TOP 5: Ford Mustangs of the ‘S550’ era

2020 Ford Mustang R-Spec.

Ford will take the covers off the highly-anticipated new ‘S650’ generation Mustang in Detroit this week. But there’s still a bit more life left in the current ‘S550’ model, with the new ‘Stang not likely to arrive in Australian showrooms until later in 2023 (at the earliest).

But with the changing of the guard, we decided it was time to look back on the sixth-generation Mustang and celebrate its greatest models. The ‘S550’ was the first Mustang to be sold in Australia as a factory-built right-hand drive vehicle, so it has special significance to Ford both in the US and in Australia.

There have been some very successful examples, both on the road and the track but here are our five favourites.

2016 Mustang GT

Ford Mustang

Ford Mustang GT

The S550 Mustang arrived in Australia in 2016 direct from the US factory for the first time. The timing was ideal, as it gave Ford fans something to fill the void left by the Falcon XR8 and FPV GT models.

It was far from a perfect car, with some cheap plastics in the cabin and a ride quality that lacked compared to the locally-developed Falcons, but it was exactly what it promised to be – an old-school American muscle car.

The 5.0-litre V8 wasn’t the most potent motor around, but it was quick enough and made all the right noises. Plus, it was inside a beautiful-looking car that perfectly captured the spirit of the 1960s originals while also being contemporary.

It laid the foundation for the updated model that arrived in 2018, that brought more technology and comfort in the cabin and kept the Mustang as Australia’s favourite sports car.

2019 Mustang Bullitt

Ford Mustang Bullitt special edition

One of the keys to the success of the Mustang is Ford’s ability to roll-out a steady stream of special editions, often calling back on the brand’s heritage. And none were better than this tribute to Steve McQueen’s 1968 police thriller, Bullitt, which is best remembered for its iconic 10-minute long car chase starring a ‘68 GT390 Fastback Mustang.

Like the car in the movie, the 2019 special edition (which was limited to just 700 examples in Australia) was finished in deep green and had ‘60s-inspired alloy wheels. It wasn’t just looks though, with a slightly more powerful engine tune and MagnaRide suspension.

It was an instant classic.

2020 Mustang R-Spec

2020 Ford Mustang R-Spec.

Unfortunately there were technical challenges that meant the high-performance, track-ready Shelby GT350 and GT500 were never available to Australian audiences. So we built our own.

Ford Australia teamed up with Rob Herrod of Herrod Performance to create the Mustang R-Spec, a supercharged and upgraded version of the S550.

It was actually built on a temporary production line at the Broadmeadows plant, where standard Mustang GTs were transformed thanks to a raft of Ford Performance parts chosen by Herrod. These included a Roush supercharger, that reportedly boosted performance to 522kW of power and 830Nm of torque as well as a unique tune for the MagneRide adjustable dampers, firmer Ford Performance springs and adjustable stabiliser bars and a new tyre and wheel package.

It may not have been the Shelby, but it once again demonstrated the Australian car industry’s spirit of ingenuity – and was also a brilliant car.

2021 Mustang Mach 1

Ford Mustang Mach 1

With the S550 getting to the end of its life, Ford once again turned to the past to create something special. The Mach 1 was designed with a fairly simple goal in mind – be the most-capable track-ready version of the Mustang.

It passes with flying colours, because while it wasn’t as powerful as the R-Spec (because it stuck to the 5.0-litre V8 with 345kW tune, like the Bullitt), it had a factory-tuned chassis for superior handling.

Basically, Ford raided the Shelby parts department and added a new intake manifold, oil filter adapter and engine oil cooler from the GT350 and a pair of side heat exchangers, the rear axle cooling system and lower diffuser from the GT500, in order to improve both handling and its endurance on the track.

The end result was the best-handling version of the S550, with a unique look that called back to the original Mach 1 of the ‘70s.

Ford Mustang Supercar

Scott McLaughlin in the Mustang Supercar

It isn’t the most beautiful S550 Mustang, but it’s arguably the most successful. In the hands of Scott McLaughlin the American coupe won two Supercars championships (2019 and 2020) and the Bathurst 1000 (in 2019).

More than that, the arrival of the Mustang allowed Ford Australia to continue its involvement in Australian motorsport, which otherwise would have been difficult with the Falcon gone.

The Mustang helped revive the blue ovals interest and excitement in the sport after the troubled final years with the Falcon and the closure of Australian manufacturing and sent a message to race fans and customers that Ford was committed to this country.

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