Ever since the Ford Mustang ditched its live rear axle, it’s seemed as if the Blue Oval was only interested in providing ultimate handling prowess on Shelby versions. Various “performance packs” and special editions never got it done, and you had to slide into a Shelby GT350 or GT500 to go around a corner properly. With the GT350 retired, however, the curse is broken. The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is a GT350 replacement in everything but engine and carbon-fiber wheels.
Poke around the Mach 1, and you’ll find it features a grab bag of GT350 and GT350R parts and ideas, along with some items from other Mustangs. The Recaro seats should look familiar, as should the gaping void where the rear seats would go (a $250 option) in any other Mustang. Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tires are a welcome feature, as is the rear “s’wing”—that’s spoiler plus wing—from the GT500, both being part of a $3,750 Handling package fitted to our test car. Mach 1 planners even pinched the cue ball shift knob from the Bullitt to dress up the GT350’s vastly superior Tremec six-speed manual transmission.
Not present is the GT350’s wonderous 5.2-liter Voodoo flat-plane-crank V-8. That engine lived hard and died young, but some of its soul lives on in the Mach 1’s revised 5.0-liter cross-plane-crank V-8. Borrowing another trick from the Bullitt, the Mach 1 uses the Voodoo’s intake manifold to help wring out an extra 20 hp for output totals of 480 hp and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Twenty ponies don’t make much of a herd, so it’s unsurprising the Mach 1 is no quicker than a standard Mustang GT to 60 mph. Our best result was 4.2 seconds, with our test driver noting it was difficult to find the right launch rpm with the sticky Cup 2 tires. One piece of advice: Don’t bother with the launch control. Our guy was able to beat it by nearly half a second. Even still, it’s a tad slower than a GT350, which could do the deed in 4.0 seconds, and the GT350R, which could do it in 3.9.
It should be equally unsurprising the less powerful Mach 1 is slower through the quarter-mile trap, as well. Of course, 12.6 seconds at 113.1 mph isn’t a bad time slip, but the 526-hp GT350 did it in 12.3 seconds at 117.0 mph, and the lighter GT350R did it in 12.1 at 119.6.
Lightweight carbon-fiber wheels are also missing from the build sheet, but we really do love the look of the webbed metal pieces included in the Mach 1’s Handling package. No doubt they’re a far sight cheaper, too. Whatever the weight difference between them and the Shelby’s carbon rollers, it didn’t affect the Mach 1’s ability to stop from 60 mph: It needed only an extra foot compared to the upgraded 2019 GT350. And really, its 96-foot result is supercar territory—and a damned sight shorter than any other Mustang’s.
Like the Shelbys, though, the Mach 1’s real prowess is handling, especially equipped with the aforementioned Handling pack. Strap on the stickier tires (and aerodynamic improvements), and the Mach 1 will pull 1.05 average lateral g on the skidpad, a teensy bit more than an upgraded 2019 GT350 (1.04) and a bit less than a GT350R (1.09).
Send each around our figure-eight test, and the Mach 1’s power deficit will rear its head, if only a little. A 23.7-second lap at an average of 0.82 g is nearly as good as a 2019 GT350, which did it in 23.6 seconds at 0.83 g. It’s farther behind a lighter GT350R, though, which did it in 23.1 at 0.89. As for regular Mustangs, they can’t break out of the 24-second range.
So not only is it nearly as quick as the recent GT350, but it also drives like one on the test track. “A very racy experience,” road test editor Chris Walton reported, “with powerful and predictable brakes, excellent turn in, loads of grip, and a limited-slip differential that is freaking magic. At first, I thought I didn’t have traction control off because it was putting the power down so well, but then I jabbed the accelerator to see and kicked the rear out. Near perfect balance on the skidpad with just a whiff of understeer at well over 1.00 g. The engine sounds delicious, but it’s not what I would call snappy and responsive. One of the quickest, most confident Mustangs we’ve ever tested on the figure eight. “
As good as the Mach 1 was at the test track, it took a bit more courting on our favorite back road. One of the highlights of the GT350 and GT350R was the way you could immediately get comfortable with their handling characteristics. The Mach 1 doesn’t have that same easy charisma. It takes more experience to get tabs on how the car behaves. A Shelby feels familiar and confident within 100 feet on your favorite winding road. The Mach 1 doesn’t fully connect until you’re halfway through the drive. The car feels a bit nervous at first, a bit heavy and awkward, but once you learn to read its movements and reactions, you realize they’re false flags and you can push the car much harder than you initially think. With a full picture of its capabilities in your mental file, the Mach 1 becomes a GT350 with a lower redline.
This car isn’t a Shelby, and Ford isn’t claiming it is. But it certainly is more than just a hodgepodge of GT, Shelby, and Bullitt parts. There’s the spirit of a Shelby in the Mach 1 that makes it more than a sum of its parts. We already miss the GT350 and GT350R, but the Mach 1 is a worthy replacement. And at just $53,915 to start, it’s a screaming deal compared to the $60,000-plus commanded by the last GT350s, too. If you can, you should pick one up—it’s a hell of a Mustang.
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