Tuesday, February 27, 2018

FORD MUSTANG - A PONY CAR BRED FROM A BIRD

Ford’s Mustang reached iconic status a long time ago. It was the original ‘Pony Car’ – meaning a lightweight, high performance ‘American’ sportscar - cheap to build, and cheap to buy.

Its success is measured in millions – both in sales volumes and profits. But, boy did it have humble beginnings.

In 1961 Ford’s engineers in Dearborn began playing around with a concept a long way from the Pony Car which came to market.

The 1962 Mustang I concept was a small, lightweight, two-seater with a wedged shape, one–piece aluminium body riveted to a tubular space-frame chassis and powered by a German Ford Cardinal 1.5L V4 engine. It also featured four wheel independent suspension and front disc brakes. This was leading edge stuff for the Dearborn guys.

Design was by Eugene Bordinat, and Exterior Designer John Najjar positioned the small engine right behind the driver. The seats were fixed, and the foot pedals could be adjusted to suit the driver.

Ford built only two cars – a fiberglass mock-up, and one running prototype. The company revealed the prototype at the US Grand Prix at Watkins Glen in October 1962, driven by Dan Gurney, who drove the little concept car so hard, he lapped just seconds slower than the F1 cars!

So, what happened? Mustang 1 looks nothing like the Mustang we’ve come to know.

Lee Iacocca was an early champion of the original concept, but bowed to pressure when the whole thing was re-imagined and redesigned as a much more conventional coupe and convertible. Mustang was launched in 1965.

The original business case was reduced to laughing stock very quickly. Ford’s numbers guys said the company would sell less than 100,000 cars. In the first 18 months, Ford sold one million Mustangs – which is not hard to figure when you see the price – USD$2368!

Now, to the humble beginnings. Once the dealers got wind of it, Iacocca wanted the car on sale asap.

The original Mustang borrowed heavily from the humble Ford Falcon.

Most of the running gear, the platform, the six-cylinder engine, the 3-speed auto transmission, and suspension all came from the family Falcon. The only element which survived from the concept car, were ‘fake’ louvres in front of the rear wheels.

However, given the humble bloodline, the Mustang came on sale within five months of being signed off!

Ford and its dealers started making money straight away. The long-standing residual affection for the Mustang continues to bring sales success, almost regardless of shape.

Let’s fast forward to 2018, and the latest convertible is ‘On My Drive’ and what a pleasure it has been to drive it.

Powered by a 5.0L V8 the Mustang has tons of power, a surprisingly stiff body, and pin-sharp handling.

Although, if it’s rainy and greasy, the GT is very tail-happy. Actually, if I'm truthful it can be a handful, despite the grip provided by the Pirellis.

The original design sketches for the 2014 concept are credited to a Croatian designer from Ford’s Cologne studio, called Kemal Curic.

However, after some clinics, and a Board level pow-wow his initial theme was junked, and the whole design team worked to come up with the shape you see on my driveway.


The program was overseen by Group VP of Design J Mays, but both Moray Callum (Director of Design, The Americas), and Joe Piaskowski (Exterior Design Director) had considerable influence on the outcomes.


I think Interior Chief Doyle Letson, and Interior Manager Bill Mangan, deserve mention too, for a good job on the interior.

It certainly is evocotive of the original ragtop Mustang.

Like I said, it’s a very successful formula – although just lately sales have wobbled a bit. In 2016 just over 6200 Mustangs were sold Down Under, and 9165 were sold in 2017 – but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Sales have been on a downward slide over the last six months.

Part of that may be due to a scare story about Mustang only achieving TWO STARS in the ANCAP crash tests! That’s something that will definitely cause a hiccup in the sales charts for any affected car.

Turns out that occupant safety is not the issue, but the lack of some electronic whizzgiggery, which Ford has now decided to include in the specs sheet.

However, the whole issue has been embarrassing, because ANCAP made sure its press release got maximum media coverage, with the motoring scribes pointing out that the last car to achieve TWO STARS was the Chinese-built Chery hatchback back in 2011.

I have no doubt that the current Mustang will protect its occupants, but it’s a concern that Ford’s engineers appear to have produced the ‘Dog Ate My Homework’ excuse for why it failed in the first place – especially if it was just a failure to include some high-tech software.

