There’s a disturbance on the horizon. You shield your eyes from the sun’s glare and squint to focus on the aberration. It’s a dust cloud, much too small to be a storm or even a twister – and what’s the black dot at its base? The cloud grows, and the dot gets bigger, too, making not a sound although it’s clearly moving your way. Your heart beats faster, and you rise from your seat, but curiosity overwhelms the tension that’s telling you to take cover. No sooner are you certain that the dot is actually a muscle car, streaking towards you in complete silence than it rockets by, unleashing an ear-splitting shock wave that shatters every window in the building behind you. You’ve just witnessed, and been pulverized by, a 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1.
Alright, hold up, there’s no need to fact-check the top speed of the Mustang Mach 1 or what the speed of sound is (officially 155 mph and roughly 763 mph, respectively). To imply that the Mach 1 name signifies that Ford has made the second vehicle capable of breaking the sound barrier after the ThrustSSC did it in 1997 is definitely an exaggeration. However, though it can’t keep up with a fighter jet, Ford has still done their best to make the Mach 1 look, handle and sound as much like an F-18 as they can.
The Mach 1 name has been used on the Mustang before – in 2003-2004 and more notably from 1969 to 1978. In every iteration, it represents a performance upgrade from the accessible GT model without the exclusivity of intimidating Cobra and Shelby models. The 2021 model continues that tradition and acknowledges the heritage of the moniker, an aspect of design that’s so critically important to fans of classic cars around the world. The time is right for a Mach 1 model, too – with a new generation of Mustang due in the next couple of years and the mid-level Bullitt and Shelby GT350 models mothballed for 2021. The lineup now features a short-lived gap that should make the 2021 Mach 1 a distinct and desirable sports car today and a sought-after collector’s item in the not-too-distant future.
On the Edge of Otherworldly
The Mustang lineup is one of the broadest in the automotive world, from the sub-$30,000 Ecoboost fastback to the $73,000-minimum Shelby GT500 – the pickup truck segment is the only other place where such a huge range of prices seems standard. But, like in the truck segment, the best value is really found somewhere in the middle.
Sure, Ecoboost models offer Mustang-cool with a low cost of entry for budget-conscious drivers, and that’s great. At the other end, the Shelby GT500 is a genuine track-devouring monster, fully capable of hanging out with performance-oriented sports cars from GM, Stellantis, BMW, and even Porsche, which is awesome. But for drivers who want a car that stands out and possesses genuine performance ability but don’t want to put on a racing helmet every time they take their pony car to work, they’ll need something smack in between the two extremes.
The Mach 1 represents that middle ground between those two polar opposites, positioning itself as the Mustang to get in 2021. The Mach 1 is flashy and well-equipped, where the GT is plain, exciting and inspired, where the Ecoboost is pedestrian. Where the Shelby GT500 is unrestrained and bullish, the Mach 1 is cool and under control. The outcome is a car that Ford bills as “the most track-capable 5.0 L Mustang ever” and yet is composed and comfortable enough to be genuinely viable as a daily driver – a rare enough combination, never mind for less than $60,000!
Today’s Mach 1 is an amalgamation of the models it replaces and the trims that straddle its position in the lineup. It has the Bullitt’s power-focused 5.0 L V8 (480 hp, 420 lb-ft of torque) and its signature cue ball shift knob (when equipped with a 6-speed manual transmission). From the Shelby GT350, it inherits performance-oriented features like the intake and cooling systems, not to mention the Tremec transmission itself. The clutch system comes from the lower-level GT, but with short throw, no-lift-shift, and a toggle-able rev-matching feature, it’s no cop-out. Then where serious airflow and suspension upgrades are required, the Mach 1 pulls from the Shelby GT500 itself for rear-axle cooling, the lower diffuser, and a Gurney flap mounted onto the standard rear spoiler.
But the Mach 1 is more than the sum of borrowed parts. Also inside is a MagneRide adaptive suspension, constantly adjusting stiffness more than 100 times per second for the perfect amount of damping on pristine track and beat-up roadway alike. There are self-stabilizing suspension linkages, too, so keeping the Mach 1 well under control through a corner is at least as easy as fishtailing it, even when pushing the pedal to the floor!
