Inspired by Chuck Yeager’s pioneering trip beyond the sound barrier, traveling faster than Mach 1, Ford developed its first Mustang Mach 1 back in 1969. The original version set top-speed and SCCA records and became an integral part of the pony car legend. However it has been 17 years since the last version of the Mach 1 took a bow. After the success of recent specialty models like the Bullitt and Shelby GT350, it was time for a triumphant return.
Leaked, spied, and teased for years, the 2021 Mach 1 is finally official, and it draws on the best engineering developed for the mature S550 platform to deliver performance and styling befitting of the badge’s speedy and stylish legacy.
The all-new Mach 1 adds new levels of style, performance, and excitement to the lineup. It arrives in dealerships in spring of 2021. — Ted Ryan, Archives and Heritage Brand Manager at Ford
“Bold styling, great acceleration, and speed — Mach 1 says it all,” Jim Farley, Ford’s chief operating officer, enthused. “This is one of those special Mustangs that truly brings a smile to the faces of our owners, enthusiasts, and fans — including me — so there’s never been a better time to bring back Mach 1 and have it go global too.”
With the Blue Oval gearing up for other highly anticipated products like the Bronco and the Mustang Mach-E, a new Mach 1 is a significant nod that the company has not forgotten its traditional performance roots.
“At Ford we are gearing up for an exciting summer. Many of us call it the year of Icons, and that includes keeping the Mustang fresh,” Ted Ryan, Archives and Heritage Brand Manager at Ford, told us. “For 2021, one of our most well-known special editions returns to the line-up — the Mach 1. The all-new Mach 1 adds new levels of style, performance, and excitement to the lineup. It arrives in dealerships in spring of 2021.”
The result is a limited-production machine that leans heavily on engineering from its performance predecessors (see Sharing Is Caring sidebar) to hone the S550 platform for sharpened handling and a streetable demeanor. While doing so, the Mustang team paid homage to the Mach 1 legacy with styling nods and performance targets that follow in the tire tracks of its namesake.
“The exterior design and packaging process requires a similar approach to the aerodynamic process. In the case of Mach 1, the styling team understood the importance of achieving the functional requirements in terms of grille openings and aerodynamic flow, while at the same time knowing the DNA that makes up a Mach 1 so as to achieve the appropriate design,” Nick Terzes, Vehicle Integration Supervisor (Mustang) at Ford Motor Company, told us.
That styling homage manifests as a new front fascia, unique grilles, and specific front valance. Paired with a matching rear spoiler, this package delivers 22 percent more downforce than a Mustang GT fitted with the Performance Pack Level 1 option, and that number goes way up when buyers choose the optional Handling Package (see Packaged Performance sidebar).
“The other big part of that is aerodynamics. It is becoming such a huge part of the automotive world — regardless if it is wind-noise, fuel economy, or performance,” Terzes added. “We are always drawing from programs like Mach-E or Ford GT and with Mustang, we are using aero as much as we can to keep pushing performance, more than just power, because it helps give us even more grip when we are on the track. It’s about looking at all the attributes and pushing them to the next level.”
For those who want to push the envelope on the road course, you can elect to elevate the performance of a manual-trans Mach 1 by adding the Handling Package. It’s made apparent by its unique, spider-pattern wheels, which are wider than the base wheels at 19×10.5 inches in front and 19×11 inches out back.
“With that handling package, we are also going to have staggered-fitment wheels with Michelin Cup 2 tires that we used on the Shelby GT350R,” Nick Terzes said. “We will have adjustable strut-top mounts and an additional, larger front splitter, and what we call ‘The Swing’ spoiler from the GT500 with the Gurney flap.”
Not only does this package deliver more grip at the limit, but the addition of the splitter and “The Swing” boosts downforce, as compared with a Performance Pack Level 1 car, by a whopping 150 percent.
Aero definitely played a role in a significant styling decision as well. It has been bestowed with low-gloss magnetic and black accents combined with hood and side-body stripes with reflective surfaces that harken to the history of the Mach 1, but there is something missing that many fans had hoped would return — the Shaker hood scoop.
“It was never a standard feature on the car. It was basically an option on the original ’69 and it became synonymous with the car over time because it was a performance enhancement with that type of powertrain,” Terzes explained. “In our case, when we were engineering this car, the way our induction systems are now, we really don’t have a need for it on this car. So, we utilized other resources to make the car great.”
It is a true case of function over form leading the way. Engineers used computer simulations and real world testing to push the aerodynamic performance envelope to meet the car’s goals, and a hood scoop would have created a disturbance in the force.
“A Shaker was not considered for the 2021 Ford Mustang Mach 1 as it would have interfered with the aerodynamic goals of this vehicle, and would not have provided any additional performance improvement,” Terzes stated. “It didn’t fit with the modern design interpretation the team wanted to take with this latest iteration of the Mach 1.”
