Huw Evans
December 1, 2006
Photos By: MM Staff, Andre Baghdasserians

2006 Roush Stage 3 Mustang
It was one of those days. Tech Editor Roy and I were due to meet up at his place at 7:30 am sharp. The plan was, to then drive to Livonia, Michigan, where a brand new 2006 Roush Stage 3 Mustang was waiting for us to flog - for a full week. However, not 10 minutes out from my pad (on the way to Roy's), an 18-wheeler pilot decided his rig could take on ramps like a fast Mustang. Unfortunately, the big Peterbilt rolled, spilling lord knows how much lumber across three lanes of southbound carriageway. The resulting traffic snarl lasted close to six hours and yes, I was stuck right in the thick of it. Still, we did eventually hook up and managed to make it to Livonia - albeit six hours behind schedule. Still, John Clark and Tony Marzalek at Roush Performance were most accommodating and even found time to give us a quick tour of the facilities, before handing the keys to a stunning Sonic blue Roush with light blue racing stripes. Our day had definitely taken a turn for the better by that point. "This car, although it is a Stage 3, is kind of unique," said John, "it's actually prototype." And what a stunning prototype it was. We'd seen the S197 Roush cars in a variety of colors before, but this prototype tester had a look all its own. The paint, the stripes, the Roush seven-piece body kit, including hood scoop, along with 18-inch chrome and of course forged, Roush aluminum wheels shod in meaty BF Goodrich rubber made this thing simply jaw dropping - tough and beautiful. We'd put odds that this car garnered more attention during the week we had it than Paris Hilton would streaking down Sunset Strip.

There are plenty of 'tuner' vehicles out there that we (and I'm sure some of you), have driven in the past. Some of those cars felt like a parts catalog on wheels - various sub assemblies tacked onto a chassis that suffered from a lack of communication between each other. The Roush Stage 3 isn't like that. Although each example is in many respects hand-built (a signature plaque under the hood is signed by the person responsible for each car), when you get in it and start it up, the car feels like a regular Mustang GT with exhaust work. Inside there are a few hints that you're piloting something different. Sure, there's a Shaker 500 sound system, tasteful blue 'n' black upholstery (with Roush signature embroidery), the special Roush gauge package, and a tall Roush shifter with old school style cue-ball handle sticking up from the console and out of the leather boot. Real carbon fiber inserts around the air vents, center stack and console are also a nice touch. Heading out and onto the busy, rutted boulevards of South Eastern Michigan, it was time to get down to business. The current Mustang feels 'vintage' in a number of ways, even in just regular driving. So does this one, but the thing is - you've got at your fingertips a a good deal more of performance and distinction than a regular Pony - but around town you'd never guess. It's docile and tractable, plus when you go over bumps and potholes it feels very, very solid. Despite performance suspension, ride quality remains compliant, even after you've had to endure a couple hours of those wonderful roads, culminating in a traffic jam by I-696. Another thing often associated with high performance cars like souped up Mustangs, often revolves around issues such as cooling, clutch and shifter feel in gridlock - ie the engine wants to boil over and spew coolant all over the street and your left leg feels like it's just about ready to fall off. Not here. Yes there's a Roush Charger bolted to the top of the 4.6-liter 3-valve V8 and blowers do tend to generate heat - but the temp needle stayed put, even with the air on and the clutch is both linear and smooth - dare we say almost light in feel.

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Once we were out of the mess and the road began to open up, the Roush had a chance to show a little of what it's got. Acceleration is strong - banging gears is fun, but the shifter takes a little getting used to - it feels a lot like some of the old four-speeds in classic GM cars - that if you weren't careful, would become misaligned under load - it's a remote linkage in the S197 remember, but after a while we're getting used to it. It actually feels better than the stubby stock piece and even on a regular GT, the Roush shifter is one mod we'd now definitely consider doing.

Boot the throttle and you hear the blower start to whine as the rpms climb and the cam profiles change - this car wants to pull. We find a long stretch of road, downshift from fourth into third and nail it. The Roush picks up - you feel the weight transfer - but it's subtle. The rear tires bite and the car just goes - it's not angry and choppy like older Mustangs with 400 plus horsepower. The car stays straight and the acceleration is almost turbine smooth - the speedo and the tach rise but the car just keeps on going. It gobbles up the miles, but once you're really in the boost, you can almost watch the fuel gauge as the engine chomps away on every gallon of premium gas.

