Mustang cruising: Rent a racer

By: Steve Nally, Photography by: Steve Nally/Nathan Jacobs

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Rent a Mustang Rent a Mustang Rent a Mustang
Rent a Mustang Rent a Mustang Rent a Mustang

After almost 40 years of driving, Steve 'McQueen' Nally finally sits behind the wheel of a classic Mustang and goes all misty-eyed after a weekend's cruising...

Mustang cruising: Rent a racer
Rent a Mustang

 

RENT A MUSTANG

I blame Steve McQueen. And Allan Moffat and Jim Richards and ‘Pete’ Geoghegan for my love of Mustangs. But mostly I blame the ‘King of Cool’. I was only 11 when the film Bullitt came out in 1968 and didn’t see it until my late teens but more than any other Mustang in history, it was McQueen’s Highland Green ’68 Fastback GT that got my motor runnin’. And it still does. I watch Bullitt at least twice a year on DVD so, yeah, I’m a Mustang fan-boy.

Trouble is, unless I win Tatts I’m unlikely to own a classic ‘Stang (nothing newer than a ’69, please) so I’ve lived a vicarious Mustang life, experiencing Ford’s greatest-ever road car from a jealous distance. That is until I met Peter Bouts from Pete’s Classic Garage in Moorabbin, a suburb of Melbourne, a few months back. You might remember Pete’s ’67 Ford Fairlane Ranchero and wife Jill’s 1967 Shelby GT500 replica in Readers Rides from a few months back.

Apart from restoring classic cars, he runs a fleet of ‘60s Mustang hire cars, including Jill’s Shelby, which he rents out for weddings, birthdays and other special occasions, so I put the arm on him for a weekend in the Shelby and he said yes! At last, I would drive a Mustang. But after being fed a constant diet of modern cars for the last 20 years I knew I would be in for car culture-shock and that I would have to wind my motoring brain back 40 years.

I need to remind myself that cars were a lot different then. No ABS, no traction control, no ‘safety cell’ chassis, basic suspension design, bad ergonomics, rudimentary heating and air-con (if you were lucky), lamentable de-misting, crap headlights, flimsy bucket seats and lap seatbelts. But geez, they looked good. We’ve come a long way since Steve McQueen blasted around ‘Frisco in his GT but I was about to go back to those days.

The Shelby is parked outside Pete’s when I lob and I have to admit to being both excited and apprehensive, for all the above reasons. Pete gives me a brief run-through of the car, grins "You’ll be right, have fun" and leaves me to it.

The first thing I notice is that old-car aroma; a comforting sweet mix of oil, fuel and age. I like it. The warm 289 under the bonnet bulge starts crisply, loudly, and settles down to a smooth idle. No big-cam shake here, it’s a civilised V8. The cabin reminds me a lot of my first car, an XW Falcon panel van, which was launched only two years after the Mustang was built, so things like the skinny indicator stalk, dip switch, push-pull light switch and quarter vents are familiar.

I pull the skinny chromed shifter into D, the C4 three-speed auto engages with a clunk and the Shelby moves off smoothly. Whoa! This is a whole different world. There’s seems to be two inches of play in the light power steering and I chase the thin-rimmed steering wheel to keep the car straight. Actually, there’s not that much play at all and the high-ratio ‘box means the steering is quite direct, with not many turns lock-to-lock. I’m used to it within a kilometre.

The Mustang runs a power disc/drum setup so I give the pedal a couple of firm shoves to get a feel of them before I get out in traffic on busy South Road.

The pedal sinks about an inch then goes hard but the nose dips and she slows up quickly. Okay, that’s steering and brakes sussed, what about the power?

Pete reckons the Holley-fed 289 makes between 270-300hp and it certainly sounds the goods, but in reality its bark is worse than its bite because, wisely, Pete has dropped a very tall 2.75:1 diff ratio in the rear-end to discourage any, ahem, extreme driving. It also makes the car much less daunting for hatchback-driving people unused to V8 grunt and improves fuel efficiency. And with fat 275/40 ZR17 rubber at the rear it’s got bags of grip, even if it had a lower ratio.

Basically, she’s a torque monster built for cruising and that’s exactly what I plan to do. This is a look-at-me car and within a few kays I get the first toot from behind and an old Commodore races alongside. I’m ready to flip the guy the bird but he smiles and gives me a big thumbs up. Oh yeah, I’m in a cool car, cheers mate! I completely forget how vulnerable I feel with just a lap belt cinched tight around my waist and start to loosen up.

I spend the day cruising around Melbourne, doing slow laps of sunny St Kilda by day and funky Fitzroy that night. I’m in slow-moving traffic most of the time but the Shelby is as easy to drive as a Corolla. By now I’m used to the thinly-padded bucket seat, which turns out to be more comfortable than it looks, but if I ever get my Mustang it will have high-back buckets and four-point safety harnesses. Whenever I park the car it attracts attention and after losing count of how many times I have to say "Er, it’s not mine, actually", I start pretending it is. It’s easier that way.

The next day dawns pretty miserable but with my best girl aboard, we head out of Melbourne towards Yarra Glen and wine country. At last I can let the Mustang have its head a little and at the 100km/h limit she starts to come alive. The engine is barely turning over at this speed and I know that if I add another 50 clicks to that speed it will really come on strong and things will get interesting. Despite the late winter chill, I flick the switch to drop the top and I’m surprised to find that we don’t get blown away by buffeting at 100km/h and the heater keeps us warm.

After lunch in Yarra Glen we head for home via Chum Creek Road – a favourite test road for car mags – which winds through the Toolangi State Forest to Healesville. The road is rarely straight and here the Mustang doesn’t put a foot wrong. Its suspension is stiff, and a bit ‘crashy’ in the front-end (there are 245/40 R17s up front) but she sweeps through bends and hairpins with ease, that smooth small block lazily dragging it out of tight corners and leaving its baritone V8 calling card in the trees. Let’s put it this way: we don’t hold up any modern cars. Arriving home after dark, I sit in the car for probably 10 minutes just listening to the engine note reverberate off the driveway side fence and giving the throttle the odd blip. It’s been a good day.

Somewhat wistfully I return the Shelby to Pete’s Classic Garage the next morning. Pete doesn’t have to ask how my weekend was, he can see it on my face. I had lived the dream. Might change my second name to McQueen.

For a great Mustang experience, give Pete or Jill Bouts a call on (03) 9555 3528 or check out www.petesclassicgarage.com for Mustang hiring info.

 

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