Test drivers repeatedly remark on how sharply the Mach 1 handles, taking yet another step away from the lumbering muscle cars that could fishtail on a straightaway that have given the Mustang a bit of an unstable reputation. With wide, sticky Michelin tires all the way around and up to 150% more downforce than the GT model offers, the 2021 Mach 1 lives up to the hype that this is the most track-ready 5.0 L Mustang ever.
Classic Style and Swagger
The Mustang Mach 1 has always made its first impression with its looks. When it first came out in 1969, it featured a low-gloss stripe down the center and a distinctive hood scoop (which could even be functional, depending on the model), plus special wheels, chrome hood pins and gas caps, and detailing along the side including the iconic Mach 1 badging. The key details of the matte black striping and the hood scoop had remained consistent throughout the generations so that no Mach 1 could be mistaken for anything else. And don’t forget the iconic round inner headlights mounted on the grille!
While the current generation actually foregoes a hood scoop (it’s admittedly difficult to picture a Shaker scoop on the current-gen Mustang, so perhaps this is for the best), the 19” wheels available on the base and Handling Package-equipped models are all designed to make a statement, and the signature matte black striping is a universal feature. Especially sharp is the black-and-orange trim color scheme available alongside Fighter Jet Gray paint with the Handling Package equipped, a livery kit designed specifically for this new car. Absent are inner mounted headlights, but round cut-outs in the grille invoke the styling cue nonetheless. The overall impact is that there’s no mistaking the Mach 1 for a pedestrian pony car, but you won’t intimidate passersby like the hyper-aggressive Shelby GT500 can do.
Interior touches like an optional Bang and Olufsen sound system, heated and vented power-adjustable seats (the Recaro upgrade has been recommended), a unique dark instrument panel with aluminum highlighting, and the white cue ball shift knob distinguish the Mach 1 from lower-tier Mustangs, which compromise on features and comforts to deliver lower cost. With these creature comforts and a complete suite of active safety features, plus the smooth ride of the MagneRide system, the Mach 1 remains a suitably forgiving daily driver despite being fully track ready and looking that part.
Of course, any Mustang that wears a loud outfit needs to have an equally loud bark, and like every Mach 1 before it, the 2021 edition delivers. The quad exhausts won’t exactly shatter windows, but Ford gives the glass a run for its money by making the 5.0 L V8 engine roar about as loud as governments worldwide will allow. There are few sensations as satisfying as the combination of bone-rattling sound and pulse-pounding acceleration that the 2021 Mach 1 delivers, but if the noise is actually a concern (not everybody wants to be that driver who sounds like an earthquake at 6 AM), Ford has your back. With drive settings ranging from Track down to Comfort, drivers can soften the ride intensity and simultaneously mitigate some noise in situations where Track or Sport modes would be just plain rude.
It’s a Bird! It’s a Plane!
The discontinuation of the Shelby GT350 and Bullitt model Mustangs left a gaping hole between the GT and Shelby GT500, especially considering that Ford also canned the GT’s Performance Package 2 for 2021. But this move was not made without a contingency. For the first time in 17 years, a Mustang Mach 1 slots into the middle of the Mustang lineup to fill that gap, and it’s poised to live up to the legacy that the Mach 1 name carries with it.
It’s a legacy that starts with style. With improved aerodynamics and signature striping, a raucous sound and a wicked-cool exclusive paint color on the outside, and premium features and upgraded materials on the inside, everybody knows you’re driving something more than the average Mustang. Then it follows up with a performance to live up to that hype, with a powerful engine, refined transmission, and some of the best handling to be had on any stock Mustang to date. All of that, at a production quantity and price that makes it genuinely accessible to consumers around the world. Faster than a speeding Bullitt, the Mach 1 still can’t come close to the sound barrier, but it sure looks, sounds, and feels as though it isn’t that far off.