straight cut and paste from motortrend.com
Thirty-seven years ago, Ford began the whole ponycar thing with its cute and affordable Mustang. No one cared that the 2+2 was based on the homely Falcon, as it set sales records from day one and spawned a legion of competitors nationwide. Today, things are quite different: The formerly popular Mustang fighters of Barracuda and Challenger are long gone. Cougar is a front-driver marketed to young women. Javelin/AMX died years before its maker did. And Camaro and Firebird are lame ducks. But the first ponycar, left for dead at least twice (Mustang II, Probe), is being prepared for its first full redesign in a quarter century. If all goes as planned, Ford will launch a new Mustang in the '04 model year with production scheduled to begin in February 2003. The next 'Stang sits on a shortened DEW platform, the basis for the Lincoln LS, Jaguar S-Type, and Ford Thunderbird.
But the Mustang hasn't been a ponycar in the classic sense of the term for years, and the '04 model, being developed under the codename S197 will be no different. Ford Motor Co. Design Chief J Mays says the heritage on which the next Mustang will draw is that of the beefier '67-'70 models and less so the daintier '65-'66. That influence already appears in this year's special-edition Bullitt Mustang, a car designed to evoke Steve McQueen's dark green '68 GT from the famous movie chase scene. The '04 Mustang will borrow from that car's look and will again be available as either a two-door coupe or a convertible. A proposal to revive the Mustang fastback was shelved early in the program.
As these illustrations show, the S197's styling is an evolution of the current car's, with better-integrated C-pillars, bumpers, and trim. The change is not unlike that of the current Chevrolet/GMC pickup trucks, or perhaps of the C4-C5 Corvette-it'll have a much cleaner appearance than the current car's, but you won't mistake it for anything but a Mustang.
While the Mustang got a significant update for '99, the car rides on what is essentially the same Fox platform that lifted the pony out of its Pinto-based Mustang II doldrums way back in '79. The S197 will ride on a platform dubbed "DEW-lite." It's shorter than any of the current DEW cars and will have steel where the LS/Type-S/T-Bird uses aluminum in the long- and short-arm suspension pieces. The change is due to cost-the Mustang must remain a popularly priced car. Interestingly, all new Mustangs will have independent rear suspension with MacPherson struts at the front.
Ford will move Mustang production from its aged Dearborn plant to the Flat Rock, Michigan, facility it shares with Mazda and which, ironically, built the Probe. It's hoped the move to the more modern Flat Rock plant improves Mustang quality and build efficiency.
The DEW platform will also assuredly give the Mustang a new lease on life, with modern-day chassis stiffness, better noise/vibration/harshness characteristics, and better ergonomics. One rumor regarding the new car has the Mustang becoming a platform for a host of ultra-modern features. It could become one of the first Fords to offer an "infotainment" package, with Internet access, real-time traffic information, hands-free voice-activated phone, satellite radio, and remote diagnostics.
But such features will be offered as options, rather than standard equipment. The base coupe and convertible again will come with a V-6 engine to keep pricing in the $20s and appeal to buyers looking for style more than for performance. The current 3.8L/190-hp V-6, considered too noisy and underpowered, will be shelved for one of two engines. Ford is considering either a 215-hp version of the 3.0L twin-cam V-6 that powers the Taurus and Escape, or a 4.0L/210-hp single-cam V-6 as the base engine. The decision comes down to whether or not to choose the torquier 4.0L over horsepower.
Opting for a V-8 will get you the same 4.6L two-valve engine as in the current car, but Ford engineers are tweaking it for more power than its current 260 horses. The next GT will offer at least 285.
The news is even better for SVT devotees: Ford's in-house tuner is said to be pushing the 4.6L four-valve V-8 past the 350-hp level, aiming at the 350-hp (or more) Chevrolet Corvette. Ford has made it clear that the new Mustang will serve as the foundation for a wide array of sport coupes and convertibles, competing with everything from the Chrysler Sebring to the Corvette.
However, there's no program to replace the SVT Cobra R when the new Mustang debuts, so it appears Ford won't quite take the Mustang up to stratospheric levels of performance to compete with the Z06 and Viper. On the other hand, SVT is said to be experimenting with higher levels of performance. Such engines include a 5.0L V-8, a version of the SVT F-150 Lightning's 5.4L V-8, and the most likely engine option, a supercharged version of the 4.6L four-valve V-8. Any one of these should push the Mustang past 400 hp, with a roughly equal torque number. The supercharged engine may debut in a special-edition version of the current Mustang as early as '02 or '03.
Purportedly, the Cobra will get one high-performance component so far found only on the most exotic of imported high-performance machinery: a version of the Formula One-style sequential steering-wheel-mounted paddle shifter developed for the Aston Martin Vanquish. Manual gearboxes for the Cobra and GT, whether F1-style or conventional, will have six gears. The Aston sequential gearshift is said to be better developed than other such designs, including Ferrari's.
In place of a Cobra R model, Ford is working on a series of special-edition Mustangs, which began with the '01 Bullitt. Next up is the '02 Mach 1 (see spy shot in this story), followed by the Boss 302 scheduled for '03. The Mach 1 could get a version of the supercharged 4.6L V-8, while the 302 would get-natch-a 5.0L V-8. Besides being collector editions, the Mach 1 and Boss 302 serve as rolling test mules for potential high-performance versions of the S197.
But special editions won't end with the current Mustang. The Bullitt is just the first in a long line of special-edition Mustangs that'll allow J Mays and his designers, as well as Ford engineers, to play with the car every year. Expect the S197 to get both limited edition high-performance V-8 specials and mass-customization versions of the V-6, featuring high-powered stereos and tie-ins with other popular labels.
Although the Mustang could cruise through the next few years with little effort, the car won't take advantage of the lack of direct competition and rest on its laurels. Spreading the line through the performance spectrum means that designers and engineers have their work cut out for them: To succeed, the S197 Mustang must be an aspirational car to many people. One looming question is whether Ford, which has had problems lately getting new cars and trucks to market as scheduled, can pull off a 2003 calendar-year debut with the S197. If not, there's always April 2004, the 40th anniversary of the original American ponycar.
Motortrends sketch artist Mark Stehrenberger has shown the dual rear exhaust and the side exhaust cobra version