For the second time since the original was introduced in 1969, Ford has released a Mach 1 Mustang. With 480 horsepower and stunning looks, the modern Mach packs everything you’d expect, save for the much-desired Shaker hood. The question is, has Ford given the 2021 Mach 1 enough fun-factor to make you forget the Shaker is missing?
According to Ford, Mach 1 is the most track-capable 5.0-liter Mustang ever, courtesy of a newly-designed front end, plus Ford Performance parts from Mustang Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500 models. There’s also an available Handling Package for greater at-limit performance, which we put to the test.
It all starts under the hood with a warmed-over Gen 3 Coyote 5.0-liter delivering 480 horsepower at 7,000 rpm, 420 lb.-ft. of torque at 4,600 rpm and a beautiful redline of 7,500 rpm. You can have your choice of manual or automatic with performance axle ratios too. Standard is the Tremec™ 3160 6-speed manual transmission from the Shelby GT350 or buyers can opt for the 10-speed automatic.
The Tremec 6-speed is outfitted with rev-matching and the transmission is paired with the GT350 oil cooler system and Mustang GT’s twin-disc clutch and short-throw shifter. The optional 10-speed SelectShift™ automatic transmission is another option that comes with an upgraded torque converter and unique calibration that enables optimizing torque capability, shift character, and overall enhanced performance. A second air-to-oil cooler increases cooling capacity by 75 percent.
Like the original, this Mustang Mach 1 bridges the gap between GT and Shelby models, delivering V-8 power, functional aerodynamics, and unique styling. Designers and engineers went deep into the S550 chassis and delivered a Mustang that serves as a track star, but is comfortable for enough for the daily commute. To prove (or disprove) the claims, we traveled to Rosamond, California, to put the Mach 1 through its paces on the street and at Willow Springs International Raceway.
The Mach 1 grille harkens back to the original with a deep 3-D mesh, shark-nosed section and faux lamp elements in the grille. We can see owners swapping driving lights into the openings. Side grilles were added for cooling below each turn signal lamp and a low-gloss Magnetic pony badge sits in the grille. You’ll also find low-gloss magnetic and black accents throughout the vehicle, including low-gloss Magnetic mirror caps and rear spoiler.
A front splitter is fitted to the fascia and improves track performance and provides a more aggressive appearance. Out back, Ford used a matched rear spoiler that works in concert to create ideal lift balance. “Mach 1 features 22-percent more downforce than a Mustang GT with Performance Pack Level 1 and the downforce improvement jumps to approximately 150 percent with the Handling Package,” said Carl Widmann, chief engineer Ford Performance. “To enhance track endurance, the team added two side heat exchangers—one to cool engine oil, the other transmission oil—as well as a rear axle cooling system and lower diffuser from the Shelby GT500.”
Mach 1 owners will have a choice of three different wheels. Standard are the new 19-inch x 9.5-inch, and 19-inch x 10-inch five-spoke Tarnished Dark-painted aluminum wheels that Ford says is a modern version of the classic Magnum 500 style rims. Handling Package vehicles come standard with unique, wider 19-inch x 10.5-inch front, and 19-inch x 11-inch rear Tarnished Dark-painted aluminum wheels.
To improve ride and handling, Mach 1 features the latest MagneRide calibration, a stiffer steering I-shaft, new EPAS calibration, stiffer sway bars and front springs, a brake booster from the Mustang GT Performance Pack Level 2, 9.5-inch/10-inch split fitment wheels with Michelin PS4 tires, a rear subframe with stiffer bushings and a rear toe-link straight from the Shelby GT500.
The Handling Package also includes a larger, higher-downforce front aero splitter, new front wheel lip moldings, and a low-gloss Magnetic swing spoiler with a Gurney flap, Michelin Sport Cup 2 tires, unique chassis tuning, adjustable strut top-mounts, and rear tire spats, ala Shelby GT500.
Mach is further set apart from the Mustang GT with Satin Black side and hood stripes that are included with reflective accent stripes in any of three colors: Red, White and Orange (Appearance Package only). Exterior color options include the Mach 1 exclusive Fighter Jet Gray (Appearance Package only), as well as Iconic Silver, Shadow Black, Oxford White, Velocity Blue, Twister Orange, Race Red and Grabber Yellow.
The interior features a unique Dark Spindrift instrument panel with aluminum accents. Ebony seats with an accent stripe hint at Mach 1 heritage in cars equipped with a leather interior. Other interior upgrades include new door sill plates, an updated splash screen on the 12.3-inch all-LCD instrument cluster, a white cue ball shift knob, and engraved badging which displays the vehicle’s unique chassis number.
Ford split us into two groups for street and track, and we decided to hit the street first since it was a brisk morning, and we wanted the track to warm up. We chose a 10-speed auto-equipped Mach 1 in Grabber Yellow, optioned with the heated and air-conditioned seats for comfort.
