Tom Wilson
June 1, 2005
Photos By: Courtesy of Ford Motor Company

It bears repeating-the '05 Mustang is the first Mustang to be built from the ground up as a Mustang. It's also the first Mustang designed to be a convertible Mustang from the start. No tacked-on gussets and undercar trusses and girdles. No excuses for wind leaks or doors that barely close. This time, the engineers built the necessary Ford Tough right into the chassis.

Recently, Ford had the automotive press out to sample the new Mustang convertible, which should hit the streets about the same time this issue of 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords does. While the weather was sloppy, we were able to shakedown the new drop-top, so we can say with authority that it is light-years ahead of the old one. Solid, and feeling like a coupe that folds its top, the new convertible will only add to the new Mustang's already homerun sales figures. But at a minimum of $29,995 in V-8 form, is the open-air rush worth the premium?

Ford says the new convertible works so well because the company could efficiently build the necessary chassis stiffness into the primary structure from day one, thus avoiding heavy after-thought steel plates, gussets, and braces. So it says the job was done light, and with a weight gain in the neighborhood of 120 pounds, it's a fair statement. We'll only remind everyone that the new car is no lightweight to begin with, so some of the usual 300-pound weight gain for a convertible is already in every new Mustang.

We're not complaining (much); we dig the new car's rigid chassis. We'll also interject that the new convertible looks much better than previous efforts. Four-seat drop-tops are not the easiest styling exercises, but the new car avoids previous awkwardness.

The stiff chassis called for a minimal number of changes to make it into a convertible. Underneath, there is a V-shaped brace and a straight strut connecting the two sides of the rear suspension together; the rest of the usual A-pillar and floorpan reinforcements are already built in.

Other changes include a 15 percent reduction in spring rate and less aggression from the shock valving. Two extra millimeters of rear stabilizer bar were added-it's now 20mm-to counteract the extra roll allowed by the softer spring/shock tune. This softer suspension helps deliver the touring ride a soft top might be expected to have, and it absorbs more road shocks before they turn into cowl shake.

Not that you're going to feel much cowl shake. We noted minimal shuddering during our drives. The wet and stone-strewn roads during our evaluation kept us from really tossing the new convertible around, but it's still obviously a new Mustang with the chill handling we're so giddy about in the coupe. Some said they could feel the slightly softer suspension tune-we did not, likely because we couldn't go to maximum attack due to conditions.

As a convertible, the new car continues to build the '05 Mustang's sterling reputation. Wind buffeting with the top down is minimal. We managed 70-plus mph and the cockpit remained remarkably still with minimal backwash or noise. The new car is definitely not a self-contained tornado. Ford says this is because of carefully designed seat backs and attention to the angle of the windshield header, enough so that a dedicated wind blocker was not required.

Top operation is as expected. A switch near the rearview mirror-yes, up on the windshield header-commands the power top up or down. A pair of easily operated header latches seal the front of the top, while the side glass mates tightly with sophisticated seals on the sides. Interestingly, from the driver seat, the small rear quarter windows are both operated by a single switch. Thanks to the double-lipped weather stripping, the power windows jump down a notch and automatically return whenever a door is opened or closed.

The tight fit of the three-layer top (outer vinyl, insulation, headliner) pays off when raised. Practically speaking, there is no difference between the coupe and convertible when it comes to noise or front-seat headroom, and cruising with the top up you soon forget you're in a drop-top. It's library quiet.

It's also affordable if you follow Ford Public Affairs' lead. The $24,495 V-6 and $29,995 V-8 GT Mustang convertibles are the most affordable drop-tops in the U.S., and the V-6 with its 210 hp is the most powerful convertible under $25,000. Moving up, the V-6 Convertible Premium model adds 16-inch brightly machined aluminum wheels with "spinners," the Shaker 500 audio with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability, along with a six-way power driver seat. Its price is $25,320.

Other major options available on the V-6 convertible include an exterior sport package for $295, an interior upgrade for $450, the five-speed automatic transmission for $995, ABS and all-speed traction control for $775, side airbags for $370, leather seating for $695, an active anti-theft system for $255, and finally, a convertible soft boot for $195.

Pricing the GT follows a similar strategy. The Mustang GT Convertible Premium model scores the Shaker 500/CD/MP3 and Aberdeen leather buckets and fetches $31,175. The shared major options-auto trans, side airbags, anti-theft, leather, and convertible soft boot-are identical to the V-6 of course. Some of the GT-only options include an interior upgrade for $450, interior color enhancement package for $175, 17-inch bright aluminum wheels for $195, and the Shaker 1000 sound system for $1,295.

So, is the new GT convertible worth the extra five grand and whatever options you can't live without? In low option form, we say yes. Sure there is some profit-taking going on when the top comes off-there always is-but this time we'll give it to Ford because it's delivering torquey, 300hp omni-vision sunsets in a sharp-looking, sharp-handling package. That's tough to get at any price. Load the boat, however, and we think you're just paying to promenade and we'd rather drive.

But the bottom line is there's no handling, performance, or comfort penalty worth mentioning associated with the soft top, so as with many good things in life, if you want it, you should have it. That's the stuff six-year financing is made of.

