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Story by Jack Baruth, photographs by Dave Everest
Reader beware: there won’t be a single reference to “burnouts” in this review. There won’t be any photos of a grinning journalist smokin’ the back tires or throwing up a set of “rock horns”. We won’t talk about 0-60 or quarter-mile times, Woodward Avenue, nineteen-sixty-four, or Steve McQueen. The words “Camaro” and “Challenger” will appear exactly once, and you just saw the one time they’ll appear. Everybody knows what the Mustang can do; let’s talk about what it traditionally can’t do.
I’d had a plan, and the plan was good. We would take the 2010 Mustang to Virginia International Raceway and let it run free against the Porsches, Nissans, and Corvettes which litter VIR’s paddock like a batch of giant Hot Wheels thrown to the ground by an angry god. We’d collect some data and place the 4.6-liter GT squarely where it belongs in the pantheon of mid-priced track rats. Good plan? Heck, it was a great plan, and it’s straight out of the usual Speed:Sport:Life playbook. But you know what happens to the best-laid plans of mice and men. The East Coast fell beneath a sudden blizzard. VIR canceled our two days on-site and sent us back home empty-handed. We knew we’d only have one chance to test this car at speed before it arrived at your local dealership. Time for Plan B. Which is to say, time to make a Plan B.
Ohio’s Hocking Hills area, dubbed the “Hockingheim” years ago by the once-brave souls at Car and Driver, happens to be right in my backyard. During the off-season weekdays, it’s possible to spend hours on the twisty, treacherous hill roads without seeing another driver. I’ve run up the Route 374 hill to Cantwell Cliffs in my Porsche 911 dozens of times, the siren song of a nearly unmuffled flat-six at the top of fourth gear bouncing off the ice-lined rock faces and down the long, sheer dropoffs just inches from the road’s gravel-strewn edge. It would be a great substitute test — for something besides a ‘Stang.
The Hockingheim ain’t ponycar-friendly, you see. Up here, traction trumps torque, visibility is worth more than style, and persistent understeer will send you to an early grave. We brought a C****o here a few years back; it took its thoroughly surprised SCCA-regional-champ driver off the road at a ninety-degree angle. The Hills have little patience for big, flashy Americans of any kind. This is rally-rep territory, plain and simple. And with ambient temperatures hovering at eighteen degrees Fahrenheit, we could expect everything from glare ice around blind corners to two-inch-deep pools of rock salt in the braking zones. We knew our “chase car” — a new-for-2010, all-wheel-drive Fusion Sport V6 — would shine under these conditions, but the Mustang? It was a setup for failure.