Feature: Ford Mustang GT to Bonneville
You can forget about following the speed limits on this route. At least I did, and I hope the red, white and blue isn't reading this. I confess I wasn't a model tourist on this road trip, but with this much epic-ness all around, I did tend to get a bit overawed and a bit over the limit! Forgive me my transgressions, but I did make sure I wasn't a nuisance nor was I endangering any other road users. Also take this on advisement all those who might want to follow in my footsteps, be careful and be warned! Drive responsibly!
Now that I'm done preaching, don't forget to exercise your feet from time to time if you intend to follow my tread marks. The roads in the western parts of the USA are long. They extend for hundreds of kilometres in a straight line and often, you will find yourself alone. So move your toes unless you want them to go numb. And specifically press your feet down, especially the right foot. It helps the blood rush from your toes to the brain. There's more exercise to be had in that driver's seat than if you walked the entire way. As you push your right foot down, expand your lungs or the weight of the g forces this car generates will crush your thoracic cavity. I like the Mustang GT, it keeps you fit! And California, Nevada and Utah offer plenty of room to exercise in.
My story however begins in Los Angeles. Getting straight out of my flight, I picked up the Mustang GT 500 from Wally Park, a premium multi-storey car park just a few kilometres away from the airport. There were more Porsches and Lamborghinis parked in that lot than in any sportscar showroom anywhere in the world! It's a little intimidating to see everyone drive in or out of Wally Park in cars that are exotic. But then the valet rolled up in a metallic ruby red Mustang GT, a low thrum from the pipes screaming for attention. The Mustang, let me tell you, never felt out of place in that environment. The delicious exhaust burble, almost as if a thick broth were on a simmer. Pop...pop...bubble...pop, got most heads in that parking lot turning towards it! I even got a thumbs up before I could leave the parking lot! Ooh...this road trip was going to be interesting.
The Ford Mustang GT is the V8 powered pony, and is where serious firepower for the V8 range starts. Above the GT reside the Shelby GT350 & R versions and below it a V6 and 2.3-litre EcoBoost powered variant. The GT, which will be coming to India sometime later this year, displaces 5.0-litres and makes a satisfying 447PS with an earth stopping 542Nm of max torque. It may be a bit too much on Indian roads but here in the USA, it's just perfect! India is expected to get the automatic, but to my good fortune, I had the 6-speed Getrag manual. I dove into the cabin, evil glint in the eye, lots of hand rubbing and heart beating faster than the 6,500rpm redline.
The massive engine bay envelops the longitudinally positioned V8 and shows off a strut brace which comes quite handy in this car especially if you try cornering hard
From Los Angeles I hit I-15 which is the direct and easiest route to get to Las Vegas. It's also the quickest which I was most appreciative about since I'd just gotten off a 24 hour flight from Mumbai to Los Angeles via Dubai. Having left Los Angeles late in the day, I only managed to hit Vegas well after sundown. It's a five hour drive, but extends when you have to keep stopping to refuel the Mustang GT. The V8 is thirsty and yet at a steady 110kmph you can get around 10.5kmpl. Stretch your right foot further south when it's on the gas pedal and you can easily see it drop to under 5kmpl. Obviously I was in a hurry to hit a bed, and then see a bit of Vegas. So yes the first leg of my trip saw me stop twice to tank up.
A replica of the Statue of Liberty stands at the New York-New York Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas
Las Vegas miraculously emerges out of the desert like an oasis, all bright, shiny and glittering. The strip is undoubtedly where all the action takes place but there is a lot more to Las Vegas than just the gambling. Massive parties, loads of entertainment and good food bring in millions of visitors every year. I spent the night at the Luxor, a megalithic casino resort (its the 20th largest hotel in the world) that's at the southern end of the strip. With over 4,400 rooms and thousands of guests circulating in and out, check-in was arduous, but I eventually got my room and crashed into a sleep so deep that I missed all the main attractions I was planning on hitting. Five hours later I woke up in the middle of the night. I headed out in search of a meal and still saw the city gyrating and pulsing with energy even as the sun threatened to poke its head back above the horizon. The vastness and scale of everything in Las Vegas can make you feel lost, but it's also one of those cities where inhibitions run thin and you're never truly far from having a good time. This city truly never sleeps, there is a restless energy in the air that is contagious and I'm keen on heading back there someday. That very morning, however, I was in the lobby waiting for my Mustang. Next stop, Wendover.
