2004 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Photo: Nadine DeLange. Click image to enlarge

by John LeBlanc

Given the many roles that the Mustang has played over the past 40 years, the car can rightly claim ownership to a “been there, done that” attitude.

Introduced in April 1964 as the eponymous “pony car”, the original Mustang was simply a Ford Falcon sedan with snazzier styling stuffed with six or eight cylinder engines.

Developed ten years later on the Ford Pinto platform to save money, the Mustang II was launched in response to the Middle East Oil Crisis as an economy runabout. Despite sales reaching an all-time low during the late 1970s, the Mustang was reborn in 1979 based on the ho-hum Fairmont sedan.

In the late 1980s, we almost lost the first (and now last) pony car. When Ford announced plans for a front-drive replacement, Mustang Nation arose and lambasted the company with a campaign that convinced Ford executives to retain the existing rear-drive Mustang, alongside the new front-drive Probe. To keep interest up, Ford added horsepower and refinements to the Mustang until a new retro-styled model arrived in 1994 (mildly restyled in 1999)- which brings us to today’s car.

Of the multifarious roles the Mustang has played, many of its eight million owners (especially nostalgic-seeking Baby Boomers) seem to relate the strongest to the original muscle-car era Mustangs of the late ’60s and early ’70s. During that time, the original Mustang Mach 1, with its “shaker” hood scoop, black body trim and BIG 428 Cobra Jet V8, certainly stood out in a rabid market full of Barracudas, Challengers, Javelins, Camaros, and Firebirds.

Thirty-five years later, the new 2004 Mustang Mach 1, with its “been there, done that” muscle car accoutrements, definitely “stands out” and causes some serious muscle car-envy of its own. When it comes to the exterior design, Ford stylists didn’t stray too far from the original formula. My Competition Orange Mach 1, with its updated shaker hood scoop, flat black hood stripe, air dam and black rear spoiler, received attention from just about every newly-licensed male driver I encountered. Call it “anti-Q-ship”.

Ford made an effort to mix the current Mustang’s interior (redone in 1994) with what one might have expected in 1969. The retro gauges make for a sleeker instrument panel while the Dark Charcoal leather “comfortweave” seats, exclusive to the Mach 1, are upgraded with stiffer bolsters and greater adjustability.

2004 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Photo: Nadine DeLange. Click image to enlarge

Whether its 1964, or 2004, the Mustang has always been a 2 + 2. The sum is a restrictive back seat for adults. Despite the interior updates, all Mustangs suffer from a poor relationship of seat, steering wheel, and pedals. Let’s just say that the best part of sitting inside the car is watching the shaker hood, well-er-shake! (The hood scoop is directly attached to the engine’s air intake box and pokes through a hole in the hood. Tromp on the throttle and the engine rocks in its mounts and the scoop “shakes”. Certainly breaks up the boredom at a stoplight!)

If you’re considering the Mach 1, ostensibly, you’re buying the engine. Next to the Mustang SVT Cobra ($46,655), the Mach 1’s dual-overhead cam V8 with 310 horsepower and 335-lb. ft. of torque is the most powerful car in the Mustang corral. That’s better than the standard Mustang GT model by 45 horsepower and credit goes to higher engine compression (10.1:1), high-flow four-valve heads, specially calibrated camshafts and port-matched exhaust manifolds.

2004 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Photo: Nadine DeLange. Click image to enlarge

The word “brakestands” will become part of your vernacular, again.

Part of the Mach 1 package is a specially tuned exhaust system that provides the desired low-speed “burble, burble” sound that will take you back to 1969 quicker than a Jimi Hendrix 8 track.

Although a standard four-speed automatic is available, I enjoyed extracting all of that cheap, er, inexpensive, horsepower through the five-speed manual. Based on the transmission used in the limited production 2001 Mustang Bullitt, it comes with a 3.55:1 final drive ratio for better low-end acceleration.

Ford also used the Bullitt as a base for the Mach 1’s suspension upgrades. Tokico gas-pressurized shocks plus higher-rate front and rear springs that lower the car 13-mm are installed, although the front stabilizer bar is carried over from the GT. The live axle rear gets a solid bar in place of GT’s hollow unit. The Mach 1 also uses the same four-wheel disc brakes system from the Bullitt utilizing 300 mm Brembo rotors and calipers up front and slightly larger rear rotors out back with antilock and traction control standard.

These suspension upgrades over a standard Mustang GT work well. The power assisted steering never felt like it was taking over, while on-centre feel was linear and accurate, providing excellent feedback. Not bad for a modern muscle car.

And guess what? The Mach 1 out on a twisty road feels much like the Bullitt, only more planted in the corners. However, the Mach 1 is somewhat compromised by a stiffer ride and more road noise. Ford has done a commendable job with a with a 15 year old live-axle suspension, but if you want a modern handling rear drive 2+2 keep in mind Mazda’s RX-8 ($36,795), BMW’s 325 Ci ($42,250), or Infiniti’s G35 coupe ($45,210).

2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1
2003 Ford Mustang Mach 1. Photo: Ford. Click image to enlarge

But those fancy-pants coupes aren’t muscle cars, are they? And here’s the Mach 1’s raison d’etre: with an as-tested price of $39,410, it’s the least expensive 300 horsepower on the new car market. So, for sheer engine performance, the Mustang Mach 1 represents real bang-for-the-buck, with little or no competition.

Admittedly, next to those more polished sport coupes, Mustangs are lewd and crude, but cheap horsepower will always be attractive to certain car zealots-expensive fuel pump gas, or not.

The all-new 2005 production model will address some of the existing car’s grievances with a much improved interior and the latest 21st century technology. (Oops, except for an independent suspension. You’ll have to wait for the new Mustang Cobra for that latest bit of 20th century technology).

Like Ford’s legendary pony car, I too am turning 40 this year. However, unlike the Mustang, I totally missed the original muscle car era, so for drivers who long for those visceral thrills, the 2004 Mustang Mach 1 plays the role of the of the modern muscle car for all it’s worth.

Technical Data: 2004 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Base price $37,895
Options $470 (Interior Upgrade Package: Height and tilt adjustable front seat head restraints; Metal-look dashboard insert; Metal-look console insert; Metal-look interior accents
Freight $945
A/C tax $100
Price as tested $39,400
Type 2-door, 4 passenger sport coupe
Layout longitudinal front engine/rear-wheel-drive
Engine 4.6 litre V-8, 32 valves, dual overhead cams
Horsepower 310 @ 6000 r.p.m
Torque 335 lb-ft @ 4200 r.p.m.
Transmission 5-speed manual (4-speed automatic optional)
Tires 245/45ZR-17
Curb weight 1,729 kg (3,469 lb.)
Wheelbase 2,573 mm (101.3 in.)
Length 4653.3 mm (183.2 in.)
Width 1856.74 mm (73.1 in.)
Height 1336 mm (52.6 in.)
Cargo capacity 309 litres (10.9 cu. ft.)
Fuel consumption City: 13.8 L/100 km (20 mpg)
  Hwy: 9.4 L/100km (30 mpg)
Fuel type 91 octane (recommended)
Warranty 3 years/60,000 km

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