Mach 1 fires with a touch of the button and the Gen-3, 480 hp Coyote comes to life with a cackle from the unique quad-tip exhaust. The premium interior has all the creature features so there’s an upscale feeling with all the leather and bright trim work.
Wasting little time, we found a stretch of road and laid the throttle to the mat. The Mach 1 took off, revving to 7,500 rpm and shifting with a crisp note and a bark from the tires. This was very muscle car-like and made us smile. We followed the prescribed “drive route” set by Ford which included a mix of open sections, tight corners, and flowing hills. Nailing the throttle is amazingly satisfying, as the engine pulls up through the range with nicely-spaced gearing. It also sounds great on downshifts, as the engine automatically blips to rev-match smoothly.
The 2021 Mach 1 is noticeably stiffer than a Mustang GT, even one with the Performance Pack option. It’s grippy like a PP2, but not as harsh. It was suited nicely to my driving style, not too stiff, but with incredible compliance to hold the road, even when the road was not perfect. We experienced crowned, broken roads and the Mach 1 ate it up. I didn’t notice any “rut wander” which I’d experienced in the GT350.
The variety of suspension driving modes let you fine-tune for the situation, adding to the personalization and the fun. I experimented with using Normal, Sport, and Track modes, along with the paddle shifters. Once you use the paddles with the shifter in “S” you’ll be “stuck” shifting it manually as the computer will no longer make shifts for you. This is great until you want to let the car do the work. It took me a second to figure out the shifter has to be in “D” for the auto to return to auto mode. After a nice cruise and with about 80 miles under our belt, it was time to get back to the track and put the Mach to the ultimate test.
With a nice feel for the Mustang, we were ready to tackle the Streets of Willow course at Willow Springs International Raceway. “The Street” is a shorter track, but one that’s very challenging with switch-backs, sweepers and corners that are on- and off-camber. I first drove the manual Handling Pack with the grippy Michelin’s off the GT350R.
My first session was all about learning the layout, but that didn’t stop me from pushing the Mach 1 hard. I was only three laps in, and found myself getting after it. I didn’t anticipate being able to drive so aggressively so quickly, but the Mach gave me the confidence. It is balanced nicely with amazing compliance. I’d say the handling capability falls between the Mustang GT PP2 and the GT350 in terms of tightness, ride quality and performance.
The engine is fantastic, and it’s coupled to a dual-disc clutch and Tremec 6-speed from the GT350. And at speed, you really notice the improvement in shifter feel over the GT. Ford also added a feature that lets you do throttle-on up-shifts (read: power shifts) without upsetting the chassis or kicking out the tail. The system seemed to close the throttle briefly and then open it smoothly (at least that’s what it felt like) as you up-shift with your right foot on the floor. The “No-Lift” up-shift system was seamless and made shifting very smooth. There’s also rev matching for downshifting, which is one of my favorite features. You can defeat rev matching if you prefer to do your own “heel-toe” downshifting, but for those new to the technique or new to the track, it simply makes you smoother and faster.
My Handling Pack tester also had the optional Recaro seats, which are far more supportive than the stock buckets. They are racy and feature firm bolstering, but were not as tight as those in the GT350. This makes it a better seat for daily driving with a mix of weekend track use. Personally, I would like an Alcantara-wrapped wheel, but the leather provides a nice feel on your hands.
Ford improved the steering shaft on the 2021 Mach 1, which gives the steering a bit more feel, and I didn’t notice any NVH because of it. Mach 1 has unique tuning of the ABS, EPAS, and mechanical suspension, and these upgrades combine to give you a ride that works well on the street, but is amazingly track-capable.
I also thought the 5.0L with 480 horsepower and 7,500 rpm range was a treat on the track. I tried coming off corners in Second gear and Third gear to see the difference and even when you bog it a little the Coyote pulls with ample grunt. Audibly, you get a nice mix of throttle and exhaust note, and it just gets better the more you rev it. The car talks to you in a way that you can easily connect with the sounds and feels.
I pushed and pushed, and the Mach 1 never complained. The coolers did their job, keeping the driveline in the proper operating ranges and even the brakes never faded, which I was surprised to see. In fact, I wanted to find fault, but there was none to be had. Okay, if there’s a complaint or two, it’s that Ford doesn’t offer drag racers a version without the added weight of the coolers and huge brakes. If a Mustang GT can run 11.83/120 mph, the Mach 1, with 20 more horsepower, would go quicker, but – it carries more weight due to the coolers, so it may not be quicker, and it should be. Next, I’d like to see the pony in the steering wheel traded for a “Mach 1” logo. I know, I’m knit picking. Lastly, where’s the Shaker? Many would like to see the Shaker hood, but I’m okay without it. Sure, it would be neat, but the car is so fast and fun, I really wasn’t thinking about it while on track.