We look at the Cobra as the pinnacle of the Ford Mustang, but the original top performer was the Mach 1 and after sixteen years it finally returns.
When it comes to the modern era of the Ford Mustang, high-performance track-star has been the Cobra model. The wasn’t originally the case as that was a Carrol Shelby modified car and somewhat out of reach for most in the 1960s. Instead, the Ford-made Mustang you wanted if you were going to the track – and could feasibly attain over the Cobra and even the Boss models – was the Mach 1.
The Mach 1 ConceptThe first glimpse the world had of the Mach 1 was in 1968 with the Mach 1 concept car. It was certainly a radical version over the original Mustang. It was a far more aerodynamic-looking car when compared to the 1968 model on showroom floors with its covered headlights, chopped and laid-back roof, and mirrors that were probably unrealistically mounted on the window glass. Far more drastic was the rear body as it not only featured a more aggressive “Coke bottle” shape and wheel arches, but also used a hatch that both the Mustang II and the Fox body Mustang would eventually use as production items. Regardless, it was a hint as to what was coming for the general Mustang body design in 1969 along with the new Mach 1 model.
The Mach 1 in ProductionWhile the chassis didn’t change, the 1969 Ford Mustang and Mach 1 were both evolutionary cars over the 1964-and-a-half to 1968 cars. The body was longer and wider, the roof line of both the Coupe (“notchback”) and Sportback (“fastback”) thanks to its longer B-pillar area on the coupe, and the headlight area was more pronounced. The Mach 1 had additional body features to separate it from a standard or even a GT-version of the 1969 Ford Mustang. A scoop in the rear quarter panel was added, a stripe kit installed, a blacked-out hood, and that striking hood scoop let everyone around you know that this wasn’t a normal Mustang. If you really wanted a bit more power and let people know you were coming, the “Shaker hood” was an optional upgrade. This scoop was mounted to the carburetor top hat and would move and shake with the engine as it was independent of the actual hood.
In its base form, you could get the Windsor 351-CI V8 and a three-speed manual transmission with a nine-inch rear axle with an open differential. You could upgrade to the 390-CI V8 but there was also the 428-CI V8 – the Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet. The Mach 1 was the only way, besides the Shelby GT500KR, to get the Cobra Jet 428 in the Mustang. However, the “drag pack” allowed you to get the Super Cobra Jet version of the “big block” Ford engine.Most importantly, though, was that the Mach 1 had an improved suspension over the regular Mustang and Goodyear Polyglas tires, too. The Mach 1 would get different suspension upgrades depending on your powertrain choice and this was especially true for the big block cars. They pretty much required front shock tower reinforcements, thicker sway bars, heavier rate springs and matching shocks.
Mach 1 FaceliftFor the 1971 to 1973, not much changed with the idea of the Mach 1 but it was certainly a far different body design. It did gain an engine when the 302-CI Windsor was brought in as the base engine and you could now get the 351 as the Cobra Jet version along with its standard version, but the 390 was gone and the 429-CI V8 Cobra Jet/Super Cobra Jet replaced the 428s. Well, until they were removed altogether in 1972. The 351HO replaced them and it was a lower-compression version of the BOSS 351 engine. Also gone was the functional Shaker and a NACA-scoop hood was offered, it was a no-cost option on the base engine and standard with the 351s and 429s. 1973 also brought the Mustang into NHTSA crash standards with their new impact absorbing bumpers on the front and rear.
The Mustang II Mach 1The Mustang that most people want to forget, the Mustang II, did receive a Mach 1 model from 1974 to 1978. It’s base engine was the Cologne 2.8-liter V6 and was the only engine until 1975 when the 302 was added. However, once the first-generation Fox-body was released in 1979 and killed the Mustang II, the Mach 1 nameplate went with it and it was gone for nearly 25 years.