Changes In The WindListen up, stroke, things are changing at Ford when it comes to Mustangs, especially our favorite specials and performance models. The details are closely guarded, but the signs are numerous. Most obvious is the retirement of John Coletti, a powerhouse of performance enthusiasm, but maybe not the sort upper management has found to their liking after years of SVT success with the '00 Cobra R, the Stallion concept car, the unforgettable Boss, and most recently, the Ford GT. Mr. Coletti is a man of passionate energy, and far too young to consider golf five days a week all-consuming.

SVT has changed managers, and with the demise of the slashing little SVT Focus, just where is SVT headed? Rumors say upmarket; we say collect those SVT key chains and ballpoints while you can.

Reenter Carroll Shelby-a hallowed name in Ford circles, no doubt, and manifest in several Ford concept cars of late. More inexplicable, the man was on hand in the flesh to see Mr. Coletti off during Ford-sponsored festivities. Mix that with the generally heritage-themed '05 Mustang and does your enthusiast radar start picking up "GT-350"?

Then there is this line in the '05 Mustang Convertible press handout: "...the first in a string of new specialty Mustangs." We doubt they mean King Cobra hood decals, but just what do they have in mind?

Back In The DayTo truly appreciate the new '05 Mustang convertible you really should have driven one of the earlier versions. Of the earliest Mustangs we need not take much note; the mid-'60s were a different era, and so much has changed in chassis dynamics, tires, and customer expectations that considering the early Mustangs today is definitely a vintage proposition. But we can note the cowl shook, and the heavy doors were loose in their frames as their lightweight chassis flexed.

The real story begins with the Fox-bodied cars, a general classification fellow Contributing Editor Dale Amy casually refers to as "a beer can on wheels." Not to be unkind, we once editorialized that the fuel-injected Fox Mustang "was the best 71/48 finished car ever built."

Why such high praise? The Fox chassis was born in the evil '70s when Hendrix couldn't take it any more, men wore stupidly long shirt collars outside their sport coats, and they danced with their arms over their heads. Twin gas crises had Detroit thinking oil-can thin, and the then-new Fox platform went into the oven with only half the ingredients at 275 degrees for 20 minutes. It came out baked almost all the way through, and then Ford did little to it for the next 20 years, save for fitting huge tires, the better to induce massive loads into the structure. The main problem was the middle of the car; the thin floor pan was nearly virtual, and the roof went a long way to holding the thing together.

So, yeah, the Fox convertibles were as loose as a 300,000-mile Manhattan taxi, and driving them was occasionally character building. Piloting a stock Fox convertible down a canyon run with even a hint of purpose gave the distinct impression the steering wheel was connected to a massive gum eraser. Turn the wheel and the entire front structure would twist relative to the rear axle for seemingly half a second before the car's direction would begin changing. And then what felt like 100 conflicting inputs ran through the paper mache chassis in undulating waves, alternately peaking and nulling, quivering and throbbing, so that the driver was never quite sure what was worth responding to and what was simply the dog shaking off the morning dew. Brother, those suckers were loose, enough to make even us slow down.

Naturally, all this cowl shake and body resonance was accompanied by the Fox's dreaded understeer, a tire moaning howl at the handling moon. The harder you pushed, the more numb the steering became, yet the more dramatic the body deformation. It didn't take a handling genius to conclude that Fox convertibles were best suited to impressing a completely different set of curves than those made in asphalt.

It wasn't that Ford didn't try-the Fox ragtops could boast a large, tubular, header-fouling X-brace under the engine compartment-but the early Fox chassis was as loose as a duck on an all-fruit diet to begin with, and cutting the roof off didn't help at all.

Fox convertibles were not as weather-tight as we've come to expect from an '05 ragtop, either. Hardly the leaking pup tents of English car infamy, the Fox ragtop would seal decently enough but did transmit notable wind noise at freeway speeds, right through the single layer of vinyl. Give it a couple of years, and the top might get a flap somewhere, and inevitably the frameless window glass would shake or gap from the overworked weather stripping. The electric top and window operation was fast and convenient enough, and rather similar to the '05s in that regard. It was nothing to motor topless, then whip up the top, windows, and locks when running in for a meal or errand. Dropping the top was just as easy, which made the Fox converts fine touring machines, allowing the relaxed sight-seeing Ford had intended all along. And if you're looking to buy, note that in 1991 the folding top linkage was redesigned for a 4-inch lower stack height. That helps avoid the baby-buggy-with-the-top-down look.

And, yes, the '94 and later cars were considerably better, but still shakers. Ford's answer was a mass damper, essentially a 25-pound weight suspended on calibrated rubber in the right front inner fender. It wiggled in counter-time to the unibody, thus canceling much of the shake. Ford's strongest excuse for that bit of wire and tape engineering was that BMW had done the same thing at one time.

We much prefer the stiff structure approach taken with the '05 Mustang. Fully 25 percent stiffer in bending and 117 percent stiffer in twist than last year's drop-top, the new convertible has done the job the right way.