2003

The year 1969 saw the first Cobra Jet with its 428-cu-in. V8 and distinctive, functional "shaker" ram-air hood scoop. The 2003 shakes its scoop (only when you blip the throttle) with a 32-valve, 281-cu-in. V8.

The scoop isn't just for show. Ford says channeling fresh air to the intake boosts horsepower and torque. The engine also receives a modified upper intake to accommodate the ram-air system, specially calibrated cams, and performance exhaust manifolds. The combination is good for 305 hp at 5,800 rpm and 320 lb-ft of torque at 4,200 rpm.

Exterior styling cues for the 2003 Mach 1 come right from the 1969 design book: flat-black scoop, hood and body stripes, a wing spoiler, and the still-nonfunctional side scoops. Ditto for the interior. Retro lettering adorns the smallish tachometer and 150-mph speedometer. Mustang's trademark stubby floor shifter works a four-speed automatic with pushbutton-selectable overdrive. I'd go for the five-speed manual transmission. All concessions to modern convenience (six-disc CD changer, lumbar support, cruise control, etc.) seem to blend seamlessly with the car's retro feel. "Comfort-weave" black leather seats similar to the 1969 model round out the package.

Nostalgia aside, performance and handling are solidly 21st century. Grippy 245/45ZR-17 Goodyear Eagle tires mate to "Heritage" 17-in. five-spoke alloy rims. Stiffer springs and Tokico struts and shocks give a firm, responsive ride in the twisties, while vented Brembo brakes provide plenty of stopping power. Acceleration is crisp and the exhaust note, purposeful.

Someone once said that a bad memory accounts for most of what we call the "good old days." I disagree. I really liked my 60s muscle cars, despite the poor gas mileage, cold-starting quirks, and endless tuning. The 2003 is a completely different (refined) animal yet keeps the essence of what made those cars a blast to drive. But you'd better hurry if you want one. Ford is building only 6,500 of the retro rockets.

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