The only two things you need to watch out for during high speed cruising are the occasional tramming from the front end and the hood shaking a little. Those chrome forged rims are 18 x 10 inches all the way around and the BF Goodrich KDs have a huge contact patch, even up front - so when you hit a rut or two, especially as road speed increases, the car tends to follow them and can snatch the steering away from you.The hood flapping is most notable at 70 mph and up, as the high pressure air pocket around the front fascia starts building, but this is by no means unique to the Roush and we're glad to say that the hood didn't fly off during our entire time with the car.

As much fun as it is banging gears and accelerating, it is in handling and braking where we feel the Stage 3 makes its presence known. We've already talked about how compliant the ride is during normal street driving, but when you hit a few turns, the car really begins to show you what it can do. If there ever was a street Mustang that was track ready, this is it. Into the corner, off the gas, turn the steering wheel, power on and go - there's seldom need to change gears that often - the V8 has an ample spread of power all the time with no bogging. As you push the Stage 3 into the corner it goes where you tell it. The front end is wonderfully neutral and when you get the power on again the back end stays in line. Switch off the TCS and try it - you end up with pretty much the same result. The car just grips and holds the line right from entry to exit. Start pushing it a bit harder and the tires will start giving you a little more feedback, but again, the Roush feels very controllable. That doesn't mean you can't get into trouble - spike the revs too much by dropping gear too quickly and you'll start to feel the back end telling you it wants to break loose. But either on the street or the road course the Roush is by and large a benign car to drive with limits far, far greater than most mortals who'll get behind the wheel. The Roush Alcon brakes on the Stage 3 car work well in conjunction with the chassis and suspension, hauling it down without fuss, time and again. It's the wholesomeness of the entire package that make this car so endearing - everything about it is powerful and hugely capable. The Roush accelerates hard, corners hard and stops hard - but it never feels overly fierce. It's more 'speaking softly and carrying a very big stick' versus 'brute hard core performance with the subtlety of a smack in the mouth.'

Although clearly designed more with a handling bias in mind, the Stage 3 is still a piece of good ol' Detroit muscle, so strip time was a must. If anybody was going to wring some serious numbers out of this car on the quartermile it was Joe Da Silva. After getting used to the car, Joe found it best to shift at 5500 rpm. One thing that did strike us, was how consistent the Stage 3 was at launch. He'd get on it out of the hole and just bang out 1.90 60-foots all day long. With Sunoco 94 Octane fuel (the tank was almost full by the way) and no tinkering with the car (yes, that means taking stuff out and dickying with the tire pressures), Joe got it running consistent 13.2s at around 104 miles per hour. Roush claims the car will run 12.6s - maybe we should try some more runs in cooler weather(it was the end of June when we did our testing).

The more time we got to spend with the Roush, the more fond we grew of it. This is a car that you can hop into and drive everyday, yet can pound out on the track or down the strip.The factory setup with the blower is fairly conservative, but to be honest, 500 horsepower is largely for bragging rights and for us, 415 ponies and 385 lb/ft of torque is more than enough for most situations. We already know the S197 Mustang in base form is a capable car, but Roush Performance has taken that package and injected the regular car's DNA with a ton of sporting prowess. That's how ingrained and integrated this car feels. With our time over and having relinquished the keys, we looked back on our time with the Roush Stage 3 and tried to find a selection of words that could sum up this car. In the end we didn't need to. On our way out of the Roush Performance lobby, we stopped by a poster. It said 'between a race car and a road car is a Roush car'. As far as the Stage 3 Mustang is concerned, we couldn't agree more.

First, Waterford Hills is an amazing little track. I say 'little' because you can stand at most points of the track and see most other points. The course layout packs a lot of challenge into a surprisingly economical amount of land. This, of course, can have its greater and lesser issues. On the greater side, it is certainly a driver's track. There are elevation changes, including a blind crest, on-camber turns that let you nestle the car into the next slingshot launch, and a shortish back straight where you can - briefly - let it all hang out. There is also a particularly challenging set of three (or is it four?) infield turns that take forethought and planning to traverse in the minimum amount of time. It is almost an autocross-like pace through the course that leaves the uninitiated with no time to plan ahead ... only to react. Against this backdrop, but without prior knowledge of the track, we climbed into the pilot's seat of the Stage 3 Mustang. An instructor occupied the right side and his objective was to get us familiar with the track and its nuances in the minimum time. From the time we first hit the tarmac, it seemed as though the next 15 minutes passed in about three heartbeats. Don't ask me how fast I was going up the back straight, because I have no idea. My first couple of laps were slow, so we changed places for a little tour. In those couple of minutes, it dawned on me that this car could be pushed far harder than I had expected. Back in the driver's seat, we began to search for a limit. In the end, I think that we were running through 30 percent of the course with the BF Goodrich g-Force KD tires squealing.