On the Extraterrestrial Highway, the rest stops are few and far between
What makes Wendover special is its proximity to the Bonneville Salt Flats, it's the closest town to the International Speedway, just a 15 minute drive gets you straight to the salt's edge. However getting to Wendover is altogether a different story. 37 kilometres from Las Vegas you turn left off I-15 to hit the Great Basin Highway or US Route 93. This particular highway stretches for over 600km before you turn right and eventually head further up north towards Wendover. The scale of this highway makes the Mustang feel insignificant. There's a quicker route - Highway 93. But if you aren't the faint hearted road tripper then after Crystal Springs, continue straight on the 'Extraterrestrial Highway'. This highway numbered SR 375 has had reports of strange sightings and its proximity to Area 51 have led to it being called the ET Highway. I went down that road, saw nothing and headed further north towards Wendover.
The Mustang pauses before it takes on the Extraterrestrial Highway
SR 375 is an open highway with very little relief along it for the weary traveller. But it's also a fantastic route to exercise the Mustang. There's enough and more space for it to stretch its legs and run. And let it run I did, gently at first letting the low warble of the engine to build up to its magnum opus. The sweetest thing about the Mustang is that you don't really need to drop a gear on these roads. Simply step on the gas and seconds later you're already watching the horizon to spot anything that looks like a cop car waiting to reel you in as the needle in the speedo heads north and then east with remarkable pace! Of course you could always drop a gear or two, causing the V8 to scream its heart out and make the Mars Rover stop in its tracks and look back towards Earth.
The Mustang GT has the new generation of Ford's modular engine, dubbed the 'Coyote' which was built to take on the 6.2-litre V8 in the Camaro and the 6.4-litre Hemi V8 in the Challenger, Charger and the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Ford's V8 is spectacular - brilliantly linear and effortless in any gear. The massive surge of torque peaks at 4250rpm but that also means you have about half of that, which is still a respectable 250Nm or so available at around 2,000rpm. Drivability is incredible in this car, even in sixth gear! The Mustang is fast but not quick, it hasn't got a supercar like energy to it, it's just too heavy for that.
Boost gauge and vaccum gauge aren't just for show, if you know how to read them right, they can help in driving efficiently, Old school tech, though so cool to look at!
And yet, it's dramatic when you floor the pedal quite unlike any other car I've ever known. You will build pace rapidly, and in doing so you will have a sense of everything that's coming together in this car to build that pace. There's an inherent character that's highly addictive and grin inducing and you just want it to keep engulfing you all the time.
I drove into Wendover well past dark. Stopping for photographs along the way and fuel and coffee stops can eat into your time, so you could plan on breaking this part of the route into two days unlike the one I had to do it in. There are small affordable motels that are good to bunk in at night and carry on the next day, but don't rely on getting gourmet restaurant quality meals. In fact, this route has limited facilities, so it's best to stock up on anything you might need along the way including water and something to snack on.
Ranches and B&B's like the Cowboys Dream are ideal halts to spend the night
Since Wendover is up north, the temperature dips quite low, so I wasn't surprised to see a thin layer of frost on the windscreen when I got into the Mustang next morning. Quick clean up and it was time to head to the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of the International Speed Week, the hallowed ground for speed record buffs! An interesting side note here. Decades ago, some speed fanatics were looking for a large and flat piece of land to break a speed record on. The three places they zeroed in on were Bonneville, some place in Africa and our very own Rann of Kutch. Two of these were British colonies but the third was New England. It was also phenomenally expensive at the time for the British to bring their attempt to India, and Africa was just too tough to get into and that's how these early speed freaks went to Bonneville. And as the story goes that is how the Bonneville Salt Flats began their trip to epicdom.
