2001 Roush Mustang First Drive

2001 Ford Mustang Coupe

(4.6L V8 5-speed Manual)

A Potent but Pricey Pony

Sometimes, enough just isn't enough, especially for performance car enthusiasts. Back in the late 1960s, if someone fancied Ford's Mustang, but wanted something even more powerful and aggressive-looking than the factory offerings, he had a few choices. There were the Shelby Mustangs that were decked out with various scoops and spoilers along with engine choices that included a 428-cubic-inch V8. And in 1969, the limited production Boss 429 Mustang thundered onto the street.

Unlike the souped-up Shelby Mustangs, the Boss didn't come about to offer the public a hotter version of one of its fave cars, but to allow Ford to use its new 429 V8 in so-called stock car racing. A minimum of 500 units had to be built and sold to the public to qualify. A company called Kar Kraft handled the job of squeezing the broad-shouldered 429 into a Mustang Fastback (or Sportsroof, in official Ford lingo) and made just over 1,300 examples of this rare pony between 1969 and early 1970.

More than 30 years later, Mustang fans can still get a horse of a different color, as there are a handful of companies that tweak Mustangs, such as Roush Performance, who recently invited us to its introduction of the Roush Stage 3 Mustang at Firebird Raceway in Phoenix, Ariz. Although Jack Roush is well known in racing circles and among Mustang buffs, most folks, even some car enthusiasts, may not know who he is and why he jumped into the modified Mustang market.

Mr. Roush is an auto enthusiast, entrepreneur and auto racer who enjoys the distinction of being extremely successful in many different racing series. Drag racing, SCCA Trans Am, NASCAR and IRL are all areas of auto racing in which his team has competed and has amassed 238 wins and 28 championships. Jack also builds up the Mustang GTs and Mustang Cobras used at the Bob Bondurant School of High Performance Driving, based at Firebird Raceway. The Roush Empire spans far and wide, from doing research and development for the Big Three American car companies to working with electronics and aviation firms.

Having been involved with Ford racing since the early 1970s, Jack developed a fondness for the Mustang. Around 1995, Jack established the Roush Performance division, a group comprised of engineers and designers that had Roush's considerable resources at their disposal to build high-performance parts for the Mustang. Shortly after this, Roush Performance started building turnkey Roush Mustangs.

For 2001, the company brings out the Stage 3 Mustang, which is based on the Mustang GT and is the top horse in Roush's Mustang stable. This muscled-up pony joins the Stage 1 and Stage 2 Roush Mustangs, both of which are available on the standard V6 Mustang, as well as the V8 GT.

The functional components of the Stage 1 consist of a side-mounted performance exhaust system, 17-inch wheels and tires and a lowered suspension (via new coil springs) that lowers the car's center of gravity for better handling. Dressing up the car are the obligatory air dam, side skirts and rear wing.

The Stage 2 adds a serious suspension package that includes Bilstein shocks, higher-rate springs, new lower control arms, beefy antiroll bars front and rear and 18-inch alloy wheels (9 inches wide in front and 10 inches wide in back) wrapped in aggressive rubber. The stout BFGoodrich Comp TA doughnuts spec out at 265/35ZR18 at the front and 295/35ZR18 out back and, combined with the suspension upgrade, allow nearly 1.0 g in lateral acceleration, according to Roush. To put that into perspective, consider that this is a level of grip that supercars, such as a Porsche 911 Turbo, exhibit.

Answering the car enthusiasts' cry for "More Power!" is the Stage 3 Roush Mustang, which pumps up the output of the Mustang GT's 4.6-liter V8 another 100 horsepower (for a total of 360 horses) by way of an Eaton supercharger set at a boost level of 6 psi. A healthy increase in torque also takes place, jumping from the stock GT's rating of 302 foot-pounds to a tire-spinning 375 ft-lbs. Far from simply bolting on a supercharger, the Roush folks fortify the engine with their own intake manifold, an air-to-water intercooler, high-output fuel injectors and, on manual transmission cars, a lightweight aluminum flywheel.

