THE HORSE IS back — galloping across the grille of a Ford Mustangcar, exactly where it belongs.

The horse was dropped in 1979, when it was replaced, appropriatelyenough, by Ford’s corporate logo. The logo then symbolized what car andcompany had become — gutless marketing devices. It didn’t help mattersthat quality was missing, too.

Looking at photos of the ’79 Mustang frays the nerves. That car wasso far removed from the 1964 original, so pathetically linear inexecution, it’s hard to believe that both cars came from the samecompany.

But seeing and driving the 1994 Mustang gives rise to differentemotions. There is joy and excitement here; and it’s more than somenostalgic, generational thing.

The new Mustang is as much of a wowmobile as the first model. In nosmall measure, its appeal is that it’s intrinsically U.S.A. American.

There is nothing Japanese generic about the ’94 Mustang, nothing”Eurostyle.” The new Mustang is from the country that gave you rock ‘n’roll. But unlike the Canadian-built Pontiac Firebird and ChevroletCamaro, it’s assembled in this country, too.

I like that; and I like being able to like it without having to givesome goofy excuse for goofy design, quality or performance.

The horse is back, folks, equipped with everything it needs to run –and to kick the tails of the competition, foreign and domestic.

Background: The first Mustang was introduced April 17, 1964, at theNew York World’s Fair. Its fresh, aggressive, youthful styling set itapart from the fogymobiles of the era. It became an instant hit — withan astounding 417,000 sales during its first 12 months on the market.

The 1994 Mustang promises to be just as popular, though not inabsolute numbers. Ford was competing against two major rivals in 1964.Thirty-nine companies are selling cars in the United States today.

To move ahead of that pack, the new Mustang has got to have somethingspecial — and it does.

It has a new, standard 3.8-liter, 145-horsepower V-6 engine. Thefour-cylinder Mustangs have been dumped. Four-wheel disc brakes arestandard, as are dual-front air bags, improved handling and steering(thanks to a stiffer-than-ever body), and a sports steering wheel with– thanky! thanky! — a center horn.

The exterior is a complete workover. It’s aerodynamic; but it hassome fun styling cues, such as the side “C-scoops” reminiscent of thefirst Mustangs. Also redone is the interior, with its dual-cockpitstyling and two comfortable rear seats.

The Mustang is available as a two-door coupe or two-door convertiblein base or GT form. The standard V-6 engine is rated 145 horsepower at4,000 rpm with a maximum torque of 215 foot-pounds at 2,500 rpm. The GTgets the carryover (from 1993 and previous years) 5-liter V-8 rated 215horsepower at 4,200 rpm, with a maximum torque of 285 foot-pounds at3,400 rpm. A wilder-than-thou 240-horsepower V-8 Mustang Cobra isscheduled to go on sale in spring 1994. A five-speed manualtransmission is standard on all new Mustangs. Four-speed automatics areoptional, as are anti-lock brakes. And the Mustang is still rear-wheeldrive.

Complaints: I drove all of the new Mustangs under controlled,test-track conditions. There was little to complain about. Real-worldconditions could produce some gripes — and a few traffic tickets.

Praise: The Mustang replaces the Camaro/Firebird as my favorite ponycar. Reason: The Mustang is tighter, more manageable. It also has a moreembracing personality. The Camaro/Firebird cars are so self-consciouslymacho, they border on tumescent arrogance.

Head-turning quotient: The Mustang turns heads so fast, it causeswhiplash.

Ride, acceleration and handling: Enough oomph, zip and corneringability in the base V-6 Mustang to please most normal drivers. Enough ofthe same in the V-8 GT to satisfy more demanding sorts. Excellentdry-road braking without the anti-lock system. Better wet-road brakingwith t he anti-lock system in place.

Sound system: I tested the Mustang’s top-line, eight-speaker Mach 460sound system with MiniDisc. Unbelievably good!

Mileage: In the base V-6 Mustang, about 27 to the gallon (15.4-gallontank, estimated 405-mile range on usable volume of regular unleaded),running driver-only on test track at arrestable speeds.

Price: Estimated base prices on the 1994 Mustangs range from $10,500for the standard V-6 model to $22,600 for the V-8 GT. Retail anddealer-invoice prices are not firm at this writing. The cars go on saleDec. 27.

Purse-strings note: Reasonably well-equipped Mustangs will beavailable in the $14,000 range.

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