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S197 Ford Mustangs - End Of A Generation
As ’14 Mustang gallops into the sunset, we take a look back at 10 years of great S197s
By August 2004, we had seen plenty of ’05 Mustang photos thanks to Ford’s early promotion of its next-generation ponycar. As I stood in the early morning mist with a group of other journalists during Ford’s Ann Arbor, Michigan, press preview, I realized that we were putting the beloved Fox-body Mustang behind us and moving into a new era of S197 Mustangs. I didn’t know at the time that this new S197 would spawn future models like the Shelby GT 500, 420hp GT with a Coyote 5.0-liter, revived Boss 302, and a V-6 that sported 305 hp and 31 mpg. S197 was a good generation for Mustang.
Now we’re about to wave goodbye to the S197, unbelievably already 10 years old, as we prepare for only the sixth generation (counting the much-improved ’95-’04 Fox-4 separately from the ’79-’93 models) of Mustang over the past 50 years. With the possible exception of the ’74-’78 Mustang II, which admittedly helped the Mustang survive a difficult time in American automotive history, each generation has moved the Mustang forward as it maintained its original purpose: a sporty car that could be many different things—performance, luxury, economy, and more—to many different people. We expect the ’15 Mustang, code-named S550, to carry on the tradition when it debuts in the near future and goes on sale later next year.
When the ’05 Mustang hit showrooms in the fall of 2004 as a hardtop only (the convertible was delayed until February 2005), it continued the vintage Mustang design cues that had been a big part of the popular ’94-’04 “Fox-4” Mustang—in particular, the traditional faux-scoop side sculpturing, tri-bar taillights, and mouthy front grille opening. But underneath, the S197 was a totally new car, built on the much stiffer and modern DEW98 platform, as borrowed from the Lincoln LS. It was changed so much for the Mustang that it earned its own S197 code name.
There were plenty of other updates as well, starting with an updated three-valve version of the 4.6-liter V-8 that generated 300 horsepower, up 40 from the ’04 GT’s two-valve 4.6. Electronic throttle control (or “drive-by-wire,” as some called it) debuted on the ’05, along with side glass that automatically slid down an inch or so when the door was opened, then back up when closed, for improved window sealing to reduce wind noise. The mufflers also moved behind the rear axle. MyColor instrument panel lighting and a five-speed automatic became available for the first time.
The S197’s combination of vintage styling (some compared the looks to the ’67 Mustang) and improved chassis set the stage for retro-themed special editions. Shelby Automobiles pulled off the biggest surprise with the first Shelby Mustang since 1970, the ’06 Shelby GT-H rental car for Hertz, each one painted black and gold to recall the ’66 Shelby GT 350H. One year later, Carroll Shelby confirmed he was back in the Mustang business for real when SVT announced the ’07 Shelby GT 500, a supercharged, 500hp replacement for SVT’s Cobra. At the same time, the Shelby Automobiles facility in Las Vegas began converting Mustang GTs into ’07 Shelby GTs and offering a special “Super Snake” package with up to 720 horsepower for new GT 500s.
Ford also revived a few names from the past for the S197, including a modern rendition of the ’68 California Special as the GT/CS, a GT 500KR for ’09, and an updated Bullitt GT for ’08-’09 to refresh the special ’01 model that commemorated Steve McQueen’s Highland Green fastback from the 1968 movie Bullitt.
A facelift for ’10 provided the S197 Mustang with a sleeker appearance and interior sound was enhanced by a “sound tube” into the passenger compartment, but it was the underhood improvements the following year that made the biggest splash. Thanks to a brand-new Coyote 5.0-liter V-8, the GT came from the factory with 412 horsepower (upped to 420 hp later) to compete against 400hp Dodge Challengers and the rumors of a new Camaro with over 400 horsepower. Perhaps even more surprising was the new V-6 that boasted 305 horsepower (same as the ’96 SVT Cobra!) combined with fuel mileage rated at 31 mpg.
With the vintage look of the S197, many at Ford had explored the possibility of a new Boss model. But hard-core enthusiasts within the company resisted the urge, mainly because they felt the 4.6-liter engine wasn’t up to the task, nor did it displace 302 cubic inches like the original Boss 302 from ’69-’70. But with the new Coyote 5.0-liter measuring an exact 302 cubic inches with 412 horsepower as a starting point, Mustang chief engineer Dave Pericak and his team created a worthy successor to the Trans-Am Mustang from ’69-’70, raising power to 444 and establishing a new high-water mark for Mustang handling. Intentionally, Team Mustang scheduled the new Boss 302 for just two models years, with ’69-like C-stripes for ’12 and sweeping ’70-like stripes for ’13.
But SVT saved the best S197 for last with the ’13-’14 Shelby GT 500, a 662hp supercar capable of 11-second quarter-mile dashes and nearly 200-mph top speeds. Yet for normal everyday driving, the GT 500 boasts perfect street manners with a fuel economy rating of 24-mph highway to avoid the gas-guzzler tax. When cruising at 80 mph with the six-speed transmission, the engine loafs along at 1,800 rpm. Pretty impressive, even for owners who don’t send their GT 500s to Shelby American for the 850hp Super Snake package.
For the S197, it’s been a grand 10-year run, plus a few extra months for the extended ’14 model year as Ford prepares the S550 for on-sale release. Over the past decade, we’ve seen GT, Pony Package, GT/CS, Shelby GT 500, Boss 302, GT 350, Super Snake, and Bullitt, not to mention aftermarket editions like the Saleen/Parnelli Jones and Roush 427R.
So we say, “So long S197. It’s been good knowing you.” We can only hope that the S550 can match the S197’s 10-year run of great Mustangs.
Driving the ’14
Pleasant—that was the word that kept running through my mind during my week with a ’14 Mustang GT convertible. Equipped with the six-speed automatic, the new GT was perfect for my work commute through red-light hell, offering a stable but comfortable ride and plenty of power to merge into traffic or zip past slow moving commuters.
Of course, with 420hp on tap from the Coyote 5.0-liter V-8, the ’14 GT transforms from mild-mannered to muscular with the application of right foot to the throttle. The power comes on smooth and strong, pulling harder as the tach needle rises. But for normal driving, the GT tools around like a cordial commuter, only with a lot more torque. The exhaust note is muscular but not obnoxious, even at full throttle scream.
It’s been awhile since I’ve been in a new Mustang convertible, so I was particularly impressed with the improvements in the top mechanism, which now drops much lower into the well and even provides a built-in mini tonneau, although a foam cover is stored in the trunk in case you’re entering a car show. I especially liked the top’s forward railing, which now incorporates an oval opening that can be used as a handle to pull the top down tightly while latching the corners. That’s a better idea.
The only disappointment is price. Our ’14 Ingot Silver Mustang GT was equipped with $6,575 worth of options, including navigation and Brembo brakes, to take the sticker shock to over $47,000. For a Mustang, not a Shelby, that’s not too pleasant.