car’s potential. But sometimes it’s just good to know it’s there.
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