I like this car, but my first impression from the driver’s seat was that I was looking out across the deck of the Fleet Battle Carrier.

The hood goes on forever, and your only way to figure out where the front is, is guesswork, or a bump!

There are some neat design touches.

A brushed stainless steel feature on the dash; the absolutely jewel-like rear tail-lamp lenses, and the fact that this body shape is the closest I’ve seen to the original 1965 car.

I also love the 'Ground Speed' indicator - aka, the speedo!

In Australia the Mustang is in a HOT market segment, and it appears to be holding its own, with a 50% share of that sector.

But buyers are fickle, and I figure when something 'different' comes along – like a Walkinshaw-pimped Camaro, the Pony Car buyers will look elsewhere.



But, I certainly don’t mind opening up the throttle in the right conditions, so the V8 can bellow to its heart's content.

My good friend, David Ford, who was a senior development engineer for Ford Australia (now retired), told me that Ford Australia brought about 200 1964/65 Mustangs into the country in 1965. He thinks they were converted to RHD at Ford's old Homebush facility in NSW, which was building the Cortina, and later Ford Escorts.

I called an old contact from Homebush who told me that they were an easy conversion because of the number of parts common with the Falcon, and also because the dash was symmentrical.

Back to today's re-imagining of the famous mid 60s Pony car. I think this new Mustang delivers on all its promises. It's throaty, powerful, looks pretty sexy and because of the residual admiration for the Mustang line, it has plenty of fans Down Under.


Friday, February 23, 2018

SIR STIRLING MOSS - LIVING LEGEND

A regular Driving & Life reader from Britain, who seems to be about the same vintage as me, has written asking about my friendship with Stirling Moss. He’s an unabashed fan of the great driver, and remembers seeing him in his early motor racing exploits in Britain. He wanted to know exactly how, you go about meeting and becoming friends with a boyhood hero.

I hero-worshipped him too, and vividly recall catching the train to western Sydney in 1961, for the inaugural motor race meeting at the Warwick Farm circuit, which was laid out inside the famous horse racing track. Stirling Moss was to lead a band of prominent international drivers for the big open wheeler event.

It was a blisteringly hot day as I, and three of my mates, sat on the open top deck of the grandstand, ready for the big race. Stirling Moss appeared on the grid in his Lotus 18, with all the side panels removed, to create cooling airflow in the sweltering conditions.

Despite many raised eyebrows from officials and other drivers, the race started, Stirling shot to the front, and was never headed, winning with a big margin. This classic photo by Daily Telegraph photographer Dan McPhedran captures the scene beautifully.

Twenty years later an Australian promoter announced an event to be staged at the Sandown Park motor racing circuit in Melbourne, which he called “The Tribute to Champions”.

His plan was to fly in as many great racing drivers of the era, to participate in several parade laps of the circuit, and then to drive one of their former race cars with a bit more purpose and anger.

Jaguar Australia had been asked to provide either a C-type or D-type Jaguar from one of Australia’s wealthy car collectors among our Jaguar owners' list, for Stirling to drive.

Paul Higgins
The drivers began arriving in Victoria’s capital city a few days before the weekend, to help them recover from jet lag. On the Thursday morning I got a phone call from one of my dear friends, the late Paul Higgins, who was a prominent motoring writer.

He was clearly upset, and hastily explained to me that the promoter had absconded with as much of the sponsorship funds as he could lay his hands on, and left the country!

This meant that many of the drivers assembled for the event were stranded in Australia as only their inbound flights had been paid for! Some had return tickets, but as Paul explained, Stirling Moss had neither a return flight to London, nor a hotel in Melbourne, and no car to drive to get him to Sandown Park.

Could I help? I immediately flew down to Melbourne on the Thursday night, and in my role as PR Director for Jaguar Australia, I allocated enough of my PR budget to accommodate Stirling Moss in the Wentworth Hotel, provided a Jaguar sedan for him to drive, and purchased a First Class one-way airfare to London.

