Words: Alex Rae
This is as good as a locally produced blue oval product gets in Australia. At least it is right now, some years since manufacturing of the Falcon stopped. And although you’re right in saying that this is a US-built sports coupe, it’s also a modified and ADR-approved Mustang development that gives Australians a wild, supercharged Stang like the Yank’s Shelby GT500 we can’t import.
But rather than blend a GT moniker into the name, Ford’s local division pays homage to the Ford Performance Vehicles Falcon GT R-Spec, another bygone local hero. It’s only fitting, then, that the 500 Mustang R-Specs which will be produced also roll down the line at Ford’s Campbellfield assembly site where the Falcon was once bolted together. But enough about the old Ford sedan, this is all about the new face of go-fast Fords - Ford Performance.
The most powerful car in Ford’s stable locally, the R-Spec essentially uses a Ford Performance-sourced Roush Stage 3 supercharger to increase the 5.0-litre V8’s outputs to in excess of 500kW and 800Nm. Now, we can only say that it’s in excess because there are no official figures provided, although we know in the US that the same kit develops those sorts of numbers. Go figure.
Engineering development and production of the modifications onto a regular Mustang GT is the work of Rob Herrod, equally well-known as the man behind Herrod Performance. And while the engine is really what the R-Spec is all about, there’s also a handling pack underneath so that it’s not a one-trick pony, and there’s styling enhancements that were penned by Australian Ford designer Dave Dewitt. Those enhancements run from the unique front valance to the rear black wing spoiler, joined by inspired Falcon GT-R-Spec black striping. There are also some enhancements inside, like the Ford performance cue ball-style gear shifter, black leather Recaro sports seats and an individually-numbered plaque on the dash.
Equipment inside is otherwise familiar to GT Mustangs, with an 8.0-inch infotainment system with Apple Carplay and Android Auto, a load of active safety systems despite its mediocre three-star ANCAP rating – AEB with pedestrian detection, lane departure warning and keeping assist and adaptive cruise control – and a booming B&O Play nine-speaker sound system…though what you really want to hear is the thumping engine when the ignition cranks over and the custom quad-tip dual-exhaust system by Herrod Performance crackles to life.
There’s something old-school and muscular about the naturally-aspirated 5.0-litre V8 Mustang but throw on a supercharger with some other modifications and it turns into a real street brawler that’s just itching to evaporate its rear tyres. Yes, traction can be a problem, and you’ll lose a tenth with that six-speed manual which is far more engaging than the ten-speed auto not available, but it’ll howl to 100km/h from a standing start with more keen enthusiasm than just about any quicker supercars. The revs pick up, you drop the clutch, the rear haunches down and the supercharger begins to whine with a twerk of the rear end, all before a mechanical cacophony fills the cabin at the top end near the 7400rpm ceiling.
How does it do it? The Roush Stage 3 supercharger is a 2.65-litre roots-type positive displacement blower mounted on top the engine forcing up to 12 pounds per square inch of boosted air pressure inside the cylinder head. The same arrangement in the US develops precisely 522kW and 827Nm from the 5.0L, which is a huge increase over the regular pony car’s 339kW and 556Nm. All of the hot air is pushed through an aluminium high-efficiency intercooler, and a larger radiator helps keep engine temps down, along with enlarged air intakes for better airflow onto vital parts. The final waste product is rocketed down a custom Herrod Performance exhaust which sounds brutal in Track mode and will still wake up the neighbours in Quiet mode. There are exhaust modes in-between, too, but why waste good sound?
So with the engine in full swing and the throttle placed closest to the firewall the Mustang R-Spec finds itself in licence-losing territory quickly. Luckily, you can track it, or enjoy it on tighter twisting roads.
The handling package’s purpose is to decrease bodyroll via firmer springs and larger stabiliser bars, which in turn increases turn-in response to corners. It’s not all at the expense of ride comfort, either, as the MagneRide adaptive dampers which carry over to the R-Spec with new, 20mm lower Ford Performance springs, are connected to a sophisticated electronic control unit which understands changes and adopts a different damper response. The result is a surprisingly compliant ride on city roads despite large 19-inch alloys covered in 255/40 front, 273/40 rear Michelin Pilot Sport 4S tyres. The front stabiliser grows 5mm to 37mm, the rear by 3mm to 25.2mm, decreasing roll and sharpening frontend feel through the steering wheel on turn-in.
While the Mustang has never been a scalpel-sharp sports car for carving corners, the R-Spec is more at ease around bends, exhibiting less scuttle on mid-corner bump and having great grip from those wide, sticky Michelins on each corner. But plant the throttle too early, or just in too far at any point really, and the wheels will quickly spin up with enthusiasm when the supercharger begins blowing – though you can catch it pretty easily. Overall, it’s a much more predictable chassis and taught package than the regular GT, which is a little woolly upfront when pushing on or driving for track days.
One area which remains unchanged are the brakes, which were already credible six-piston Brembos up front on the GT, and ample for pulling up the R-Spec’s 1779kg kerb weight in quick fashion. Brake fade isn’t an issue, and they have a predictable feel when trailing the middle pedal, too.
All of this is packaged inside the attractive Mustang shell, which being the now-familiar model it is on the street (thanks no less than to relatively stellar Mustang sales) means sometimes you don’t get sort of attention a one hundred grand ($99,980 plus on-roads) supercharged Mustang ought to, even if our car is coated in bright Grabber Lime paint. But those in the know, and those who seem to like muscle, will certainly give a nod. And if you don’t like the colour, there’s equally flashy Twister Orange, or the more covert Oxford White and Velocity Blue. And ultimately, despite a tough growl and noisy top end, it doesn’t sound as punchy as the normal GT without the blower.
That said, most of the 500 units produced have been sold, leaving a few at dealers dotted around Australia and all are backed by the full factory Ford five-year warranty. And as a special Mustang without unequalled grunt from the factory, it’s a pony that kicks like a mule thanks to local Aussie development.