Poised to bridge the performance chasm between the 460-horsepower Mustang GT and the 760-horsepower Shelby GT500, the expectation for this version is increased muscle under the hood. Ford chose to deploy a 5.0-liter engine, but if you believe all those rumors, you might have expected a bit more. It turns out the engine combination is pretty familiar if you are into green chase vehicles.
“It’s basically the 480-horsepower engine that we used in the Bullitt. We have tweaked the exhaust slightly on this vehicle and because it is paired with an automatic transmission there are calibration changes there,” Terzes said. “There are some calibration changes with the manual. There are so many systems that interact with the stability control and whatnot, which we always have to tweak the calibration. It is that base engine under the hood, however.”
While 480 horsepower at 7,000 rpm and 420 lb-ft of torque at 4,600 rpm should provide plenty of fun, it will also sustain it on the road course. Thanks to improved airflow working in concert with the engine oil cooler — lifted from the Shelby GT350 — that raises cooling capacity by 50 percent more. Combined with engine oil and transmission oil heat exchangers from the Shelby GT500 along with a rear differential cooler and lower diffuser, also scored from the halo Shelby, this car is ready for repeated laps.
“The Mach 1 includes cooling enhancements for each powertrain system,” Terzes said. “These enhancements include both hardware — in the form of additional or modified heat exchangers — as well as aerodynamic optimization. This was all done to ensure additional track capability and durability and was tested to our internal Ford standards.”
Perhaps most intriguing about the Mach 1 is it also bridges another performance gap by offering both automatic and manual transmission options. The self-shifter is the popular SelectShift 10-speed, known in our circles as the 10R80, benefitting from a second air-to-oil cooler that enhances cooling capacity by 75 percent. While an auto option is intriguing, so is the first pairing of Tremec’s 3160 six-speed manual with Ford’s effortless electronic rev-matching feature.
It seems we weren’t alone in wishing for these two offerings, but they will make deciding which configuration to order more challenging. Depending on your performance predilections, the choice becomes clearer. For the corner-carving crowd, however, it is worth noting that the optional Handling Package is only offered on manual-transmission Mach 1s.
“At this time we have not had the opportunity to complete all of our performance data gathering tests, so we do not have enough information right now to make a determination as to which transmission is the top performer overall,” Terzes offered. “With that being said, the six-speed manual transmission will generally deliver slightly quicker times on a road course — and a higher top speed overall — while a Mach 1 equipped with the optional 10-speed automatic will generally offer quicker acceleration times (0-60 mph, quarter mile).”
Sharing is Caring
While the 2021 Mach 1 is a mainstream Mustang product, it borrows generously from the highest performing Ford Performance vehicles based on the S550 platform thus far, namely the Shelby GT350 and GT500.
“This project was a totally intentionally designed Mach 1 from the ground-up — with lots of Mach 1-only specific designs, parts, and tuning. One of the great things about Mustang is the communication and friendly competition between the core Mustang team and the Ford Performance team,” Terzes shared. “There is a lot of knowledge, technology and part sharing that goes on because we all have the same goal, which is to constantly push the boundaries of performance of the platform and offer tremendous value to the customer.”
Here are the parts borrowed from previous models:
Performance Pack Level 2
- Brake Booster
- Brembo six-piston front brakes
- Intake manifold
- Oil filter adapter
- Engine oil cooler system
- Tremec 3160 six-speed manual
- Incandescent park/turn lamps
- Front subframe and rear subframe with stiffer bushings
- Tire fitment (Handling Package only)
- Rear axle cooling system
- Rear toe-link
- Rear tire spats and lower diffuser
- Swing spoiler in low-gloss Magnetic with Gurney flap (Handling Package only)
“One of the great things about Mustang is that people who want to work on it gravitate to it. Our vehicle dynamics, vehicle engineering, and many of the powertrain members have been on the team for a very long time. So they have a lot of experience with the platform,” Terzes explained. “Like anything else with engineers, we are never done, we just run out of time. So in our back pockets we always have the next thing we want to do. If we want a slight increase in spring rate or try this bar, that kind of thing.”
While many parts came from off the shelf, the team engineered new parts and calibrations to make the whole package come together as a cohesive performer.
“Additionally, there are times when parts are engineered and come out first on one product, yet we already have plans to use those same parts on future cars as well,” he added. “It helps us get support and approval to design and engineer new components when we can prove how versatile they can be.”
“Many of the same team members that delivered the 2012 Boss 302, 2019 Bullitt, and various other performance package Mustangs developed the chassis for our new Mach 1,” Terzes said. “They took all of the learnings from those programs to help influence and ultimately improve the capability of the Mach 1.”
Reading the tea leaves, the Mach 1 might not be the last specialty variant we see on this platform, but it may well be one of the most intriguing mainstream offerings thus far. With pricing likely to fall between a Performance Pack-equipped Mustang GT and a Shelby GT500, it will definitely be reasonably attainable when it arrives in North American dealerships next spring, and likely other parts of the world thereafter.
“This is going to be really special car,” Terzes added. “We touched basically every element of the car — functionally and aesthetically — and it is very much living up to the Mach 1 name.”