2021 Ford Mustang Mach I Review

How much is a $60k Mustang worth? Every cent plus change.

If you don’t opt for everything, that’s not quite what it costs to buy a new Mach 1. Even if you do, it’d be worth the spend because of the drive.

What It Is

The Mach 1 is a functionally and visually amped-up version of the Mustang GT, the iconic muscle car Ford has built since 1964. It comes with everything the regular GT has including the 5.0-liter V8, but with its output kicked up to 480 horsepower along with a bellowing four-pipe-tipped exhaust system, vise-grip Brembo brakes tucked inside 19-inch light allow wheels, track-ready suspension, and exterior/interior visuals to match.

Some parts were picked from the discontinued GT350 and the still-available but much more spendy (and automatic-only) GT500.

The Mach1 stickers for $51,720–a $15,600 bump up over the asking price of a base Mustang GT, which is itself a helluva car and worth every cent of that, too.

But some things are worth more, even if you can put a price on them.

What’s New

The Mach 1 replaces the Bullitt GT as the maximum Mustang or, at least, the most maximum Mustang you can still get with a manual transmission now that the $59,150 GT350 is off the roster.

What’s Good

  • Memories of 1968 and 2020.
  • The power and the clutch.
  • Finesse that’s lacking in rivals like Challenger; practicality that’s absent in rivals like Camaro.

What’s Not So Good

  • 2021 price tag plus tax.
  • A small (16 gallon) fuel tank makes for short hops in between stops.
  • Backseat legroom isn’t terrible for the type of car it is, but headroom is. It’s the price you pay for that sexy swept-back roofline.

Under The Hood

In 1968 when the first Mach 1 was announced, the strongest engine it could be ordered with was the Super Cobra Jet 428 (7-liters), and it made 335 advertised horsepower. In 2021, the Mustang’s standard 2.3-liter “Ecoboost” turbocharged four-cylinder engine makes 310 horsepower.

It takes more to impress, 50 years hence.

Enter today’s Mach 1.

It comes standard with a comparatively small 5.0-liter V8, both in terms of history and modernity. Current rivals like the Dodge Challenger and Chevy Camaro come standard with bigger V8s (5.7-liters and 6.2-liters, respectively).

Interestingly, Ford’s smaller V8 makes more horsepower per liter–480 in the Mach 1 (up from 460 in the base GT) vs. 375 in the base Challenger R/T (485 if you opt for the Challenger’s even larger 6.4-liter V8) and 455 in the Camaro SS, doesn’t offer an upgrade unless you opt for the $74,200 ZL1, which is comparable to the $70,300 Mustang GT500 and not really a fair cross-shop vs. the $51,720 Mach 1.

The reason for that is airflow.

The Ford 5.0 is uniquely, among modern muscle cars, a dual overhead cam V8, with four valves per cylinder rather than two as in the rival V8s. Combine this power with the Mustang’s relatively light weight of 3,705 lbs. (as opposed to the beefy Challenger’s 4,182 lbs.), and what you end up with is more output-per-displacement and 0-60 in about 4 seconds, which for the record is about 2 seconds quicker than a first-year Mach 1 with the 7.0-liter Super Cobra Jet 428 V8.

Which was about as quick as a brand-new Mustang with the 2.3-liter EcoBoosted four-cylinder engine.

Times are good!

What accounts for the Mach 1’s 20 additional horsepower vs. the GT’s iteration of the 5.0 V8? A few old-school tweaks with modern twists. The first is a larger (85 mm) throttle body, which is essentially the same thing as swapping in a larger CFM carburetor back in the day–the idea in both cases is to get more air into the engine. There is also an open-element air cleaner–this time conical rather than old-school circular and without the chrome air cleaner lid, as back in the day. Which is the one aesthetic thing that the old CJ 428 and muscle car engines of the classic era had and still have over the new stuff:

They all looked better when you popped the hood, even if they didn’t breathe better, with it closed.

There is also an old-school hot rod trick reimagined with electronics. The Mach 1 has an “active” exhaust, which means that at the touch of a button, a kind of wastegate is opened that bypasses the usual muffling to increase the power and the sound, which is a huge part of what a car like this is all about.

More about that is below.

