Street cred


In the summer of 1969 I had just turned 17, old enough to drive my own car (a 1962 Chevy Nova convertible) to the Woodstock Music and Art Fair. That was indeed pretty cool, but the Nova had a lowly inline six under the hood, when what I really wanted was a muscle car.

The specific object of my lust was a Sunbeam Tiger (a tiny British sports car stuffed full of Ford V-8) but I thought the Mustang Mach 1 was also pretty intense. I wasn’t all that mechanical at the time, but this pony looked fast standing still, what with its shark-like fastback body, aggressive side scoops, air dam and famous "shaker hood scoop," which was mounted directly on the carburetor and poked through a cutout.

The late ’60s muscle cars backed up their macho looks; the buyer had the option of the 250-horsepower 351 Windsor or the 335-horsepower 428 Cobra-Jet. These hot rods were great in a straight line, with neck-snapping acceleration that left rubber all over the tarmac. Cornering and stopping were something else entirely. Safety in that era was a padded dash and seatbelts for the front seat only.

By 1974, the Arab oil crisis had reduced the Mach 1 to a pathetic variant of the anemic Mustang II, with a 2.8-liter V-6, no less. Sayonara, Mach 1. But the model returns this year, in time for the 40th anniversary of the Mustang. The first car rolled off an assembly line on April 17, 1964.

The 2004 Mach 1 has numerous nostalgic heritage cues, including 40th birthday badges on the front fenders, dual exhausts with chrome tips and the return of the functional shaker hood scoop (now mounted on the intake manifold, not the carburetor). Drive the car and peer over the thing for a constant reminder of the 310-horsepower, 4.6-liter twin-cam V-8 under the hood. Oh, and did I mention that low, dark V-8 rumble? Sounds like history.

Collectors should note that Mach 1s get a special "R" in the VIN number, and will be built in a special edition not likely to exceed 6,500. An all-new Mustang debuts in 2005. (Ironically, the concept vehicles look even more like the ’69 Mach 1 than the current car.)

The ’04 Mach 1 is, of course, a much safer, saner vehicle than its predecessor. Now it has 13-inch Brembo brakes for those 17-inch heritage wheels! Standard ABS, stiffer suspension and traction control help keep it on the road. A four-speed automatic maintains road manners, making "wheelies" difficult. There’s even an available MP3 player for those homemade Jan and Dean compilations.

Beneath all the pizzazz, however, is a Mustang that is showing its age. Like the lamented Camaro and Firebird, the ‘Stang is an ergonomic nightmare, with small and none-too-supportive front seats, limited legroom front and rear, tiny door pockets and a small trunk. Great for cruising to the Dairy Queen, no fun on long trips.

If the Mach 1 isn’t enough of a testosterone wagon for you, there’s always the SVT Cobra Coupe, which upgrades to a 390-horsepower supercharged engine and a six-speed manual.

There’s too much traffic around the drive-in these days for stoplight drag races, but the Mach 1 (like the shades-of-Steve-McQueen 2001-2002 Bullitt GT) still oozes street cred. Expect to pay $30,000.