And so it begins...
Some may think it's a bit odd to buy a brand new car and then take it to pieces and rebuild it, simply because - well, I suppose it is :) First, a bit of background that may help to explain. I started to build cars, (yes, build not modify) back in 2000 when some buddies of mine and I rebuilt an old kitcar for use at trackdays. It didn't take long for the building bug to bite and I decided to build a car from scratch - well, almost as I bought a pre-fabricated chassis. The first car I built was a Lotus Seven clone called a 'Locost' (aee relevant build website here: http://www.locost-racing.com which I raced for a few years (and did pretty well too :). But racing cars takes a huge amount of commitment in terms of both time and money and so I decided to hang up my overalls for a while and set about building a road car instead - and what a car that would turn out to be!
In mid-2002, I took the plunge and ordered an Ultima GTR - http://www.ultima-gtr.info, literally a racecar for the road. My intention was to make it the most powerful, best build example of the marque and so I opted to fit a .383 (6.3L) Supercharged Small Block Chevy engine to it - the first time one had been fitted to a GTR. The results were astonishing, with over 630hp and 600 ft/lbs of torque in a package that weighed about a ton. Hugely capable, hugely powerful and hugely fast, it was also fairly compromised as a road car as I'd built it to be too track focussed, so I took the decision in late 2004 to sell the car. The new owner managed to keep it for a month before writing it off! A sad, sad day, but in a way, I was relieved to know that no-one could ever drive it again. A goliath of a car.
So late 2004 I pondered my next move. My wife was pregnant by this point, so the thought of buying a more practical car became appealing. I looked around at all the so-called 'supercar' marques, Ferrari, Porsche, Lamborghini, but what struck me most was not so much the cost of purchasing them, but that the build quality was pretty poor for the money not to mention the lacklustre performance! Pound for pound (or rather bhp) the Ultima was unbeatable in this regard. In short, I was a bit stumped. However, around this time, the Ultima factory were back in touch keen to sell me another 'project' as the GTR-S build website had proved to be immensely popular, which is all free marketing for them ;) So, after some negotiations, a deal was put together and somehow they convinced me to build the other model in their line-up, an Ultima Can-Am - http://www.ultima-canam.info. Having gone for the all-out power/track hybrid for the GTR, I decided to make the Can-Am as road friendly as possible. Creature comforts that we take for granted in 'normal' cars (central locking, efficient aricon, in-car-entertainment etc.) were a bit lacking in the Ultima, so I decided to build a 'supercar' that you really could live with everyday. So between 2004 and 2006 I built the car and it was a great success. As a practical proposition it was light years ahead of the GTR, but it was still pretty uncompromising - especially if you needed to take more than 1 passenger!
2005 was significant for two reasons. Firstly, my wife brought our son into the world and secondly - Ford launched the Mustang :) As soon as I saw the Mustang I knew it was the car for me - I was instantly hooked! Frustratingly, I was half way through building the Can-Am, a process that took a good deal longer than I'd anticipated - that's having kids for you! :) So it was an odd feeling building a car that I knew I'd have to sell fairly promptly as I just couldn't face leaving my wife and son (who are both bona fide petrolheads - or gearheads as they say in the US) home whilst I was off out enjoying the car. The Can-Am was finished in 2006 and was sold at the end of the year. As soon as the money hit my account I had an order in for a Mustang :)
In a way, the 2 year wait from the launch of the 'Stang was beneficial as the '07 model was launched and the first of the limited editions became available - the California Special. I had been looking at a Saleen, but after seeing a few in the metal, decided that the styling wasn't quite to my taste - I preferred the modern-retro looks of the standard car.....but then I saw the Cali Special during a visit to see family in Houston. I knew from that moment in the carlot at Gullo Houston Tx, that this was the car for me :) In fact, we saw it before I'd sold the Can-Am and I was sorely tempted to go ahead and order it then and there. But sense prevailed and I waited to complete the sale of the Can-Am before committing to the 'Stang.
So late December, I found myself calling importers (having considered and discounted the self import route - in retrospect, I'd probably bring it over myself if I did it again) to get prices and source a suitable car. Actually finding the 'right' spec. proved to be a challenge as I wanted some options that you found on 'fully loaded' cars without others that would inevitably be fitted. The spec I wanted was as follows:
However, I didn't want the Sirrius satellite radio option as it doesn't work in the UK and you have to have an unsightly gps received mounted on the bootlid. I also didn't want a 3.55 ratio diff (though in retrospect this would be ok as the 3.31 diff which is standard in the '07+ manual GTs is VERY long) which was usually fitted even though it's an option. I didn't want the active anti-theft as UK insurers usually want a Thatcham Cat 1 alarm/immobilser, so I'd have to remove it which could be risky given the cars reputation for complex electronic systems (the GT has a CAN BUS network that controls/monitors the electrical systems). So finding a car with the right spec. for me proved tougher than I thought.