Paul Higgins and I had dinner with Stirling in Melbourne that night and this is when I coined the phrase ‘a 30 year friendship, in 3 minutes’. Stirling and I immediately hit it off, and within 15 minutes were chatting as if we had known each other for 30 years!

This began a lifelong friendship with the great man, and one which I treasure and appreciate.

By 1985 Australian sales of the Series 3 Jaguar XJ6 were waning, in anticipation for the new car (the XJ40), which was due the following year, and the marketing department was casting around for ideas to stimulate Jaguar sales. The Marketing Director, John Shingleton, and his Marketing Manager, Russell Turnham, asked me if there was any chance we could get Stirling Moss to come to Australia for a day with Jaguar owners and potential customers.

I called Stirling in London that night, and we negotiated a fee, his travel and accommodation, and a few months later I met Stirling at Sydney airport, for what turned out to be an annual visit from that point onwards.

The first customer day was held on the old ‘short circuit’ at Warwick Farm, and was a howling success. We had participants who were Chairmen, CEOs and prominent identities lining up, for Stirling to drive them around the circuit for three laps in a Jaguar XJ6 sedan.
Our final customer event was in Adelaide, so that Stirling and I could attend the inaugural Australian Formula One Grand Prix at the new street circuit on the northern outskirts of the city.


I made sure that our ensuing, annual Jaguar customer drive events were always held in late October, so Stirling and I could attend the F1 Grand Prix – and the events held in conjunction with the GP in which he participated, were always great promotions for Jaguar.

In 1986 Stirling participated in ‘The Climb to The Eagle’ held in conjunction with the Australian Grand Prix – side-by-side with Juan Fangio.

Stirling drove a C-type Jaguar, Fangio in a Mercedes-Benz SLR.

Over the years our families grew closer, and there have been warm and wonderful get togethers.

We met in Los Angeles in 1990, to join the celebrations for the Mosses 10th wedding anniversary.

We also enjoyed Xmas together in Florida in 1992.

Our most recent dinner together, in 2011, was in Mayfair, not from Stirling’s house.

His house is almost as famous as Stirling. He built it on a WW2 bombsite and has filled it with every conceivable gadget you can think of.

Ours is one of the strongest friendships I enjoy.

I am filled with respect, admiration and affection for a man who has inspired millions of people to persevere in order to achieve. 

Despite his massive accident at Goodwood in 1962, his struggle to recover mentally and physically is a tribute to his determination and resolve.



That accident forced him to give up competitive racing, because as he told me: “For once in my life, I could 'see' my threshold of fear.” That comment tells us a lot about the racing driver who won 212 of his 529 races.

I think that 1955 was possibly his greatest. He won the British Grand Prix at Aintree, giving the Mercedes-Benz team a 1-2-3 finish; then the RAC Tourist Trophy race; the Targa Florio and the Mille Miglia.

Along with his Grand Prix career, he also enjoyed a glittering record in sports car racing, including Sebring, Reims and Le Mans.


Sadly, Sir Stirling is still house-bound, slowly recovering from a mysterious virus he contracted whilst in Singapore, in December 2016. At 88 years of age he has retired from active duty, to spend more time with his wife, Lady Moss, and their son Elliot and his wife Helen.

My deepest wish is for his successful recovery.

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

A BRACE OF BEAUTIES

So, finally I have the Alfa Romeo Giulia Quadrifoglio 'on my drive' alongside my beautful Alfa Romeo 159, and aren't they gorgeous.






On the Drive the QV has an aggressive stance, when you compare it to the 159, which looks almost 'pretty' by comparison.
Alfa Romeo's famous shield grille
The 'Scudetto'
I asked a lady friend of mine to comment and she said the QV looks "nasty" and the 159 looks "smooth". 



The chassis dynamics of every Giulia I have driven have been superb, and the Maserati-massaged 501hp turbo V6 only changes the character of the Giulia QV via the prodigious power delivery. It is every bit the competitor to BMW's M3 that the Giulia team envisaged.



The attention to detail in the design, the powertrain, the suspension and the interior is flawless. I know I'm already a fan, and what would you expect me to say? However, this car is worth test-driving if you're in the market for a high performance medium-sized sedan.






Damn! Where is that elusive lottery win?