Before the current version of the Ford Mustang entered Supercars in 2019, the Blue Oval’s iconic pony car had a history in the Australian Touring Car Championship dating back to the 1960s.
We look back at the history of the Mustang in the championship in SupercarXtra Magazine issue #125, celebrating the iconic cars of Australian touring cars.
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When the sixth generation of Ford’s iconic Mustang went on sale in Australia in 2015 as a fully imported, right-hand-drive showroom model, it represented the obvious replacement for the all-Australian Ford Falcon in Supercars when the latter went out of production in late 2016.
When the Mustang eventually replaced the Falcon as Ford’s front-line weapon in Australia’s premier tin-top racing category in 2019, it was history repeating itself for the third time.
Touring car great Stormin’ Norm Beechey was the first driver to blood the mighty Ford Mustang in Australia, and it was a stunning debut, racing away to a first-up win and new lap record in his freshly imported 1964 model Hardtop at Melbourne’s Calder Park in January 1965.
Beechey won the single-race Australian Touring Car Championship decider in 1965, the start of a dominant run for the Mustang. The Mustang won five championships in a row between 1965 and 1969, one for Beechey and four for Ian Geoghegan.
Even into the 1970s, with more competition from Holden and Chevrolet, Allan Moffat’s 1969 Boss 302 Trans-Am, which is widely regarded as the most famous and desirable Australian race car of all, was a regular contender.
A change in the touring car rules for 1973 saw the creation of a new class called ‘Production Touring – Group C’, which in effect combined the old Series Production and Improved Production classes into one new category. As these cars were to compete for the championship, the Mustang was consigned to the Sports Sedan ranks.
Ford fans expecting a repeat of the Mustang’s 1960s dominance when the pony car returned in the 1980s were to be disappointed. The switch from home-grown Group C to the FIA’s international Group A rules in 1985 may have opened the doors to more makes and models from overseas, but it did nothing to help Australian cars.
Ford Australia found itself in a similar situation to the mid-1960s as it had nothing in its Falcon line-up that could be remotely competitive. So reigning champion Dick Johnson and other Ford loyalists were realistically left with the choice of two imports – the UK’s 2.8-litre V6-powered Sierra XR4i or the 4.9-litre (302ci) V8 Mustang from the USA.
On paper the Mustang was the more practical choice given that Eric Zakowski’s Zakspeed team in Germany had already homologated and built Mustang GTs for European Group A touring car racing in 1983. And Australian teams were more familiar with the Mustang’s venerable small-block Windsor V8 and muscle-car mechanicals. Johnson purchased two of the Zakspeed-built Mustangs in 1984 with a view to finishing what Zakowski’s team had started by making the compact V8 American coupe into a race winner.
However, the Mustang was underpowered and overweight. Under Group A rules, the Ford V8’s 4942cc engine capacity required a hefty minimum vehicle weight of 1325kg, but like the Commodore an 11-inch tyre was the widest that could be stuffed under the standard wheel arches.
The Mustang’s second era failed to provide the overwhelming success and excitement of the first, thanks largely to Group A’s restrictive rules and Ford’s lack of interest in developing the car.
Fortunately, when the Mustang replaced the Australian Falcon in Australian touring cars for a third time, it didn’t face the same handicaps that it did under Group A. Supercars’ more equitable technical rules, based on engine, chassis and aerodynamic parity for all makes and models, saw a revival of the Mustang magic of the 1960s.
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