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The 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1.

Photos by JEREMY AU YEUNG/THE GLOBE AND MAIL

When an automaker is down to its last car, and it’s a car that many want but nobody needs, a sound business model is to keep the desire afire with frequent updates, special versions and limited editions.

Ford has done it for decades on the Mustang, which is now its last remaining not-a-truck. The current sixth-generation Mustang alone has spawned the track-ready GT350 and GT350R, the retro-nostalgic Bullitt, and the latest supercharged GT500 – all in addition to the core EcoBoost 2.3-litre turbo four-cylinder or GT 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8 choices.

The GT350s and the Bullitt are in retirement now, but the new Mach 1 mixes and matches their nuts-and-bolts upgrades with some GT500 hardware, plus unique features of its own, to create another limited-run Mustang for track-day regulars and those who want to look like them. It’s currently the ultimate naturally aspirated Mustang, and in terms of track-worthiness, sits between the Bullitt and the GT350.

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Satin-black stripes are included with reflective accent stripes in any of three colours.

This second reincarnation of the iconic 1970s original starts with the GT’s Performance Package, but with its own grille, exterior accents and wheels. Satin-black stripes are included with reflective accent stripes in any of three colours, while Fighter Jet Gray is a Mach-1-exclusive option.

That’s just the cosmetics. Track-focused chassis hardware includes summer tires, Brembo six-piston front brake calipers with enlarged rotors, a K-brace and strut-tower brace, unique springs and dampers, upsized rear sway bar and performance rear spoiler.

The engine mimics the Bullitt, with an intake manifold inherited from the GT350. Peak torque is unchanged from the GT, but the Mach 1′s 480 horsepower at 7,000 rpm is a 20-horsepower gain. The six-speed manual transmission is the heavier-duty Tremec from the GT350 (the Bullitt used the GT’s Getrag gearbox) and the powertrain gets lots of extra cooling to handle track duty.

For a price, the Mach 1 can be made even more track-focused. The $4,500 Handling Package on the test car adds even wider wheels and tires (Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2), adjustable top strut mounts, further-revised chassis tuning, a GT500′s rear spoiler with Gurney flap and a front aero splitter (be very afraid of lurking curbs and abrupt ramps).

Posers need not apply. Well, they could: the Mach 1 certainly grabs eyeballs with its attack spoilers, and any bystander who’s facing the wrong way will soon be looking to locate the source of the exhaust note that sounds like the hounds of hell were just let out on a day pass. Despite all its trackiness, the Mach 1 isn’t a stripped-for-action lightweight; it still has back seats and power-adjustable heated-and-cooled front ones and dual-zone climate control, plus hand-stitched this and leather-wrapped that. And yes, automatic transmission is available.

The 2021 Mustang Mach 1 looks the part.

Mere posers shouldn’t buy one. Driving the Mach 1 demands your full attention. The ride isn’t as punishing as you might expect, but on cambered or rutted surfaces, the front wheels twitch and pull like a foxhound following a scent. It’s also fast, loud and the harder you thrash it, the better it responds.

Except, If you live in Ontario, making the max of a Mach 1 will land you a stunt driving charge before you can say “licence suspension.”

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If you get caught driving 50 kilometres an hour over the speed limit, that’s on you, But it doesn’t take willful hooliganism to fall afoul of Regulation 455/07′s prohibition on “Driving a motor vehicle in a manner that indicates an intention to cause some or all of its tires to lose traction with the surface of the highway while turning.”

The Mach 1′s Handling-Package tires are (barely) street-legal race rubber, and they like to be hot. With no opportunity to work up a sweat on a race track, the Mach 1′s willingness to wag its tail on the street with only moderate provocation told us that 20-degree mid-May weather wasn’t hot enough.

Owning a Mach 1 would be like parenting a hyperactive two-year Labrador retriever. If you’re up to it, go for it. But if you want to let it off leash, take it to the track before the police take it away from you.

Tech specs

2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1

Base price/as tested: $65,500/$75,900

Engine: 5.0-litre naturally aspirated V8, 480 horsepower

Transmission/drive: Six-speed manual/rear-wheel drive

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Fuel economy (litres/100 kilometres): 16.6 city/10.5 highway

Alternatives: Chevrolet Camaro SS 1LE, Dodge Challenger 392

Looks

The fighter-grey paint, orange brake calipers and orange-lined stripes come with the $1,350 Appearance Package, while the spoilers and extra-wide wheels belong with the $4,500 Mach 1 Handling Package. It looks the part.

Interior

The Mach 1 has back seats, if your passengers are small enough to fit.

Yes, it has back seats, if your passengers are small enough to fit. Or pay $300 for the Rear Seat Delete package. Up front, the ‘stang’s aviation-inspired cockpit provides sports-car-appropriate low-slung seating and unexpected touches of luxury. Climate-controlled seats and a 12-inch digital gauge cluster are standard, as are illuminated door scuff plates. Unique Mach 1 cues include the white cue-ball shift knob and a dashboard plaque showing the car’s chassis number. An ebony-and-orange décor is part of the test car’s Appearance Package.

Performance

The Mach 1 is very fast but not explosively fast. In track mode, expect zero to 100 kilometres an hour in about 4.6 seconds. But it doesn’t always feel that fast. Without a turbocharger to force-feed it, the highly tuned smallish V8 needs a riot of revs for maximum effect. Floor the throttle from the basement of the rev range and it’s a long, linear crescendo to the peak-power 7,000 rpm – there’s no sudden coming-on-cam spike in the power curve. But when you get up there, things are happening so fast, you’ll need to fixate on the tachometer to snatch the upshift before bouncing off the 7,500-rpm rev limiter. By which time, if you’re in second gear, you’re already well over the speed limit in most of Canada.

Floor the throttle at 60 kilometres an hour in top gear, on the other hand, and my 2007 Honda Fit could almost stay with it.

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Like the engine itself, the gearbox is best when worked hard, speed-shifting through a full-bore charge at the horizon. In socially responsible driving, it’s a little notchy, and upshifts from second sometimes get lost in a no-man’s land between third and fifth. At least clutch effort is moderate and it engages smoothly.

Road rut twitchiness aside, the steering is this gearhead’s idea of perfection – not just pin-sharp and ideally weighted but possessed of that rarest of things, true road feel. On the one occasion when the front tires briefly slid on an on-ramp, I felt it through the steering wheel. But that’s somewhat of a moot point in a car that, when driven expressively, is far more likely to slide wide at the rear than the front.

Technology

Despite the track orientation, there’s a good array of standard driver-assist and infotainment tech. It’s easier to list the notable exceptions: navigation is an $800 upgrade and adaptive cruise control is not available at all.

Cargo

The 13.5-cubic-foot trunk capacity compares quite well with, say, a compact sedan, and can be supplemented by 50/50-split folding rear seats.

Shopping for a new car? Check out the new Globe Drive Build and Price Tool to see the latest discounts, rebates and rates on new cars, trucks and SUVs. Click here to get your price.

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