But the biggest point of departure isn’t what’s under the Mach 1’s matte black racing-striped hood but what’s behind its tuned-up engine. It’s the same heavier-duty (and many say, much-better-shifting) Tremec TR 3160 six-speed manual used in the street-legal-race-car GT350 – and which you cannot get in the regular GT. You’ll also get the GT500’s rear differential cooler, and you can order the GT 500’s Gurney Flap, a rear spoiler named after the famous race car driver.

And if you want it, there is also a ten-speed automatic transmission, a $1,595 option. This was not offered with the GT350, which was manual-only.

There’s one other thing you get as well. A top speed that’s higher than 115 MPH, which was the top speed of a ’69 Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet. This is about the top speed of a new Prius hybrid – given enough time.

Not because the original Mach 1 was under-engined. It was under-geared. In the classic muscle days, you had three or four gears, and not one of them was an overdrive. That meant the gearing mechanically limited you to a top speed that’s embarrassingly slow by today’s standards.

A modern muscle car like this Mach 1 will do 115 in third gear, and it has three more to go. So it goes considerably faster than a Prius, without needing much room to do it.

It also gets astoundingly good gas mileage given that it has almost four times as much power as a Prius: 15 city, 24 highway, which is not far off the pace of something like a new family-hauling minivan like the Kia Carnival I wrote about recently. It gets 19 city, 26 highway, and even though it does have overdrive gearing, it does not go as fast as the Mach 1.

It does, however, go farther.

The Mach 1 seems much thirstier than it is because of its comparatively small (16 gallon) gas tank. Driven as you should and will, this may take you about 230 miles down the road, and that’s about how far it took me, at any rate. Even my ’76 Trans-Am does better than that, and it has a 7.5-liter (455 cubic inch) V8.

But it also has a 21.5-gallon tank.

On The Road

You have no doubt heard of hybrid vigor. The Mach 1 is very vigorous. It blends the everyday-driverness of the regular Mustang GT with the additional pep in its step of the GT350, which was not an everyday driver due to the race-track-intended 5.2-liter flat-plane crank’d V8 that spins to 8,250 RPM and makes its peak 526 horsepower at 7,500 RPM–an engine speed that’s hard to achieve in between red lights, on the street.

Even in third gear (without driving the thing as you would on the track), it is dicey on the street if you wish to avoid sitting in jail.

The Mach is mild-mannered but capable of being less so when the occasion arises, and the police aren’t around to witness it. All 480 horses are accessible at a more reachable 7,000 RPM, and there is plenty of power below that speed.

Also, the GT350 was manual-only because its engine was born to rev, and manuals are the better tool for that. The Mach gives you the option to go automatic and without sacrificing snap.

Or the fry.

Turn the traction control off – please – using the toggle switch ahead of the shifter. Put the box in S rather than D. Now, hold the rear tires by holding the brake pedal down and feed some throttle until they begin to slip and smoke. Ease off the brakes just a touch as you floor the gas and let ‘er rip. Tactical atomic blasts mark your passage, scorched earth stripes for 50 yards behind the perimeter of the mushroom cloud you just left.

But be careful. This car is not a toy for the inexperienced or the stupid. With the TC off, it can get away from you because there is almost 500 horsepower feeding the rear wheels and no stubble-chinned Soy Boy electronica to save you if you had the nerve to turn it off and don’t have the skills to deal with it.

There are a variety of driver-selectable programs, of course, including Track and Launch Control. But Ford has left it up to you to decide your level of engagement, assuming for once that you aren’t an idiot and can handle it. 2021 it may be, but this car can be toggle-switch back’d to ’69 if you want to and if you can. If you are not, the car will discipline you.

Respect it and hear it.

The sounds made by this car will take you back to ’69 when radios sucked, but who needed them when the car made the right music. Today, audio systems are superb, including the Bang and Olufsen unit that comes in this one. But turning it on is a kind of crime, almost like putting ketchup on a wagyu ribeye. It is nothing less than miraculous that the engineers who design modern muscle cars like this have made them sound like or even better than classic muscle cars despite the handicaps of multiple catalytic converters and federal mandates, which eventually silenced the song of the classic muscle cars.

