From time to time the observatory atop Southern California's remote Palomar Mountain is closed to the public, meaning traffic on the flowing ribbons of asphalt which wind their way up and down the 5,500ft peak is virtually non-existent. It was on one such day that I was heading north east out of San Diego, past the casinos of the Rincon Luiseno Reservation, towards Highway 76 and eventually, Palomar itself.
Leaving the sea air and perma-warmth of the Pacific Coast behind, I'd ventured inland in search of a place to better get to grips with the talents of a very intriguing PH test car - the Ford Mustang GT Performance Pack 2.
Available on manually transmissioned, coupe bodied Mustang GTs only, the PP2 aims to fully exploit the potential of the Coyote-engined car, while going some way to bridging the gap between it and the Voodoo-powered GT350s which occupy the next rung on Ford's performance ladder. Power and torque from the 5.0-litre V8 remain unchanged, at 460hp and 420lb ft, as do the other headline figures, with 0-60 taking 3.9 seconds and top speed still limited to 155mph.
Where the PP2 diverges from the standard GT formula is in how it goes about exploiting that potential. Deep breath now. Contact with the road comes via four 305/30ZR Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres (that's right, 305s 19x11-inch rear wheels - a full one and a half inches wider than the standard Performance Pack car. Suspension takes the form of retuned MagneRide dampers and springs which are 20 per cent firmer up front and 13 per cent firmer in the rear, the brakes use "track-inspired" Brembo six-piston calipers and the tubular front and solid rear anti-roll bars are 12 and 67 per cent stiffer respectively. An enormous new front splitter and bespoke rear spoiler add a little extra downforce to the already absurd levels of mechanical grip, completing the package.
Wider, firmer, stiffer - make your own jokes there - are the main themes of the PP2, then, and it totally transforms the Mustang GT from traditional pony car to track-focused stallion. Unfortunately there isn't a circuit at our disposal, but then there are plenty of bends up in the mountains of Southern California...
Here the Palomar loop offers much of what you'd hope to find behind the wheel of such a car. Switchbacking its way up the steep face of the mountain, the road rises sharply, pitching you ever skyward before sweeping upwards to a dead-end at the gates of the observatory. Dashing from sea-level to over a mile in elevation can be hard work, though, so a quick photo op and a stretch of the legs later feels a wise move. Luckily there's a handy rest stop at Mother's Kitchen as well (which comes highly recommended), leaving you ready to face the rest of the run.
From then on the roads are more open, and even more enjoyable as a result. East Grade Road reverses the gain in altitude made previously, but takes about five times the distance to do so, offering up several sets of beautifully laid out corners and curves. Here the Mustang is in its element, the V8 roaring its way towards its 7,500rpm redline and the six-speed manual a perfect partner. On the coast, the thing was an absolute pain, the Cup 2s tramlining constantly and requiring constant correction on even the straightest of roads. Here in the mountains, the tyres provide immense grip, steering immediate and natural in its feel as all that suspension and chassis work keeps things eerily composed.
With Lake Henshaw on your left, a right on Highway 76 returns you to the beginning as expediently as you might hope, allowing the opportunity to open the throttle a little wider than perhaps you previously dared - within the limits of good reason and the law, of course. From here you can repeat the circuit to your heart's content, or turn around and try it in reverse; either way, you're sure to be treated to some fantastic driving roads and breathtaking scenery every time, with plenty of opportunities to stop and take it all in.
Pulled up at one such lookout point I had time to appreciate not just the vista, but the car as well. It just looks incredible, even better in the metal than in photos. The lowered stance in combination with its aggressive wheels and splitter immediately identify the PP2 as something special. It's strikingly purposeful without appearing over the top; in fact it may just be the best looking Mustang I've seen since the first generation - 1971 Boss 351 potentially excluded - and drew plenty of admiring glances and overt ogles from passers-by, despite the relative prevalence of Mustangs of all stripes in SoCal.
The PP2 isn't currently available in this country, mainly because that splitter would scythe the feet off a pedestrian from 200 yards, but also likely because it just wouldn't really make sense here. Despite costing just $6,500 more than standard a GT, and only $810 more than a PP1-equipped GT specced with MagneRide (which is standard on the PP2), it certainly isn't an option box I'd be ticking on a Mustang purchase made in pounds and pence.
The car felt a handful on US roads; on ours I can only imagine how much of a nuisance that tramlining would be. That splitter scraped on just about every dip, speed bump and driveway it encountered, no matter how carefully they were approached - sorry Ford! - and thankfully there wasn't any rain to deal with on those tyres - severely unlikely over here...
Besides, we already have a wide enough range of more appropriate options when it comes to the whole track-car-for-the-road concept. No, far better to leave the Performance Pack 2 where it belongs, on the wide open roadday on Palomar Mountain, where it made for an absolutely dream drive.
Follow the route here.