Clarkson on: American muscle
The phone chirps. It’s a text message from a footballist, who’s been offered a Mustang GT500E Super Snake for two hundred and eleventy billion dollars. And wants to know if it’s a good buy.
No, obviously. It’d be a terrible buy. Mustangs are like those blondes with hair and breast extensions who hang around in clubs hoping to snare some poor chap who’s just been evicted from Celebrity Who Wants to Get Thrown out of the Brother.
He knows he shouldn’t. He knows she has the News of the World’s number on speed dial and that he’ll be reading about how he performed before he’s actually finished performing. But she’s so cute. And she wants to bring her friend along. The dilemma.
I have toyed with the idea of a Mustang ever since I was old enough not to need reins while out shopping. I like the way they look, and the way they sound. I like Steve McQueen’s car in Bullitt especially.
But every time I drive one, I’m left with an abiding sensation that I’m in a dustbin lorry. It has a Seddon Atkinson-quality feel and it handles like it’s towing a fully laden skip. And this is true: I do have a weird feeling that if I buy something American, I’m in some way supporting George Bush.
So no, then. No Mustang. And yet I still want one. Or a Charger. Or a ’Vette. I’m not bothered. Just so long as it’s a car with a big set of muscles.
I’m not alone either, it seems. Quite apart from the footballist, there are plenty of others in the same boat. Plenty of others who’ve grown up with Beemers and Benzes and now want something orange. With a Confederate flag on the bonnet and exhausts big enough to sleep in.
I know this because the value of anything loud ’n’ proud is accelerating faster than the stock market. Three years ago, a 1971 Plymouth Hemi Cuda would have fetched a million. Last year, according to CNN, they were changing hands for twice that.
"An American muscle car is built primarily not to go round corners, and so its abilities are on a par with those of our own"
Of course, the Hemi Cuda is an exception – only 11 were made. But lesser, more common stuff is out-performing the stars from Ferrari and Maserati in the auction houses. Just the other day, a boggo Mustang 500 convertible went for $550,000. Why?
Well, of course, in the olden days, glamour came from the race tracks and every small boy grew up wanting a Ferrari or a Maserati. Ferris Bueller’s dad had a Ferrari. Ferris Bueller would have no clue why.
I understand that. When I was growing up, Hollywood and TV was where we went for a spot of escapism, not Monza. And what we saw there did not wear a prancing horse or a trident. It wore a big, lazy V8 snarl. It was an American muscle car.
What’s more, a Ferrari is built primarily to go round corners. That five-way traction control and e-diff combo in an F430 is designed specifically to provide a simply staggering amount of grip, way, way more than any normal driver would ever have the balls to explore.
An American muscle car, on the other hand, is built primarily not to go round corners. So, its abilities are on a par with those of our own. This makes us feel heroic and manly as we wrestle to keep the back end in shape. While doing a safe 4mph.
Then, when we get to a straight bit of road, we can bury the throttle, rejoice in the intake sizzle, revel in the roar and hang on for dear life as two gallons of juice catapult us to the horizon. Muscle cars, in short, are not as clever as Ferraris. But they’re just as exciting. And they’re simpler, which, in a world of convenience food and remote control TV sets, is a good thing.
I haven’t finished yet. A friend recently sold his DB9, and though he’s probably the worst driver in the world, he replaced it with a Ferrari 360. Within a week, he knew he’d done the equivalent of passing his cycling proficiency test and then attempting to mountain bike down Everest.
So what’s he going to buy now? In the past, there were countless alternatives from AC to Gordon Keeble via Frazer Nash and Humber. Now there aren’t. There’s Maserati, Merc and, at a pinch, the new Jag XK.
In essence, the world’s millionaires are starved of choice. They struggle to find a single car that lets them stand out from the crowd. I know someone who bought a Maybach knowing it was terrible... and as a result, no one else would have one.
People like this often eat in a restaurant in Barnes. It’s called Riva and opposite, there’s an American car dealership. It’s full of tempting alternatives: ’Vettes, Hummers, Thunderbirds and the new Mustang. But none of them quite does it somehow.
The Hummer is nothing but a GMC Tahoe in a Power Ranger suit. The current Mustang is pretty but wet. The Thunderbird is gay and the ’Vette, though lovely to drive, has lost some of its family tree’s sparkle.
So, here we have a group of wealthy, middle-aged men who’ve never watched motor racing and therefore don’t want a Ferrari. They can’t drive very well, either, so don’t care about slip angles. And they don’t want a modern car because their mates will have one too.
Result: my footballer friend is sending texts wanting to know about a Mustang Super Snake. And I’m on the Internet seeing what the bloody hell he’s on about.
Holy Cow. What a car. It isn’t what you’d call ‘lovingly restored and authentic in every detail’. But then this is America, remember, where an ‘authentic’ Elizabethan house could have been built yesterday.
To explain. There was only ever one Super Snake Mustang and now it tours the country, amusing people called Bud and Skip. The new Super Snake is made by a ‘legendary’ company – probably formed in the last two weeks – called Unique Performance.
What it’s done is take an old Mustang and bring it up to date using products I’ve never heard of. It has, for instance, a Currie 31 Spline 9” Posi-Traction Trac-Locker Differential.
And that’s before we get to the Chris Alston Chassisworks Power Steering Rack and Baer Tracker Bump Steer Adjustable Tie Rods. Or the Baer 13” x 1.1” Track System, PBR aluminium front brakes.
But it’s under the bonnet that things get really interesting because there’s a 427-cubic-inch (large) V8 which produces 525bhp (a shit load). And if you like, they’ll fit a supercharger which takes that up to 725bhp. And you don’t need that translating. 725bhp renders all the suspension stuff irrelevant because it doesn’t matter if it corners at 2mph. With that level of grunt up front, you’ll make up time on the straights.
However, the best thing about this car is the way it looks. At first, it appears to be a normal ’67 Mustang with huge tyres and a bulge on its bonnet. But if you look closely, you can see it’s been modernised. It looks fabulous, and that’s probably why there’s only one left.
So what I've done is told my mate that it's rubbish. And I'm giving serious thought to buying it myself.