LOS ANGELES - The all-new Mustang convertible will arrive in Ford dealer showrooms this spring, adding a ragtop to the lineup of the redesigned pony car that made its debut this past fall as a 2005 model. Ford officially unveiled the convertible in two models - the V-6, with a base price of $24,495, and the V-8 powered GT, starting at $29,995, during the recent 2005 Los Angeles International Auto Show.
But the day before, the No. 2 U.S. automaker gave automotive journalists a sneak preview of the soft top models - including an afternoon of driving the cars along the Pacific Coast Highway through Malibu and in the hills overlooking the tony Southern California seaside community.
Ford used the same venue to introduce the newest generation of the Mustang in August, rolling out only the V-6 and GT coupe versions at that time. They went on sale in the fall, and have sold faster than Ford can build them - thanks in large part to their retro styling that revived much of the look of the revered mid- '60s Mustangs, specifically the 1967 fastback model.
While most of the nostalgic styling of the coupes has carried over to the convertibles - including the long hood and three-section taillights - the ragtop version is missing the sloping rear window that created the famous fastback look. That had to give way to the retractable soft top.
Nonetheless, the new convertible is stunning in its own right, and brought lots of admiring looks as the journalists drove them along the coast highway and through Malibu Canyon. The most-obvious admirers were those driving older Mustangs, and to a number, they immediately recognized the new ragtops for what they were and gazed with pure adolation in their eyes.
That reaction isn't limited to current Mustang owners, though. The new Mustang appeals to a broad range of people from youth to aging baby boomers, male and female alike, one of the few cars on the market that can transcend age and gender barriers.
And virtually everyone has a Mustang story in his or her life, even if never having personally owned one. The cars are, of course, revered by many baby boomers who came of age during the mid- to late-60s, just after the debut of the Mustang in 1964.
Ford has long been credited with a stroke of genius for the creation of the original Mustang, and now again for this nostalgic new generation, which includes styling cues of the most-popular models of the '60s and the modern drivetrains and suspensions of today's cars.
In the recent past, convertible models have made up about one-fourth of all new Mustang sales, with women the primary buyers and V-6 models the most popular versions. But Ford believes that the newest Mustang ragtop will find broader appeal - especially among enthusiasts who go for the V-8 GT coupes - thanks to the rigid body of the new convertibles.
During some punishing tests along twisty - and sometimes bumpy - Malibu area roads, the new convertible showed virtually no signs of the shimmying and shaking of the chassis that are common with cars that have no tops. Ford says it took great pains to keep the new convertible's chassis rigid to eliminate the body flex that most convertible fans have come to expect as an annoying but unfortunately necessary part of the ratop driving experience.
Roadhandling, especially without the usual convertible flexing, is superb in the new Mustangs - even more so with the GT than the V-6 model, whose less-sporty 16-inch T-rated tires don't hold the road quite as well as the 17-inch W-rated performance radials on the GT.
Just as with the coupes, the interior is clean and uncluttered, with a dash that also is a throwback to the '60s. A GT premium model available for testing in Malibu came with parchment-colored leather sport bucket seats, which were quite comfortable even during the sharp turns through the canyon.
The top is electric powered and can be opened in about 20 seconds after releasing the two catches on the top of the windshield and pushing a button on the overhead console above the rearview mirror. The top has a glass rear window for great rearward visibility; it even includes a rear defroster.
The insulated fabric top keeps the interior very quiet for a convertible when it is up; when it is down, even at highway speeds wind intrusion into the cockpit is kept to a minimum by the more steeply-raked windshield and the design of the rear seatbacks, Ford says. There is little wind noise in the cockpit at highway speeds with the top down, which is rather remarkable for a ragtop.
Slim quarter windows behind the full-size driver and passenger side windows can be opened or closed by a power switch on the driver's side, but they cannot be open or closed separately - it's both up or both down.
Under the hood of the V-6 model is the same 4.0-liter engine used in the coupe, rated at 210 horsepower and 240 foot-pounds of torque. The GT gets the same 4.6-liter V-8 in the GT coupe, with 300 horsepower.
Ford says the 2005 Mustang convertibles are the most affordable V-6 and V-8 ragtops on the market.
"The Mustang convertible has thrived for 40 years by staying true to the basic formula established in 1964: great drop-top design combined with affordable wind-in-the-hair performance," Ford said in a news release accompanying the Los Angeles introduction. "The new 2005 Ford Mustang convertible builds on that tradition with the most solid, best handling and most refined open-air driving character yet of this American legend."
More than 18,000 of the new coupes have been sold since they were introduced in October, and thousands of orders are waiting to be filled, Ford says. Those sales should spike even more with the introduction of the convertible in time for the summer ragtop driving season.
"Through the years, Mustang convertible has always been a bold, powerful option for people looking to drop the top, smell the fresh breezes and let their troubles float away," Steve Lyons, the Ford Division president, said while introducing the cars. "Forty years later, that need is stronger than ever, and the 2005 Ford Mustang convertible stands ready to serve as the most affordable drop top in America."
Standard features of the V-6 convertibles include a five-speed manual transmission, 16-inch painted cast-aluminum wheels with all-season tires, air conditioning, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with single CD player, four-wheel power disc brakes, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and power windows with driver and passenger door one-touch up/down.
A V-6 convertible Premium model starts at $25,320, and includes 16-inch bright aluminum wheels with chrome spinner, Shaker 500 audio system with six-disc CD changer and MP3 capability, and a six-way power adjustable driver's seat, Ford says. Options include an exterior sport appearance package ($295), interior upgrade package ($450), five-speed automatic transmission ($995), antilock brakes with all-speed traction control ($775), side air bags ($370), leather seating surfaces ($695), an active anti-theft system ($255) and a convertible soft boot for $195.
GT models come with a five-speed manual transmission, four-wheel antilock power disc brakes with all-speed traction control, sport-tuned stainless steel dual exhaust, front fog lights built into the grille, a rear spoiler and a tilt steering wheel, 17-inch painted aluminum wheels with performance tires, air conditioning, dual power mirrors, AM/FM stereo with single CD player, power door locks with remote keyless entry, and power windows with driver and passenger one-touch up/down
The GT Premium model, adds a Shaker 500 audio system with six-disc CD player and MP3 capability, as well as the leather bucket seats. The price for the Premium begins at $31,175.
GT options include an interior upgrade package ($450), interior color enhancement package ($175), five-speed automatic transmission ($995), side air bags ($370), 17-inch bright aluminum wheels ($195), active anti-theft system ($255), Shaker 1000 audio system ($1,295) and a convertible soft boot ($195), Ford says.
All prices shown include freight.
G. Chambers Williams III is staff automotive columnist for the San Antonio Express-News and former transportation writer for the Star-Telegram. His automotive columns have appeared regularly in the Star-Telegram since 1995. Contact him at (210) 250-3236; firstname.lastname@example.org.
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