Versus the competiton:
A Dance on the Daring Side
2003 Roush 380R Mustang
I’m driving a 2003 Roush 380R Mustang convertible, black clearcoat with gold racing stripes running through the trunk lid and hood, with matching stripes along the rocker panels — a hot car, as bad as it wants to be.
I’m driving with the top down on a spring day not quite spring and wondering about Iris Krasnow, the woman who writes those “surrendering” books — “Surrendering to Marriage” and “Surrendering to Motherhood” and “Surrendering to Self.”
I’m driving and wishing that Krasnow could find a way to interview Old Man Winter and ask him why he refuses to surrender to spring.
Wearing a black suede jacket over a thick sweater takes the joy out of driving with the top down, but I’m making the best of it, and I’ve brought along singers Ray Charles and Nina Simone to help.
They are on discs popped into the 380R Mustang’s dash-mounted, six-disc CD player. They are good in that place, where I think I can keep them forever — even Nina, who died recently but strums my heart with her music nonetheless.
Ray and his singers are telling me to “Hit the Road, Jack,” and I’m having no problem doing that in this Mustang, which is no ordinary Ford Mustang, not in the least.
It’s a Roush Mustang , a motorized conjuration by Jack Roush, a recalcitrant race-car-driver-turned-entrepreneur, who turns out super-powerful, super-fast Mustangs at Roush Performance Products in Livonia, Mich.
Roush has outdone himself, pumping up this pony car with a supercharged 4.6-liter single-overhead-cam V-8. The engine develops 379 horsepower at 5,250 revolutions per minute and 380 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 rpm — which means nothing until you hit the accelerator. Whooossshhh! The car moves from 0 to 60 mph in 4.3 seconds!
Power in the tested 380R Mustang is transmitted to the rear wheels via a five-speed manual, Roush-designed gearshift, which is unlike any manual shifter I’ve used. It is shaped differently from the usual rod types. It is rectangular, broad and slightly curved at the bottom, but narrow and straight at the top, on which sits a gearshift knob so perfectly sculpted it becomes a part of your hand.
Shift throws are short in first and second gears, a tad longer in third, and longer but still snappy in fourth and fifth. Working that lever is like dancing to New Orleans jazz — bop, bop, bop-bop, diddy, diddy-bop.
You can get a four-speed automatic transmission with this one. Not everyone likes to shift. Not everyone likes to dance. But, for me, having an automatic transmission in a 380R Mustang is akin to partying at a convent, where you’re a lot less likely to let the good times roll. What kind of fun is that in a car designed to roll like a demon, or as my songstress college classmate Wanda Rouzan likes to sing, “tear da roof off da sucka”?
What ca n I say? Raising hell is sometimes a good thing. It puts propriety into perspective and, at least momentarily, allows you to surrender to something more enjoyable, exciting, even dangerous.
That is why I’m driving the 380R with its big-whoosh engine, 18-inch-diameter wheels, BFG G-Force KD tires and monster-grip brakes (Roush-altered Alcon brakes — 14-inch rotors with four-piston calipers up front and 13-inch rotors with two-piston calipers in the rear).
It is wonderfully outrageous. It is about the freedom so many of us are afraid to embrace, because doing so involves risks.
But life without risks is life without freedom.
Jack Roush understands that.
Nina Simone certainly did.
Nuts & Bolts
Complaints: All that power, all that speed, so few roads on which to use it. Also, this is a very pricey Mustang.
Praise: The roads and other places, such as Summit Point Raceway in Summit Point, W.Va., where you can enjoy the Roush 380R Mustang to its fullest. This is the muscle car as muscle cars were meant to be.
Ride, acceleration and handling: Oh, baby! This thing can move with speed and grace. It handles excellently in curves. No detectable body sway. Credit the Roush-selected suspension pieces — shocks, struts, springs, lightweight aluminum control arms, and front sway bar.
Head-turning quotient: Every stoplight brought a favorable comment from some man or woman who knew something about Roush Mustangs. “That’s a Roush! A real Roush!” Yeah, you betcha. Somebody’s gotta do this job.
Layout/design: Front-engine, rear-wheel-drive two-door convertible; convertible top has manual-release headers, automatic lower and lift operation. The 380R also comes as a hardtop coupe.
Capacities: Mustang convertibles are notable for their ability to seat four adults comfortably. This one is no different. Trunk can hold two small, crushable bags.
Mileage: With the five-speed manual transmission, the Roush 380R Mustang has an Environmental Protection Agency rating of 17 miles per gallon in the city and 25 mpg on the highway. I averaged 23 mpg in highway travel.
Safety: Dual front air bags, standard anti-lock brakes and precision handling to help you avoid trouble in the first place.
Price: The price is $55,624, including $28,965 for the base Mustang GT and $26,659 for the Roush modifications and equipment.
Purse-strings note: Only 200 Roush 380R Mustang coupes and convertibles are being built for 2003. There are few bargains on this one at the dealership. You might have better luck finding a more favorable price online.