Three good things came out of this experience. First, I kept the shiny side up and didn't modify any landscaping at Waterford Hills. Second, a new and broader appreciation of the Roush Stage 3 Mustang was gained. The suspension is superb in these conditions and the enormous torque from the ROUSHCharged engine simply lets you leave the car in third gear and concentrate on learning the course. Yeah, it's kind of a wussy approach, but it's also nice to have the option. Through the entire session of pushing the car harder each lap, the only time it ever broke loose was when I got a little greedy with the throttle. Even the instructor commented positively on the durability and effectiveness of the brakes when we were done, which might tell you something about my driving.

What? The third thing? Oh, yeah... Please, sir. I want more. - Don Roy

All In The Family
What Initially Started as a fun way to spend some summer afternoon time together has now become an obsession for the Roush family, with the launch of the Roush Performance Drag Racing Team. Susan Roush-McClenaghan in her 2003 Ford Mustang and her husband Dale McCleneghan, piloting the 1967 Mercury Cougar, both in the NMRA Open Comp class. Jack Roush, Jr. stepped into the seat of the 2001 Ford Mustang that is being used as a modular engine development vehicle. Susan is the oldest of Jack's three children, rounded out by sister Patricia and Jack, Jr. Growing up with Jack Roush as your father tended to skew some life experiences. Susan recalls, "Instead of learning to cross the road safely, I first learned to cross pit lanes." She and husband, Dale, are literally high school sweethearts, having hung out together since age 14.

The Cougar that Dale uses was his own car when they were younger. Susan built the engine that was in it. That mill has since been replaced with a Roush crate engine for Drag Team use. The car that Susan drives for the team was Jack's street car from a couple of years ago. The youngest of the clan, Jack Jr., recalls, amongst his earliest memories, racing go-karts with his dad. According to Susan, Jack Sr. had bought a yellow ride 'em kart for his son before Jack Jr. was born. Obviously, the die was cast at that moment. These days, Jack Jr. runs around the streets of Livonia in a Stage 3 Mustang with 440 flywheel HP. It is his favorite Mustang of all time. He told me that it had to be sent to Wisconsin for the big air show this same weekend. It had to go early as part of the Roush display there and "I really want it back," he mentioned. As far as the team's future, the three know they will grow together. "We're all rookies. We just started racing last year," Jack Jr. said. Their fortunes in Joliet suffered from that rookie status, not particularly for the individual drivers, but for the team overall. Getting past small issues like religiously setting tire pressures comes from experience. That is something which this group is going to have in spades before the end of the season.

Specifications
2006 Roush Stage 3 Mustang

Engine
Ford 4.6-liter V8, aluminum block and heads

Engine Modifications
ROUSH M90 Roots-style supercharger, intake manifold, air-to-water intercooler system, high-flow fuel injectors and induction system, 50-state legal

Engine Management
Factory PCM with a Diablosport chip

Driveline
Roush short throw shifter (optional)

Numbers
415 flywheel HP @ 6250 rpm
385 flywheel TQ @ 4500 rpm

Interior / Exterior
2006 Roush Stage 3 Mustang

Exterior
Roush front fascia, front chin spoiler, hood scoop, rocker panels, rear fascia and rear wing, lower valance fog lamps

Interior
Roush sport leather seat covers, embroidered floor mats, billet aluminum pedals including a new dead pedal, Stage 3 electro-luminescent white face gauge cluster with 140 mph speedometer and 8000 rpm tachometer, optional interior dash trim kit

Chassis
Front brakes - 14.1" two-piece brake rotors with four-piston calipers; Rear brakes - 11.8" rotors with single piston floating calipers

Suspension
Specially-engineered and tuned front struts, rear shocks, front and rear springs, jounce bumpers, 34mm tubular front sway bar, 22mm solid rear sway bar

Wheels And Tires
Roush Performance 18 x 10" forged alloy wheels, BF Goodrich 275/40-18 g-Force KD tires

On The Edge
In August, we were invited by Roush Performance to participate in an open track session being held at the Waterford Hills road course, in conjunction with a Roush Owners and Enthusiasts Association event. We'd previously spent some time with the Stage 3 Roush Mustang, but this was a chance to take it to the limit. After a few days of reflection, I don't think we found the limit to this car. But perhaps I'm running ahead of myself.