Australian Made: Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

Take a regular Mustang GT and feed it a supercharger, tweaked suspension, exhaust and you end up with a very Australian Mustang. Meet the Mustang R-Spec.

Let me put my cards on the table right from the get-go…very few other vehicles have ever gotten under my skin in quite the same way this Mustang R-Spec did. There’s no one thing that captivated me, rather it was, well, everything about it.

Now I’ve driven plenty of Mustangs in my time but the Mustang R-Spec that I climbed into felt different, but maybe that was all just in my head. Maybe it was because the R-Spec was limited to just 500 units and that I knew 499 of them had already been sold…that I was driving the last available Mustang R-Spec in the country. Although, by the time you read this it won’t be…see, once I gave the keys back to Ford it was going to be sent off to its new owner. Sigh.

Don’t like reading? Watch our drive review instead…

Maybe it was because of the subtle but effective re-working of the Mustang’s signature looks by Aussie designers that I fell for, or the slightly lower ride, or the gaping 3.0-inch exhaust, or the sound, the supercharger or the fact it was built on the same line as the old Ford Falcon. RIP. Maybe it was all of that and more.

See the Mustang R-Spec is a very Australian story. Let me explain.

Despite Australia being one of the world’s biggest markets for the Mustang, Ford US never planned on exporting its Shelby variants. And no amount of begging and yelling from Australia could change that. So, spotting an opportunity, Ford Australia partnered with one of the country’s best known Mustang supercharging mobs, Herrod Performance, and came up with its own supercharged Mustang.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

We’ll get into the details shortly but it’s worth exploring Australia’s love affair with the Mustang because it goes right back to the very beginning. Moments after the Mustang was launched in the US (1964), Australia got its hands on the thing (1965) and while it was more expensive than the Falcon of the time ($750 more) it was only marginally so, and it was a much better car. Better suspension, better engine and better transmission…and it looked better too.

And racing drivers immediately fell under its charm with Norm Beechey taking out the Australian Touring Car Championship in a Mustang in 1965, with Ian ‘Pete’ Geohegan then winning four touring car championships on the run behind the wheel of a Mustang.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

Fast forward to now and the Mustang is, once again, back in the spotlight in motorsport, dominating Supercar racing in Australia. And we can’t get enough of the Mustang; Australian’s buy stacks of the things helping the Mustang to become the best-selling sports car on the planet just about every year since it was launched in 2016. Indeed, this locally-developed R-Spec had almost entirely sold out by the time it was actually launched with our test car, number 500 of 500 being the last one for sale…only by the time you read this it will already have been bought too.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

In Twister Orange, the Mustang R- Spec is a stunner but the changes are only fairly subtle. There are gloss black badges, and surrounds, a deeper valance and larger air intake, as well as the exclusive alloy wheels and the so-called Over the Top stripes.

It really does look both muscular and fast…in fact, Ford said it wanted the design changes to make the Mustang look fast standing still and I reckon they’ve achieved that.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

On the inside, it’s all very Mustang with the main, noticeable change, being the build plate on the dashboard. And, while we often criticise hotter vehicles for not making more of their difference, I don’t think there’s any need for the R-Spec to be wildly different from the rest of the range on the inside.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

There’s a real sense of sitting down inside the guts of the Mustang when you slide in behind the wheel but it isn’t awkward to get into or out of, and all of the controls, to use a well work journalistic cliche, fall easily to hand. My only gripe is that the handbrake is over on the left-hand side, meaning it’s easy to forget to apply it, but it’s not the only left-hand-drive-first vehicle to have that issue.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review
Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

There are plenty of great vehicle tuning houses in Australia but in partnering with Herrod Performance, Ford Australia gained access to a team that’s supercharged hundreds and maybe thousands of Ford Mustangs since the latest-generation started lobbing here.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

Obviously, just whacking on a set of new badges or tuning the ride and handling was never going to be enough, so Ford settled on supercharging. Under the bonnet is a Ford Performance (developed in partnership with Roush Performance) roots-type supercharger with a 2.65L capacity and running 12PSI boost. To ensure the engine keeps its cool under pressure, a new aluminium high efficiency intercooler and full-face radiator have been installed, fed by the larger front air intake specific to R-Spec. The fuel injectors are bigger, it gets a unique engine calibration, and a new Herrod-designed 3.0-inch exhaust.