Push the toggle for Sport or higher, and the Mach 1’s exhaust opens up like you pulled a cable to bypass the mufflers, as back in the day. With the manual, you can make it sing like a 289 Hi-Po, with a lot mo’ Po. I am a (real, classic) Pontiac guy but concede that Ford has always made some of the best-sounding V8s, going back to the Model A’s flathead mill and through the 289 Hi Po of the ’60s and the 5.0 HO of the ’80s to now.

Yes, the GT350’s flat-plan-crank’d V8 sounds better, like Satan’s bagpipes, but this one will raise the hair, too. And it also has the comforting low-RPM burble that soothes the soul more deeply than any heated or massaging seat ever will and which no electric car will ever approach.

At The Curb

The Mustang, not just the Mach 1, is a very different expression of the muscle car concept relative to the other two extant muscle cars, Camaro and Challenger.

The Challenger is, arguably, the truest expression of the classic muscle car idea. All of the original, classic-era muscle cars were big cars. And so is the current Challenger. It is a much bigger and heavier car than either the Mustang or the Camaro, extending to 197.9 inches end to end, which is about the same length as a full-size sedan. It isn’t surprising, given it is one with two doors shaved off.

The Dodge is a two-door version of the Charger sedan, which is why it has the backseat and trunk room (16.2 cubic feet) of a full-sized sedan. The Camaro and Mustang do not, but the Mustang doesn’t have as little of it as the Camaro, which only has 9.1 cubic feet of trunk, which is less room for whatever you need to carry along with you (other than yourself) than the two-seater Corvette has.

The Mustang’s 13.5 cubic foot trunk is about as much as in many current mid-sized sedans and makes this car much more feasible for everyday use than Camaro, without being as massive a car like the Challenger. Not that there is anything wrong with massiveness.

But it is a clear point of difference.

The Mustang’s backseats would be more passenger-friendly if it weren’t for the duck-and-cover headroom or, instead, its lack. Just 34 inches as opposed to 37.1 in the Challenger. But the Camaro’s only got 33.5 inches, and it feels like less because of the proportions; the Camaro’s roofline relative to its door height and the slit-height of its door glass. Granted, this is subjective, but I feel like the tank driver when inside a Camaro. The Mustang feels more spacious than it is because of its lower door height relative to its roofline and the more abundant glass all around you.

The Mach 1 is also a counterpoint to the retired Bullitt GT, which was all about not looking like what it was capable of doing. It was shorn of the usual exterior braggadocio like snorky scoops and wings, incandescent paint jobs, and accent striping. A Highland Green Bullitt GT could be mistaken for a plain Jane base four-cylinder Mustang, which was just the point.

There is no mistaking the Mach 1, which is loud and proud, functionally and aesthetically. It has molded into the hood scoops on either side of the matte black billboard strip down the centerline of the hood; Mach 1 badges on the flanks and tail. Most of all, the GT350-ish front clip with the vast and very functional oil/transmission cooler intakes on either side of the protruding chin spoiler (watch those curb dips). Plus the Gurney Flap on the tail.

And, capping it off – if you stick with the stick – the white cue-ball shifter that feels like right in your hand as it looks in between the seats.

The Rest

Is $51k-plus a preposterous sum to pay for a Mustang? Ask the man who owns a 69 Mach 1 429 Cobra Jet Mustang today. If he wanted to and what fool would want to – he could sell that ’69 and be able to buy two ’21s today–plus gas money.

How much will a ’21 Mach 1 buy 50 years hence?

I was a fool, in the rearview, to not have bought the ’95 Cobra R I could have purchased in the day when Ford offered me the chance. Look up the price of a ’95 Cobra R today.

Tomorrow, a car like the Mach 1 might be worth its curb weight in gold and not just because of the historic value of a car such as this. We have likely reached the apogee of the latter-day muscle car, and we may not ever see another apogee. As in the early ’70s, forces are arrayed against cars like this, and this time, it may not be possible to overcome them with engineering.

The Bottom Line  

They say speed is just a question of money–as in how fast do you want to go? But there are some things that transcend money.

The Mach 1 is one of them.

Gather ye horsepower while ye can.

Eric Peters lives in Virginia and enjoys driving cars and motorcycles. In the past, Eric worked as a car journalist for many prominent mainstream media outlets. Currently, he focuses his time writing auto history books, reviewing cars, and blogging about cars+ for his website EricPetersAutos.com.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

Not an NMA Member yet?

Join today and get these great benefits!

Leave a Comment