Roush claims the shift-it-yourself Stage 3 will blast from zero to 60 mph in 4.9 seconds, and the automatic transmission version will take just 5.3 seconds for the same test. We were allowed to make informal acceleration runs in the cars, and although these were not timed, those figures seem realistic, given the healthy shove in the back we received and the fact that a stock Mustang GT will do that drill in under 6 seconds. The standing quarter-mile is said to be a scant 12.9-second effort, which would make it a good race if it were to drag a Corvette Z06 or Mustang Cobra R. The power delivery is very smooth and linear, and the car drives like it has a powerful big block engine underhood, not a force-fed 4.6. And the sound that burbled out of those side-pipe exhausts was reminiscent of an old muscle car: a serious bark with a bite to match.

To set the Stage 3 apart from its less potent siblings, a unique front fascia with foglamps is fitted. And to cater to different needs (and budgets), there are actually three Stage 3s from which to choose, all with the supercharged engine.

The base Stage 3 includes a 17-inch wheel/tire package and a Brembo brake upgrade up front featuring four-piston calipers and 13-inch rotors. The Stage 3 Rally Group version adds the suspension and tire/wheel upgrade of the Roush Stage 2, along with racing-style alloy pedals and white-faced gauges.

The Stage 3 Premium Package is the top dog that includes everything in the Rally Group plus leather sport seats (with embroidered logos), subframe connectors (which reduce chassis flex) and upgraded brakes that appear able to stop the space shuttle. Massive, four-piston Alcon calipers up front put the squeeze to rotors the size of pizzas, measuring 14 inches in diameter, while 13-inch rotors and two-piston calipers handle the braking duties at the rear.

Preliminary pricing for the Stage 3s ranges from $39,500 for the base version to $44,050 for the Rally Group, on up to $47,975 for the full-blown Premium Pony. Keep in mind that includes the price of a new Mustang GT Coupe (not including options or destination), which retails for $23,040. If you want a convertible, add $4,255 to those prices.

We had the chance to take a few go 'rounds on the track in a small but varied group of Roush Mustangs: coupes, convertibles, manual and automatic transmissions. As there were only a handful of Roush cars and a few dozen journalists chomping at the bit to drive them, we were allowed to take the Bondurant School cars around the circuit, which gave us a chance to learn the track. After we put in some laps with the Bondurant cars, it was time to try out the Stage 3.

On the track, the handling prowess of the Roush Mustang quickly became evident. The car felt very tight; turn-in was quick (yet the car wasn't twitchy), and body roll was virtually nil. The car took a set and just held it, and the broad, flat power band made it easy to slingshot out of the apexes. The powerful brakes (with ABS) were easy to modulate and hauled the car down without fade, lap after lap.

The transmissions used are stock Ford gearboxes. We drove both the manual and automatic versions of the Stage 3 and preferred the manual gearbox car. The feel of the five-speed manual will be familiar to Mustang GT pilots, as the clutch is a bit heavy, and gearshift throws are notchy. But in spite of these characteristics, we could shift rapidly, and not one shift was botched on the track. The automatic version seemed a bit slow to downshift. It seemed that the tranny would pause before stepping down a cog, even when the throttle was mashed to the carpet. In fairness, these cars were test mules, and in light of the fact that the rest of the car was so well sorted, tweaking the auto tranny should be a piece of cake for the boys at Roush performance.

With all the high-level experience in racing and product development that Roush Performance has to offer, we expected the Roush Stage 3 Mustang to be a nicely balanced car with excellent attention to detail. Our expectations were met. Fit and finish on the gaggle of prototypes we flung around the track was superb, as was the overall performance of these cars (slushbox excepted).

Whether a Mustang enthusiast is willing to spend up to a) double the cost of a base Mustang GT, b) $10,000 to $19,000 more than a 320-horsepower Mustang Cobra (which also has an independent rear suspension that the Roush car doesn't) or c) as much as a new Corvette Z06, remains to be seen. If your blood runs Ford blue and you lusted after and missed out on one of the 300 Cobra R Mustangs that Ford produced last year (and can do without the independent rear end) the Roush Stage 3 may suit your needs. With the Stage 3, you'd be getting a pony that virtually matches the Cobra R's performance at (judging by recent market prices) up to $20,000 less and still be driving a Mustang that you wouldn't see at every intersection. Plus with the Roush 'stang, you'll also get a rear seat and air conditioning, two features the Cobra R doesn't have.

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