December 1, 2002

Horse Sense:
Ford has quite a lineup these days. The GT runs high-13s, the '03 Cobra runs mid-12s, and the upcoming Mach 1 will fall right in the middle, running somewhere in the high-12 to low-13-second range in the quarter-mile. It's a great time to drive a Ford!

Looking at Ford's latest Mustang GT, there's no doubt what kind of car it is. The characteristics that define the Mustang brand are all present and accounted for: the familiar good looks, the striking performance-car stance, a manual transmission, a sporty interior, and a snarling V-8 under the hood. Its continuing evolution only further complements the past by offering an exciting driving experience at an affordable price.

The best thing about the newest GT is that it's one of the most well-rounded Mustangs ever offered. Its chassis is more solid than any 5.0 Mustang, and the modular engine and the drivetrain backing it up are far more refined than those before it. Well-rounded or not, this story is all about shaking it loose on the 1,320. Just how quick can a stock GT go? We're about to find out.

Our GT arrived on a hot and humid Friday night in Cincinnati, Ohio (see sidebar on how we got this car). The first thing that struck us was the beautiful Sonic Blue paint and edgy look of the latest generation of GTs produced since 1999. Car owner Pete Latham and his buddy Billy "Cake" Cole made the nine-hour trip from Syracuse, New York, in less than six hours, and they were chomping at the bit to get to the track and show us what 24,000 of Pete's dollars could do. Who were we to stop that?

With all the right lines, scoops, and angles, the venerable Mustang GT never looked better. The chassis is solid, the engine revs like crazy, the five-speed makes it fun to drive, and the aftermarket is brimming with parts and shops to customize to your favorite flavor.

Typical of Friday-night test sessions, this one was packed with import racers and American muscle. The Mustangs were out in force, and we soon found several modular brethren with which to compare this car. The ones with gears, exhaust, and cold-air kits were well in the low-13-second range. Some of them claimed to have gone 12s with the right tires and cooler temperatures. We began by making laps to get used to the car as well as the track.

The first thing you have to learn is that even with 3.27 gears, these cars need a lot of gas pedal and a slipping clutch off the line. The 4.6 modular isn't Ford's gift to torque until around 4,000 rpm, and as such you need to slip the clutch while winding up the motor to get the car moving smartly from a dead stop. You want to shift the car full throttle at 6,000 rpm, and if you're on a really good run, you should tickle the rev limiter in Third gear, right before the finish line. The track wasn't in the best condition with the hundreds of street-tired cars dragging water to the starting line and tearing the rubber up in the groove. But the GT could do a good impression of a race car if asked to do so.

The first pass, without even lifting the hood, was a 14.986 at 94.47 mph (2.237-second 60-foot). Not too good, but it was a start. Eight minutes later, the car ran a 14.557 at 97.09 mph (2.219-second 60-foot). Fifteen minutes after that, the car slowed to a 14.684 at 96.42 mph (2.213-second 60-foot). Then, a 14.45 at 97.82 mph with another 2.31-second short time. It was at this point we began thinking the car wouldn't go much quicker, but the disappointing first 100-feet of the dragstrip gave us some hope for the car. The new GT is a tough car to drive. It's heavy, under-geared, and needs a lot of momentum to really get cooking.

The '02 Mustang GT offers a tremendous performance-per-dollar-spent ratio. This Sonic Blue beauty would make anyone proud to own a Mustang.

Switching lanes and straddling the shredded groove seemed to help some. The last pass of the night was a 14.218 at 98.06 mph with a consistent 2.222-second short time. That was it for this car in bone-stock trim on this night. It wasn't going to go any faster unless we started tweaking some things.

Fast Times at Pete and Billy's
So you want to get your Mustang in a car magazine? Just how far would you go? How about from Syracuse, New York, to Cincinnati, Ohio? That's what it took for one pair of 5.0&SF fanatics to make the cut. Pete Latham (left) and Billy Cole have been into 5.0 Mustangs for years. But when Pete's 11-second street GT had grown long in the tooth, Billy suggested he try out the new modular Mustangs. Pete liked the car so much, he ordered one in the rare Sonic Blue color. Both guys have been begging us for years to shoot their cars for features, but when Pete offered up his new ride for a drag test, we just had to go for it. The only stipulation was the car had to remain 100 percent stock, or the results would be fudged. And they had to bring it to your author's hometown of Cincinnati for the pictures and test session. Drag-testing someone else's GT-can you blame us? And, for the record, Billy's 10-second street bomb will be featured in a later issue.

The following day, we regrouped at Paul's Automotive Engineering. Shop owner Paul Faessler greeted our out-of-town guests with some chassis dyno pulls on the in-house Dynojet. The bottom line was 238 hp and almost 280 lb-ft of torque at the back tires. More importantly, we realized the car didn't make these numbers, or really start pulling, until almost 3,500 rpm. This helped us understand why the launch is so critical in this car, since you need to have the engine up in the powerband to get forward motion, and hopefully not spin the tires.

We returned to the track on Saturday prepared to do what it took to get better numbers with this car. We began by pulling the entire air-filter housing and intake silencer to allow some more air to the motor. We stripped the trunk of the spare tire and jack to decrease weight. The air pressure in the front tires was bumped to 46 psi to decrease rolling resistance. And the front sway bar was loosened to help the chassis gain some movement, which would hopefully get us off the starting line like we meant business.

At Paul's Automotive Engineering (513) 791-1087 in Cincinnati, we strapped the new GT down to the rollers for a quick chassis dyno pass. The car peaked at 238.3 rwhp and a surprising 279.2 lb-ft of torque. It's that torque that gives the car the seat-of-the-pants power you'll love.

The first pass in this trim, riding the clutch out at 3,500 rpm, produced a bog off the line and a surprisingly much-improved 2.054-second short time. The car finished with a 13.96-second elapsed time at a better 99.02 mph. Now we were getting somewhere! There was time for one more pass. After icing the intake and mass air for an hour, it had to be a good one. Leaving the line harder at 4,000 rpm, the car left smoothly with a 2.011-second short time and walked down track to a 13.721 second pass at 101.8 mph.

Our time with the borrowed GT had run out, but the little Mustang had entertained us for two days. We can't stress enough how solid these newest GTs feel. The structure adds weight, but that can be quickly offset with a few well-chosen bolt-ons. Above all, this installment of the timeless Mustang GT is a fun car to drive. Who could ask for more than that?