Focus rs pitched against mustang gt: a uk petrolhead's take on ford performance
The Mustang has been a springboard from which to launch Ford's new line of performance cars. I tend to talk to people about the cars I'm going to film, and by far the most excited reaction I've had since an '80s Audi Quattro has been for the Mustang.
Mini, Beetle and Fiat 500 have all shown us that retro sells, but it has to be done right, and given that the majority of UK motorists won't recall ever seeing an original '60s Mustang on the road, the reaction when the car first launched is a testament to the power of that original brand, and worldwide appeal for those 'Coke bottle flanks'.
I've never driven a Mustang before, at all. I have a model car collection, and one of my most treasured possessions is a 1/18 scale 1970 BOSS 302 Mustang - one day, I will 'replicate' that in full scale. I was mad on Mustangs as a kid, but it won't surprise you to learn that there aren't that many opportunities to experience the previous US spec cars over here.
My Dad lived in St. Louis in 1966/67, and his father had an original Mustang, in a burgundy colour. It must have been his memories of that car which stirred something in me as a young petrolhead. He still has the licence plate on his garage wall!
Muscle cars have always been a celebrated part of motoring heritage, and the rarity of them over here in the UK means they almost take on a film star-like appearance when we see one on the road. OK, so the majority of original Mustang models were not pure muscle cars. But given that we've long had an affinity for engine sizes of 2 litres and below here, the Mustang has always adopted valuable English teenage boy wall poster space.
Perhaps it's the perception of 'muscle', or perhaps it's the fact that the Mustang has appeared to us as a Hollywood hero on countless occasions that gives it legend status. Actually, the first glimpse we got of the 'new generation' Mustang, was in the final shot of the film, Need for Speed. I remember saying at the time "they need to stop messing about and give us the Mustang over here". And they did.
I've driven a number of RS badged cars, including my dream car the Escort RS Cosworth (thank you, the nineties), and right back to the original Escort RS models, and the more recent front-wheel-drive Focus RS. For me, this new RS Focus really does take us right back to where 'Rallye Sport' first took hold of our imaginations.
It's like Ford (in typical Ford fashion) spent a bit longer than they should have, listening to their fans and customers, and have finally delivered a car worthy of playing successor to cars like the Sierra and Escort Cosworth.
An RS badge on the bootlid always used to signify that you drove one of - if not THE - best performance cars money could buy, comparative to each era. We seemed to lose that after the Escort Cosworth, and while the Mk1 Focus RS is an extremely exciting driver's car, it still didn't measure up to its rivals enough to take on that mantle.
Ford is right back there now, and it feels (and sounds) great.
It's important for Ford, to appeal to those people who have always been the keenest of critics for their performance cars. So past and current RS owners are an important baseline for this new car.
But what's exciting for a fast Ford fan like me, is that all of a sudden you've got people who have never considered a Ford before, raising their eyebrow when an RS thumps past in traffic.
The lack of direct manufacturer involvement in the current international rally scene means we've lost a bit of the providence in that 'RS' name, and for me there needs to be some work done now to establish that again, and remind people what made RS cars so special.
I was talking to a friend who owns a Mk1 and this latest Mk3 Focus RS recently, and he wasn't even aware of the old Advanced Vehicle Operations (AVO) story associated with the original RS Escorts.
As I said in my film, bloodline can't be manufactured - it has to be earned. Ford has launched a car worthy of earning back that bloodline and the reputation that goes with it. The firm now needs to inject some of their valuable RS heritage back into the brand. This will most likely be done in the boardroom, not on the asphalt.
Everyone who has spoken to me about the film has asked me this. It's such a tough one.
If I were to put my money where my mouth was, I'd have to plump for the Focus, because it has that magic mix of practicality, performance and rarity. I also have three little boys, so my wife would prefer if we could fit them all in the car.
But my heart says Mustang, and so do my ears. The question is whether there'd be room in my garage for a BOSS 302, AND this new, reborn pony car. There's definitely room in my heart for both!
I'm a life-long Ford fan, I've owned well into double-figures; my first road car was a Ford Fiesta, my first rally car a Cortina GT. If my wife allowed it, I'd still have posters of Mustangs and Escorts on my bedroom wall. So you can never rule out more Ford films - I'm keeping a close eye on a Sierra Cosworth that a friend of mine is building, for example.
I've already filmed a Mk2 Escort, a Capri, an Escort Cosworth and more besides. My films are a hobby, so I get to choose what goes in there. The trouble will be finding a 1970 BOSS Mustang to add to the series. A full-size one, that is.