Mustang V-6 vs. yesterday's V-8 5.0 GT:
A dead heat
By Eric Peters
for immediate release

Here's an interesting comparo: One of the hottest performance cars of the 1980s (and early 1990s) was the Ford Mustang LX and GT equipped with the 5-liter "HO" V-8 -- with a factory rating of between 200 and 225-hp. It was capable of reaching 60-mph in about 6.2-8-seconds or so -- depending on the year and whether the car had a manual or automatic transmission. Quarter mile times were typically in the low-mid 15-second range -- again, depending upon the particular year and whether the car had a manual or a (slower) automatic transmission. Top speed was 130-plus.

Those were pretty good numbers as recently as five years ago; ten years ago -- they were serious stuff.


Now consider the 2006 Mustang. The base V-6 Mustang -- not the V-8 equipped GT.

It comes equipped with a single overhead cam (SOHC) 4-liter V-6 that's rated at 210-hp -- which is more peak horsepower than the 5-liter V-8 GT of the early/mid-1980s -- and only 10 or 15 less than the more powerful late 1980's-era V-8 equipped GT and LX "Five-Oh." (Heck, the new 4-liter V-6 is only slightly less potent than the 4.6 liter V-8 used in the GT from 1994 to 2004.)

Now check the performance stats of the "base" '06 V-6 Mustang:

It can nail 60-mph in 6.9 seconds or less -- and runs the quarter in 15.3 seconds, with a top speed of around 130-mph. This means the humdrum, grocery-getter version of the new Mustang is about as quick and fast as the hot V-8 GTs of the Reagan, Bush I and Clinton years.

The "base" 'V-6 Mustang also comes with heavy-duty five-lugs hubs (remember the cheesy, Pinto-style four-lug hubs on the '80s-era Mustang V-8s?), 4-wheel disc brakes and wide 16x7-inch alloy wheels with meaty 60-series rubber on them -- again, equipment as good or better than what you used to get in a top-of-the-line "performance" model GT. (In addition to this performance hardware, the base car also comes equipped with AC, a 120-watt AM/FM stereo with CD player and full gauges -- including a tachometer and "adjustable" backlighting that changes from red to orange to blue to yellow/white).

All of this is cause for rejoicing; power is back -- and with a vengeance. The '06 Mustang's 210-hp would have been considered serious goods within recent memory -- and the only reason the collective peanut gallery hasn't risen to applaud is that the top-of-the-line GT now offers an incredible 300-hp -- a full 125-hp more than the 1982 "Boss" 5.0 (remember?) that heralded the return of powerful, fun-to-drive cars after a decade of chintzy K-cars and 14-mpg "turbo Trans-Ams" that were slower than a modern minivan.

What's really neat about the V-6 Mustang, however, is not just its impressive array of as-delivered equipment. Rather, it is the car's even more impressive potential as a serious street sleeper for first-time enthusiast buyers.

Everyone knows the V-8 GT is fast. You see the badge, the dual outlet exhausts -- and you know the car can move. But when a pokey little base V-6 pulls up beside you at the light, it's a different story -- right?

And yet, with a few well-chosen modifications, one could bump up the standard car's power to GT levels (or close) and have a stealth fighter capable of running nearly as hard (if not harder) but which would run under the radar of both cops and the insurance man. A simple bolt-on $400 nitrous oxide kit would result in a 100-150-hp surge at the touch of the magic button -- more than enough to shank a stock V-8 GT. A free-flowing intake and exhaust would probably give you 220-240-hp and a very credible street machine -- especially if you were to change the stock rear gears to a performance 3.50 or higher set. All that could be done for less than $2,500 (the intake and exhaust mods by themselves for considerably less). A bolt-on supercharger would cost maybe $2,500 or so -- but it would give you another 50-75-hp, about the same as the GT's 4.6 liter V-8 -- and for a whole lot less money.

Remember: You've got about $5,600 to play with, all else being equal -- the price difference between a base V-6 Mustang vs. the cost of a base V-8 GT. Not to mention the peripheral costs differences, such as taxes, insurance and fuel (the V-8 is naturally the thirstier engine).

You could build yourself a fun, fast -- and very unique -- modified V-6 coupe for just over $20k -- substantially less than you'd pay to get into a bone stock new GT. One that would be quicker and faster (and handle/brake better) than the V-8 5.0s of the recent past, too.

This is no slam of the new Mustang GT -- an absolutely superb latter-day American performance car that does the best job yet of any modern car in terms of recapturing the feel and thrill of driving a rumbly, classic-era V-8 Mustang. I'm just pointing out the tantalizing possibilities of the less-expensive, much more accessible V-6 and what might be done with it.

As great a car as the new GT is, it's hard for an 18-25 year-old to come up with the $25k for one -- not to mention the killer insurance premiums that come along for the ride. The V-8 GT is a great car for the older guy who has the shekels -- and has passed by the insurance companies' "fire line" of 30 and over, when premiums start to get more reasonable.

But the V-6 'Stang offers a way for the young guy (or gal) to get into a pretty formidable performance car right out out of the box -- one that can be tweaked and tuned to deliver a very GT-like driving experience -- without emptying the wallet or painting a "rape me" sign on the back of its owner for the insurance companies to draw a bead on.

As Bill and Ted might put, we live in excellent times!