OK, I admit that I wasn’t even born when the primeval Mustang convertible made its debut in 1964. I never sampled its classic shape fresh from the factory or kept a death grip on its three-speed transmission as it barely kept a grip on the road through its bias-ply tires.
No, I came to cardom when the rebodied 1984 Mustang GT was in its heyday, with cheap power, an upright design, even a ragtop for those who cavorted topless — and still today, not quite a classic.
Someone else will have to judge if today’s Mustang matches up to the classics in terms of style and driving pleasure — I ordered the ’99 Mustang GT Convertible to see if it measured up to modern-day standards for performance convertibles.
As the latest evolution of a now middle-aged idea, the 1999 Mustang GT Convertible makes for a great dream catcher. Drop the top and feel humid June air rush by, listen to the rush of 260 horsepower, and even a Gen Xer like me can relive a little misspent youth.
But as a modern-day performance proposition, the Mustang may be nearing the end of its lifespan — at least in its current live-axle, rear-drive form. As I witnessed from a weeklong spin in the $25,490 GT Convertible, the ‘Stang’s rough-riding suspension and iffy convertible structure aren’t the stuff dreams are made of. And while its vivid acceleration and newly sharpened steering are appreciated, the rest of the package seems to be falling farther behind the standards that other hot wheels have set.
Rippling V-8 power, trying four-speed transmission
What’s a Mustang without a V-8 engine? I can’t imagine anything but the throaty roar of a V-8 coming from the Mustang’s engine bay. Even with 190 hp, up 40 from last year, the ‘Stang’s V-6 comes standard with the stigma of being a "secretary’s car." (Oops, sorry, "administrative assistant.")
The Stang’s jewel-like taillamps revert to the vertical style favored by Mustangs of yore.
The Mustang’s 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 is clearly the attraction here, with 260 hp and 302 lb-ft of torque motivating a vehicle that admittedly could lose some weight at 3386 lb. The V-8 Mustang gathers speed quickly, with a wonderful rushing note as it winds toward redline. Ford doesn’t release performance stats, but I would dare an estimate of 0-to-60 mph for this roadster at 6.5 seconds.
Of course, I prefer a five-speed transmission with our V-8, too. However, our forest-green convertible arrived with a four-speed automatic transmission that could use some retuning. Ford says the transmission’s shift points have been revised and shift response improved, but our tester’s gearbox showed an annoying tendency to hang in lower gears when I really wanted more power. Part-throttle inputs seemed to confuse its orderly computer brain, too.
A case of the shakes
With the newest edition, the Mustang’s steering and braking are much improved. A revamping of the on-center feel gives this Mustang the sharpest turn-in of any Ford pony I’ve ever driven — simple, effortless, and with finely balanced steering weight that matches your inputs. The brakes feel a little less great, but the pedal feel is vastly superior to other Mustangs we’ve sampled in the past few years.
The Mustang’s platform is the chief liability here. Anyone who remembers the basics of the 1979 Mustang will need just a minor refresher here. The suspension is a modified MacPherson-strut arrangement, with four gas-charged struts doing the articulating job in back. With all the modulations and evolutions in the past 20 years, the Mustang’s behavior is only acceptable, though.
There’s just too much shuddering and shivering in the Mustang’s structure to make the best of its live-axle rear end. This was by far the tightest Mustang I’d ever driven, but at just 5500 of admittedly hard-lived miles, it felt loose as it passed over some locally horrid stretches of road. On Interstate 85, the shimmying of the ‘Stang’s body was even more noticeable, as some pieces of plastic and metal in the boot area chimed in with groans and moans.
On a smooth winding road, the Mustang’s neutral-to-understeering suspension setup can be endearing, but finding perfect pavement is a must. Hit one medium-sized bump, and the Mustang quivers from corner to diagonal corner, the rear end hops sideways a little, and the groans return. A rehabilitation would do wonders here: Anyone who’s driven a Chrysler Sebring JXi will note what a difference an all-new convertible platform (and an independent rear suspension) can make.
As for the convertible top itself, the lined top now has a glass backlight and is power-operated. Just release two latches, pull the parking brake, and the Mustang removes its own top. The operation takes less than 30 seconds — er, tops.
The shape and the color
Sports coupes are as much about style as they are about speed. The ’99 Mustang is immediately recognizable from the past generation, now that’s it’s been put under Ford’s New Edge knife. I’m not sure if this face-lift was entirely successful, but it is distinctive.
Before new designer J Mays rolled into Dearborn, the Mustang’s designers honed its edges and reincorporated some classic Mustang themes, such as the chrome "pony corral" grille and the deep, triangular side scoops. The look has a better stance and finer detailing than the 1994-98 Mustang, but the Mustang’s basic proportions — kinda high and squatty — don’t lend themselves to a needlelike shape like Chevy’s Camaro.
The rear end is probably the most unlovable aspect. Vertical taillamps are a hallmark of past Mustangs, but here the number of lines and the deep jewellike taillamps create way too much clutter on the tail. Our Mustang’s deep-green exterior didn’t help much to translate those lines into an impression of speed — blazing-red ponies I’ve seen look a lot better.
It’s a nice variation on the twin-binnacle theme, but the Mustang’s cockpit is saddled with unsupportive seats.
Inside, the Mustang’s twin-binnacle dash functions perfectly well. I’d love to see some body-colored trim across the dash, like Fiat’s Spyder, or maybe some aluminum à la the Audi TT, for some added character. I’d also like to see them replace the uncomfortable front seats, which don’t offer the long-distance support you’d expect from a grand tourer. Plus, the headrest is positioned far too far back for our tastes. (While we're at it, maybe someone can explain why the front of the seat is a better place to put the Mustang’s power-seat controls than the side of the bottom cushion, or even on the door.)
As for the rear seats, if you’re patient and flexible, they could be a great place to practice advanced yoga. As they are, they’re a better place to e