However, after a couple of false starts, a suitable car was found albeit without the GT Appearance pack which the dealer could fit :) The deposit was paid and I was faced with 8-12 long weeks of waiting to receive it. Man - that time DRAAAAAGGED :)
So after lots of emails, phonecalls and general chasing, my car finally made it to the UK! The importer prepared and put it through the SVA (Single Vehicle Approval) test which is required in the UK to register the car on the road. The lights have to be modified for this test, with the rear units changed for euro-spec lenses. Indicator (turn signal) side repeaters are added (Ford items as seen on the euro spec Focus etc.) and a rear fog light function added which is operable from a switch under the dash near the driver's knee.
The final bits of paperwork were sorted out and moneys paid and after waiting for what seemed like forever, I collected the car from the importer on the 10th March :)
Well, there's not mistaking the cars presence on the road, it's BIG car. The bulging bonnet gives an impression of that 4.6l V8 beneath :) Handling is remarkably benign. It's a misconception that american cars all handle like water beds, the ride isn't soft, it's supple but when pushing on it's easy to 'confuse' the suspension. The live axle backend gets some flak - from people who've never driven a live axled car, let alone a Mustang it has to be said! - but it's unjustified. The 3-link rear performs admirably, but coming from the Ultimas and racecars, I'd like the car to be more commuinicative; it feels too remote as standard. One surprise was noise from the suspension, best described as a 'clonk' when going over bumpy parts of road/potholes etc. Nothing dramatic, but I quickly realised that in order to reduce NVH (Noise Vibration Harshness) levels, there was some seriously soft bushes installed as stock! These would HAVE to go! :)
The engine pulls very well and performs admirably as a GT car in the truest sense - a Grand Tourer. However, I wanted some fire and brimstone from the beast! This needs addressing :) The stock exhaust system doesn't sound too bad, but is predictably quiet (though I was told by onlookers that they could hear me coming from a way off?). The gearchange is positive and easily engaged. There's a bit of woolyness in the feel of the shifter, but it's pretty damn good as standard. A consequence of the 3.31 diff. is very LONG gearing. Great for economy and loping along motorways at speed, but means that acceleration isn't the most sprightly at the moment. That said, I'd happily trade the extra economy and GT ability against 0-60 times. Besides, that's why there's 5 gears in the transmission, not 1 :)
Moving to the interior, again, US cars have a reputation for being plastic fantastic. Yes, it's plastic (but so's every European car I can think of and why journalists insist on talking about the 'quality' of plastic is beyond me - plastic is plastic ffs!), but it seems pretty hard wearing and screwed (well, clipped) together. No squeaks or rattles even over rough roads, testamend to chassis stiffness and the build of the interior. Controls and switchgear are all solid, functional items and are pleasant to use. The dash info display is great and provides useful information such as tank range, economy data etc. The seats are probably some of the best I've sat in, remaining comfortable even after several hours in the car. Given that a 'short' journey in the US is a very long one by UK standards, this comes as little surprise. There are some cheap touches, but these will be easily rectified with the forthcoming modifications.
The standard Shaker 500 system is more than adequate unless you're a complete mosh-pit head. Great sounds and functionality. You can't get all radio frequencies in the UK, but my usual stations are available so no biggie. There is an aux input for an iPod/MP3 player in the centre console along with a power outlet, so plugging in my iPod to get days and days worth of tunes is a cinch.
The interior is roomy too. The electrically controlled/heated seats as part of the comfort group option are great to use and have lots of adjustment. Rear seat passengers can also sit comfortably and, more importantly for us, a child seat fits in with ease and the car comes with seat anchor points much like iso-fix.
The boot (trunk) is a good size, though it should be noted that the Shaker 1000W option means you have a big subwoofer in it which eats up some space. The seats split fold for longer items that you wish to stow in the boot, but skis may be pushing it ;)
So, in conclusion, the stock Mustang GT is a great car. You could live happily with this car exactly as it rolled off the production line. However, to make this California Special even more 'Special', some aftermarket modification is required :)
On to the modifications