5.0 Mustang & Super Fords
Newly Designed 1999 Mustang
Initial Impressions, Details, And Vocal Readers' Opinions
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It's been five years since Ford first unveiled the SN-95 Mustang to the public. It was a tough sell at first for those of us who had developed a long-standing love affair with the old Fox-body 'Stang, but in the years since we've all come to know and love the SN-95 as, well, a Mustang. But completely redesigning a car is different than tweaking an existing design. When modifying sheetmetal that people have grown accustomed to, like the '94 to '98 Mustang, you occasionally hit the mark and everybody loves it; sometimes you miss the mark and make everyone gag. By the reader response we've gotten so far, regarding the redesigned '99 Mustang, the majority opinion is the latter. It's safe to say that the appearance of the '99 Mustang is disliked by 99 percent of the public. Well, maybe that's a bit harsh--closer to 95 percent.
Our readers first saw the car in the November issue, courtesy of Ford's official press photos. The 5.0 mailman quickly developed back trouble delivering all the opinion letters on the car, but people should know that it's hard to form a knowledgeable opinion based solely on PR photos. Like most of you, the 5.0 staff was underwhelmed at first glance of those photos, but in the three months since, Ford has actually let the press, including yours truly, see the car in person, spend some quality time behind the wheel, and get answers to questions that you, the readers, had. What's the verdict? I'll give you my personal opinion.
It'll definitely take some time getting used to such a radical redesign of a body style that I'd grown to love, but it is growing on me, even after a short two days with the car. Initially, when I first saw the photos, the taillights turned me off the most. Interestingly enough, though, the rear end treatment was the easiest to get used to. After a few hours of following the car, it seemed less like a Honda Prelude and more like a, well, a Mustang. The one design element that I like is the big side scoop, and I like it even more after seeing it in person. There's some room for improvement but it's still pretty striking in the flesh. (For interesting ideas on body mods, especially with the side scoop, check out the Corral Website: www.corral.com.) The door handles need work--they're too pronounced for my taste--and I still don't like the nose treatment. Ford recontoured the whole front fascia, and pinched it in at the front corners. To some people, it looks better. To me, it looks pigeon-toed.
The front of the car has lost (in my humble opinion) the aggressiveness that the SN-95 had in spades. One thing that I still hate, and so do most of the writers of the letters we received, is the stratospheric ride height. Ford engineers say that the enormous space between the tops of the tires and the bottoms of the fender lips is for clearance for tire chains in snowy climates, among other reasons. No, we're not buyin' it either. If ever there was a car crying out for some serious lowering springs, this is it. The standard wheels, on the other hand, are quite attractive, especially after the altitude adjustment that we're sure will be the first modification performed by anyone who buys the car.
But the redesign of the '99 Mustang is more than skin deep. As we already reported, there's a stiffer chassis, more horsepower (for both V-8 and V-6 engines), better brakes, and a new traction control system. I got to spend a total of nine hours in various models of the Mustang, from a V-6 automatic convertible to a V-8 five-speed coupe, and everything between, and the cars impressed upon me a few things. For one, the platform is way stiffer than the car we're all used to, especially the convertible. We all know how convertible Mustangs shake like a chihuahua dunked in ice water--not this one, pal. Ford has equipped the ragtop pony with bolt-in subframe connectors, a K-member brace and more sound deadening, and it really works. I completely forgot that I was in a convertible until I got on the highway and hit 70 mph. Only then did the wind noise coming through the fabric top remind me that there was no substantial surface above my head. I actually looked up to make sure the top-release mechanism was there and that I was, indeed, in a convertible. The coupe is, likewise, considerably stiffer.
Both the SOHC V-8 and the pushrod V-6 engines have been breathed on, with the V-8 now producing 260 hp, compared to 225 in the '98, and 10 horsepower more than originally reported! The V-6 grunts out a highly respectable 190 hp (up from last year's 150). The V-8 cylinder heads have slightly bigger valves and reshaped chambers, but these are not the SVO heads like we initially thought. The same goes with the intake manifold--altered runners, but not the free-flowing SVO unit.
Gotta leave some room for hot rodding, right? Also contributing to the increased horsepower are new camshafts with more lift and duration, and a coil-on-plug ignition system (one coil per spark plug). The fuel system is a new, returnless outfit that uses a variable high-pressure pump with its own computer. This pump/computer combo is linked to the powertrain computer, and fuel flow is based on demand and temperature variables. Supposedly, this system reduces the amount of vapor in the tank, which is an emissions concern.
In addition to the chassis bracing, changes under the car include completely revised spring, shock, and swaybar tuning, a 1.4-inch-wider rear track width (Ford says it makes an appearance improvement in the tire-to-fender relationship--they've got a long ways to go there!), more travel in the rear suspension, and a tighter turning circle, thanks to relocated sway bar mounts and less restrictive stops in the steering rack. The previously optional 3.27:1 rear gears are now standard on all Mustangs. The brakes have been greatly improved with aluminum, twin-piston calipers, better pads, a revised master cylinder, and a different pedal ratio.
It was nearly impossible to determine the effect of the GT's 35-extra horsepower, due to the heavy rainfall on the Northern Michigan ride-and-drive route. Rain-slick roads are not the hot ticket for testing out new-found power gains, so I just can't offer up an informed opinion. That, and the lack of a back-to-back test against a '98 GT make it impossible to tell if the '99 is any quicker, so I won't even go so far as to say something lame like, "It felt quicker." The rain did allow me to perform a thorough test of the traction control system, however, and compared to what Detroit has had to offer in the past, this one's impressive.
The brakes on the '99 Mustang are equally impressive, and were the first improvement I noticed. Gone is the mushy pedal and pedestrian, fade-prone brakes. The twin-piston calipers (not the Cobra brakes, but nearly as effective) and pedal ratio make for confident, easily modulated braking, much like the Cobra or Baer brakes--very nice.
Will the '99 Mustang be accepted like the '94 was? Only time and bottom-line sales will provide that answer. Personally, I think the car will grow on people. The only automotive redesign I've ever witnessed that drew overwhelming positive reaction was the '87 Mustang. Every other redesign, including the '94 Mustang, was greeted with some scowls, grunts, and exclamations of, "What have they done to my car?" But all of those designs have, again, "grown on" us, and I don't think the '99 Mustang is any different.