The SN95 Mach 1With the introduction of the updated SN95 body design in 1999, the “New Edge” Mustang departed from the rounded front and rear styling to a much more hardlined and square design. However, it was still the same chassis and powertrains that were in since its debut. Well, besides the pushrod 5.0 that was removed for the 1996 model year and replaced by the iron block 4.6-liter single overhead camshaft (SOHC) Modular V8. This also meant that a higher-performance variant was required, but instead of going for more cubic-inches, Special Vehicle Teams (SVT) went with more valves and two more camshafts. They created the all-aluminum 4.6-liter double overhead camshaft (DOHC) Modular V8 that debuted in the 1993 Lincoln Mark VIII. This same engine was used in the SN95 version of the Mach 1 but with a better exhaust system and intake manifold over the Lincoln version along with the SVT Cobra heads, Lincoln 5.4-liter InTech camshafts, and a 10.1:1 compression ratio. What Ford didn’t let on was that the Mach 1 V8 made the same 320-horsepower as the 1999 and 2001 SVT Cobra 4.6 DOHC V8 but made greater torque. In fact, Ford advertised that the Mach 1 made only 305-horsepower. The engine also featured a functional “Shaker scoop” that was reminiscent of the original 428 Cobra Jet Shaker. The difference was that the scoop didn’t direct air straight into the engine. Instead, the shaker took that fresh air and lead it down to the factory air box. Drivetrain-wise, the Mach 1 retained the same four-speed automatic and Tremec five-speed from the standard Mustang as well as the solid-axle rear end (versus the independent rear suspension of the Cobra). Suspension-wise, there was the addition of a subframe connectors to deal with the torque of the DOHC engine, 13-inch Brembo front brakes, unique Tokico rear shocks and front struts, and stiffer and lower springs. However, once the production of the SN95 was done, the Mach 1 badge was gone for another 15-years.
The Ford Mustang Mach-EOn November 17, 2019, Ford finally announced that an all-electric Mustang was coming, and it carried the Mach nameplate. Certain parts of the Mustang fanbase was excited as they were hoping it would lead to a high-performance and futuristic return of the Mustang Mach 1. Rather than that, Ford revealed the Mustang Mach-E and it was nothing like enthusiasts were hoping for. Rather than a sleek, all-electric version of the S550, the Mach-E was shown to be an all-electric crossover. A Mach nameplate on something with four-doors and the size of the outgoing Ford Explorer. Needless to say, every Mustang fan wasn’t excited for this and not because it was an electric vehicle. Sure, it’s a futuristic Mustang, but not the one we wanted or even needed. It certainly wasn’t a high-performance vehicle as the original and previous Mach 1s were. Apparently, Ford listened.
The Real Mustang Mach 1Announced at the end of May 2020, Ford revealed that the Mach 1 nameplate was returning in 2021 and properly so. It’s being billed as a “limited-edition pinnacle of style, handling, and V8 performance.” There isn’t much hint as to what is actually coming, at least as in what is being added to make the S550 Mach 1 different over the GT. We do know that it will not be a supercharged or even turbocharged version of the 5.0-liter DOHC V8, but nothing as to what they are doing with the suspension (which will be the first IRS-version of the Mach 1). It does appear to get a set of Brembo brakes and their six-piston calipers. The prototype does have a set of Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 (a 305/30ZR19 is shown in one image and is the same set used on the GT350R) tires on it with a unique set of wheels, but this might just be for testing and not on the production version of the Mach 1. We do see hints of what the body will look like in the photos released by Ford, which include two large and round openings in the grille and something different going on just past the rear quarter panel. It also looks like it will get the GT500 rear spoiler, but no Shaker hood, side scoops, or much else added to the S550 body-design.
Again, it’s all what we’re allowed to see at this point and Ford knows that the Mach 1 has a lot to live up to and a lot to apologize for with the disappointment of the Mach-E. “Mach 1 has a special place in Mustang history, and it’s time for this special edition to claim the top spot in our 5.0-liter V8 performance lineup and reward our most hardcore Mustang enthusiasts who demand that next level of power, precision and collectability,” said Dave Pericak, director, Ford Icons. “Like the original, the all-new Mustang Mach 1 will be true to its heritage, delivering great looks and as the most track-capable 5.0-liter Mustang ever.”
We’ll have to wait and see as it’s set to debut in the Spring of 2021, so we may see it revealed at the 2020 Los Angeles International Auto Show, if Ford chooses to do that show.
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