Love the flip to engage/disengage ESP, steering effort modulation and drive mode switches
Now the Mustang is no stranger to Bonneville, over the years it has been part of numerous record runs, some successful, some not. The road leading up to the salt flats once you turn off the interstate is long. Really, really long. Smooth and straight, it's good enough to do a top speed run for a stock car at least. But I'm not attempting that today. And yet I can't resist the lure of the Mustang's line lock feature. It's an amazing feature that allows the car to lock up the front brakes just before you shoot off on a drag run, for instance. It allows you to burn out the rear wheels and will continue to do so until you switch it off. And while I don't have a photograph to show that image off - I was alone on this trip remember - it was just sheer insanity! What speeds did I do? Suffice it to say I wouldn't risk hitting the Mustang GT's top whack of 263kmph, settling for just under 250kmph to slake my thirst.
Resisting the urge to do more burn outs, I headed towards the end of that strip of tarmac where a bullet ridden board announces to the world that this is the Bonneville Salt Flats, home of the Speed Week and the world speed records. I gingerly took the Mustang off the tarmac and onto the salt flats. Unfortunately for me this wasn't the season to be venturing out too far onto the flats. It was wet, and the surface slippery. There was a good chance my rear wheel drive Mustang would get stuck. If you do get stuck, it's gonna cost you upwards of $700 to get out depending on how far from the main road you are. Still I took a chance, at least to get that one photograph. This is the worlds temple of speed and the Mustang looked perfectly at home on those flats.
I spent an hour and a half on that desolate strip of Bonneville, there is nobody around for miles, there aren't even any birds flying overhead. It's a stark blazing white expanse of salt and the Mustang was the only bit of color for miles. In August, this place is transformed as thousands assemble to watch some of the fastest cars on the planet come and make an attempt at setting their own personal records at the Speed Week. Come August, I'm definitely looking forward to hitting the salt flats again.
7800 square kilometres of Death Valley, hot but gorgeous landscapes is not just a day trip
Having worshipped the gods of speed at the temple of Bonneville, I set off for my next destination, Death Valley. This desert valley bordering the state of Nevada and California got its name from prospectors in 1849 during the gold rush after 13 pioneers perished in an expedition into this region. Death Valley is one of the hottest places on earth. Temperatures reach a recorded 58 degree Celsius in the summer. It's also the lowest points in the USA, Badwater Basin, a depression in the eastern part of Death Valley is 282 feet below sea level. Death Valley has all sorts of geological formation within its 3000 square mile boundaries making it one of the most travelled to destinations in North America. There are lakes, rivers, salt flats, sand dunes, canyons and the fabulous Panamint mountain range and several other mountain ranges.
Badwater Basin, the lowest place in the USA is 282 feet below sea level
The drive into Death Valley is equally spectacular if you get in from Beatty, a small town north of Death Valley, instead of from the Amargosa valley. From Beatty the road descends into Death Valley and it has a superb flow to it, twisting and turning through the Grapevine Mountains. It gave me ample opportunity to sample the dynamics of the Mustang GT, which has given even the Europeans something to be excited about. The 2016 Mustang, in fact, moved away from its more traditional chassis setup to a more contemporary type. It works wonderfully, except don't expect M3 or RS5 type dynamics. For a grand tourer with 1,680 kilos of kerb weight, a hood that extends into tomorrow and the aerodynamics of a good looking brick, the Mustang GT has tremendous poise and confidence. You don't go pushing this car hard into corners of course, but ease back a bit on the gas and let the Mustang GT deliciously flow from one bend into another. It's got grace, I'll tell you that and with a reasonably well weighted and direct steering, it is fun. If you're feeling really, really brave, switch off the traction control and let those 400-odd horses do their thing at the rear wheel! It's easy to get this car sideways, very easy and thanks to some great stopping power courtesy those huge 4-piston 14" vented rotors at the front and single piston 13" rotors at the rear, there's a safety net to rein in the hooliganism! The Mustang GT also has selectable drive modes from comfort to sport and it lets you mix up combinations so find your perfect setting and off you go.
The Mustang GT arrives at the entrance to Death Valley, just a few kilometres ahead of Beatty
Death Valley, in the meanwhile, was just too large to explore in the time I had, which was just a couple of hours before the sun set on me again. The roads to here from Wendover are again, no surprises, long and need better planning and lots more time. There is still much more to see, and while this time around I could not get accommodation at the famous Furnace Creek ranch having to settle for a B&B outside Death Valley, the next time I'm going to be better organised. So of course that only means I'm going to come back again some day soon. Back to ride the Mustang GT. To play my chips. Worship at the temple of speed and then descend into the depths of Death Valley!
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