Richard Hammond

Hammond hearts his Mustang

Hammond hearts his Mustang

If I were asked to assemble a list of my top five reasons for loving my Mustang, it would run thus:

1) The noise - it sounds like an iron radiator being pulled through a rutting elk.

2) The looks - utterly and completely heroic, nothing else will do.

3) The performance - yes, it slithers about a bit and has suspension from a horse-drawn cart, but it's surprisingly nimble and, now that I've fitted it with the proper-sized carb, it's rediscovered all the horses that had escaped over the previous four decades and goes like the clappers.

4) The interior - it's basic and rattly, but there's a simple glamour to it that rocks my soul.

You will have noted, I don't doubt, that I've only mentioned four of my top five. This is because I have saved the last for particular analysis. My absolute favourite feature on the Stang is, perhaps rather unexpectedly, the rearview mirror. It's not that it's an especially lovely item to behold in its own right - most of the fake chrome has flaked off the stalky bit that fixes it to the roof - but it's the view it affords of the road behind that I love. In fact, the mirror on my old Dodge Charger did something similar; it's wider but narrower than European mirrors, and shows a sort of widescreen, filmic version of the world.

Maybe I love it because so many shots in old movies have shown exactly that view, the blacktop snaking away behind, littered with pursuing police cars and wanton American beauties; or maybe it's something to do with the way these particular proportions read in our brains... whatever, the fact remains that glancing up to steal a look in that broad, glinting window into a different world of movie fantasy and automotive escapism has long been my favourite part of driving my 44-year-old steed. And it got even better recently because I think the mirror might have supernatural powers.

“I looked behind, and the Freelander had loomed up close, sniffing the Stang’s rear like an attack dog saying an unfriendly hello”

It came about on the A449 between Ross-on-Wye and Ledbury. The Stang was fresh back from the fixers having undergone its carb transplant, and I was keen to let it stretch its legs, at least for as long as I could afford to fuel the thing. It's a decent stretch of road, the A449, and I was sawing away merrily at the wheel, grinning as the lazy V8 called on all 390 cubic inches to drink up and drag me around and out of another corner. I treated myself to a glance in the rearview as I exited a tight turn. And in the middle of the mirror's broad, moviescope view was a Freelander.

It's not a car to cause much of a stir, the Freelander; I'm generally pretty ambivalent about it. The new one's pretty good, and the two-wheel-drive version has earned praise from some unexpected quarters. This one, though, was the previous model, and something about it unsettled me. It lurked and snouted about behind. I looked again and it loomed up close, sniffing the Stang's rear like an attack dog saying an unfriendly hello. This went on for a mile or two. A van was in front of me now, so any ideas of throwing caution and another 20 quid to the wind and stabbing the loud one to leave the Freelander in a cloud of dust had vanished. And still it loomed at me.

Angry now, I risked a look over my shoulder, perhaps to grab eye contact with the driver. And there, about 40ft behind, was a pale blue Freelander displaying the kind of happy-go-lucky, workaday attitude I would expect. Back in the mirror, the same frowning, snarling creature was biting at my tail. Over my shoulder, a seemingly happy, contented chap was driving to Ledbury in a sensible, reasonably economical soft-roader. Back in the mirror, and the Freelander now had grown - it was wider, hunched over its front wheels, headlights narrowed in a furious stare.

Of course, it could be that the widescreen aspect of the rearview, together with the not-entirely-optical quality of the aged mirror itself, had distorted the view. This, though, could not be the case, because if it were, manufacturers would have long ago cottoned onto this and marketed happy, make-you-feel-better mirrors that provide the harassed commuter with an altogether jollier view of the world. 

I can only assume then that the mirror in my Mustang can see beyond the physical to provide the driver with a sort of spiritual insight into the nature and intent of other drivers, and that the man behind me was angry inside, despite looking friendly enough in his sensible car. He obviously had within him the burning spirit of a furious, avenging demon. So, watch out for him is all I can suggest, and check your mirror. Though it isn't magic, like mine. Obviously...

Richard Hammond, Column

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