When it comes to automotive legends, they don’t come much more legendary than Ford’s Mustang.
Notching up 22,000 sales on the day of its 1964 launch and effectively establishing a whole new market sector, Ford’s pony car was the car for America’s cool kids to drive in the mid/late 1960s. And that was even before the king of cool, Steve McQueen, drove that Highland Green 1968 GT390 fastback in what’s probably cinema’s most legendary car.
Admittedly the Mustang’s image has taken several knocks during its 40 year history due to some very lacklustre versions, but this year the legend returned to its full glory thanks to retro-styling that echoes the ‘Stang’s 60s heyday.
Although the base version has a V6, a true muscle car really needs a potent V8, and the latest Mustang GT’s 4.6-litre, all-alloy, three valve per cylinder unit puts out 300bhp. Not bad, but not enough for some, which is where Roush comes in.
In the US, Roush is synonymous with Ford tuning, developing the supercharger installation for the F150 Lightning and being the only tuning company whose parts can be obtained through Ford dealers.
Roush’s UK arm is responsible for converting all officially imported Ford GTs to UK spec. and is taking over as engine builder for Noble. The 420RE is its first solo offering for the European market and comprises upgrades to the exterior, the suspension, the brakes, and of course the engine.
Starting with the most obvious, Roush fits a new bumper panel with a deeper spoiler to the front, a boot lid spoiler to the rear and some louvred panels over the rear side windows, echoing those of McQueen’s ‘68 GT.
When it comes to suspension, the front of the Mustang is typical Ford, comprising MacPherson struts connected by an anti-roll bar, while at the rear you’ll find – shock, horror - a live axle!
However, unlike its '60s ancestors the modern Mustang’s live axle isn’t connected to leaf springs but used with coils and what Ford calls a ‘3-link design’ – basically two lower trailing arms and one central upper trailing arm. There’s also an anti-roll bar and a Panhard rod to help it through the bendy bits.
Roush beefs up this lot by fitting uprated springs and dampers, along with a massive 35mm anti-roll bar at the front and a 24mm one at the rear. There’s also a 30mm drop in ride height, which in conjunction with the body mods and special 10x18-inch Roush five-spoke wheels help to make the 420RE look distinctly more brutal than the standard ‘Stang.
Which it is, thanks to an extra 100+bhp. This comes courtesy of a Roush manufactured Rootes-type blower sat atop a special inlet manifold and used in conjunction with larger injectors and an intercooler mounted below the front bumper.
The 420RE is so new that Roush UK hadn’t had chance to get any performance or power figures when I drove it, but for the same set-up Roush US are quoting 430bhp at 6,300rpm and 385ft lb at 4,500rpm.
Transmitting this to the back axle is a Tremec TR3650 5-speed gearbox with a Roush quick shift – except this car lacked the latter because Roush UK hadn’t had chance to fit it.
Something they clearly had fitted though were the larger 330mm slotted front discs and red aluminium four-pot callipers that uprate the brakes.
On the road
Accelerating the 420RE gently from low revs produces the characteristic soundtrack of Yank muscle car, with a subdued V8 rumble emanating from the back of the car.
Get the engine working in the upper half of the rev range though and the exhaust note is drowned out by the scream of the supercharger – a very addictive experience both for the noise and what Americans might term the ‘kick-ass’ acceleration that goes with it.
As previously mentioned, Roush don’t have any actual figures, but estimate 0-60 in five seconds. And while I don’t have any figures either, I can tell you that topping the ton doesn’t take very long, with that supercharged V8 pulling strongly right until the limiter cuts in at 6,300rpm.
OK, so it’s impressive in a straight line, but what’s it like when it comes to the bendy bits? Well it’s American and it’s got a live axle so it’s bound to be crap, right?
Wrong. With the very first bend I tackled the 420RE amazed me with just how enthusiastically it turns in, and from there went on to impress with how well it handles.
Forget any notions of wallowy Yank tanks – the 420RE’s lowered and stiffened suspension produces very flat cornering, and as I discovered along one of my favourite tight and twisty B roads, it’s a car in which you really can attack the bends.
A leadfoot session on a bit of old runway showed that if you push the 420RE too hard into a corner it will understeer, while giving it too much throttle part way round will result in power oversteer, much as you’d expect.
However, even when throwing it sideways on the dirty surface of the runway it was always possible by balancing it on the steering and throttle to end up with the car pointing where you wanted it. The chances are it would be great for drifting.
Of course, what stiff suspension gives in improved handling it takes with ride quality, and the 420RE was jiggly over bumps around town and choppy along bumpier rural roads. Overall though it copes with most British roads quite well and the ride is no worse than you’d get with an Evo for example.
I can’t comment on the quick shift, but the standard shift is pretty good anyway, providing nice positive gear selection, and while the clutch is heavier than your average European hatchback’s, it’s not too heavy for stop/start traffic.
Just a pity there isn’t another gear to help with economy. As it is, top gives around 30mph per 1,000rpm, helping the standard GT achieve 25mpg touring, with Roush estimating about 20mpg for the 420RE, though spirited driving will probably halve that.
The steering feels rather over-assisted at low speeds, which, when combined with good lock does make manoeuvring the car in tight spaces easy, but happily it seems to get weightier on the move and even gives you reasonable feedback through the rim of that horrible plastic steering wheel.
Which brings on to what is undoubtedly the 420RE’s least impressive aspect – the standard Mustang interior, the dashboard and side panels of which are all hard plastic. At least it all seems solidly constructed and Ford does offer a ‘Premium Pack’ option with a leather rim wheel and other minor upgrades.
Thankfully leather is standard on the seats, the driver’s having electric fore/aft and lumbar adjustment with manual adjustment for rake (the passenger’s is fully manual) and besides being comfortable has enough bolstering to provide decent lateral support.
Up front the Mustang accommodated a 6’ 7” passenger without problem, but the rear is too cramped for adults to be comfortable for long.
The interior doesn’t offer much stowage space either. There’s a couple of rather useless door pockets, along with a glove box that won’t take much besides the handbook, with the only really useful interior stowage space – and even that’s not big -- being under the centre console’s armrest.
At least you can get a fair amount in the 13.1 cu. ft. boot, with the rear seat having a split folding back if you require more.
Roush 420REs based on brand new cars will be available exclusively through the American Carriage Company (though owners wanting to upgrade existing cars can deal with Roush) and they’ll only be available in left-hand drive.
Now if that puts you off, it’s worth pointing out that by my second day with the Mustang I was fully acclimatised to sitting on the wrong side and driving it much as I would any other test car.
Yes, it can be awkward seeing to the right at junctions (especially with those window louvres) and you can miss out on those ‘one shot’ overtaking opportunities because you can’t sight the road properly, but left-hand drive in the UK really doesn’t pose any major problems.
Would you buy it?
The 420RE is priced from £39,950 which, depending on how you look at it, is either a lot for an American car with a plastic interior or something of a bargain for an exclusive 400bhp-plus 2+2 coupe.
Either way, the 420RE undoubtedly offers a lot of performance and combines it with the everyday usability that Ford design into all their cars (except maybe the GT) and I found driving it a lot of fun.
Inevitably some people will find the body kit and chrome wheels too ‘in your face’, but then people buy American cars to be brash, not bland, and the 420RE certainly gets noticed.
In fact if Hollywood ever does a remake of Bullitt (and there has been talk) I reckon the 420RE’s looks, sound and performance would give it tremendous screen presence and make it ideal for re-enacting that famous chase around San Francisco.
Sadly my looks, sound and performance would preclude me from re-enacting the McQueen role…
© Words & pictures copyright Graham Bell 2005