That means, where the regular Mustang GT makes around 339kW and 556Nm of torque the R-Spec makes 522kW and 800Nm of torque. All of this gets to the road via a six-speed manual transmission and the rear wheels.

Speaking of the rear wheels, the R-Spec features black 19-inch Ford Performance alloy wheels measuring 9.5-inches at the front and 10-inches at the rear, an increase of 0.5mm for both compared with the GT. And those wheels are wrapped in staggered Michelin Pilot Sport Cup 2 tyres.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

The whole thing sits 20mm lower than a Mustang GT (new Ford Performance springs) and bigger adjustable stabiliser bars have been fitted. The adjustable dampers (MagneRide in Ford speak) were tweaked too to account for the 20mm lower ride height.

Put your foot down and despite all of the power and torque it doesn’t punch you in the face with its acceleration. Rather it accumulates speed, as if the horizon is being reeled in…and rapidly. It just feels so strong, no matter the gear you’re in. And the noise that accompanies it thanks to the bigger Herrod Performance exhaust system is intoxicating. More so than the Mustang GT, it’s the noise your ears tell you you should be hearing when driving a muscle car.

Now, muscle cars have a well-earned reputation for being one trick ponies. The claim is they’re usually great in a straight line but they fall over when you ask them to turn a corner (read: hang the back end out and smoke the rear bags). And while this R-Spec will easily smoke its back tyres if you want, it’s also scalpel sharp with a ride and handling tune that’s easily one of the best I’ve ever experienced. True, tip into a corner and the R-Spec tucks in with the sort of grip and mid-corner balance you don’t expect from a big-power brute like this.

This Mustang R-Spec is a vehicle that Australian car enthusiasts should be very proud of. And one that Ford Australia should get a pat on the back for producing. There’s nothing about the car that feels like an afterthought; it feels totally and 100% factory and that’s essentially because it is. Sure, it was developed in partnership with Herrod Performance but that’s what Ford US does too, it finds the best in the business and works with it to make its vehicles better.

So, as I said at the beginning of this yarn, the Mustang R-Spec got right under my skin. In the nearly two weeks I was driving the thing it rained every single day except for one, yet that didn’t stop me finding excuses to drive it. It was parked outside my office and I would stare at it out the window for ages like a loon.

I still can’t put my finger on just what it was about the R-Spec that so captivated me but it did and editing the video you see hereabouts I genuinely missed the thing.

With no local car making anymore, projects like this R-Spec and the tuning work that homegrown mobs like Herrod Performance and Harrop Engineering do should be applauded.

There’s no point in saying whether you should or shouldn’t consider buying an R-Spec because you can’t. They’ve all been sold. In the last 20 years of writing about cars, I’ve driven some amazing machines and had some unforgettable experiences, like cruising around Tuscany in a Rolls-Royce Phantom Drophead Coupe, but I found the R-Spec so intoxicating that my week running around in the Mustang R-Spec will forever sit inside my Top 5 motoring experiences. The end.

Ford Mustang R-Spec Review

Ford Mustang R-Spec Specifications

Warranty:five-years, unlimited kilometres
Engine:5.0-litre supercharged V8
Power:522kW at 7250rpm
Torque:800Nm at (not stated)
Transmission:six-speed manual
Dimensions:4789mm (L); 1916mm (W); 1357 (H); 2720mm (WB)
Fuel Tank:61 litres
Thirst:14L/100km (claimed combined)

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Isaac Bober has been writing about cars and 4x4s for more than 20 years, has worked on some of the country's biggest motoring magazines (remember what they were?), and launched Practical Motoring. Now he's back, back again... to share dad jokes and much more.