Stick, Rapid Red lift bargain Mustang ‘Bob’

By John Gilbert
It’s often disappointing when my week with a particularly neat test-drive car comes to an end, but I found a way to ease the pain a few weeks ago. When I drove the new mid-engined Corvette Sting Ray I reported on recently, it was not alone when it arrived at my Duluth home. Also delivered was a new Ford Mustang, painted Rapid Red Metallic with a bright white racing stripe running nose to tail, up over the roof, and down the middle.

As if to test my overload skills, I wondered how I would spend adequate time in both cars during the upcoming week, but then I got a message: There had been a mistake, and the Corvette, which was in pre-production short supply, would only be with me for three days. Problem solved. I drove the heck out of the Corvette for that Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday without even getting into the Mustang, knowing that as soon as the guys showed up to take away the Sting Ray, I could climb into the Mustang and devote full time to driving it off over the horizon.

I have driven different Mustang models in recent years, including the Shelby GT500, the Shelby GT350, the Mustang GT, and the Mustang Bullitt, and more basic Mustangs. With the racing stripe, and a 6-speed manual transmission, and that new-generation ferocious look, I figured this must be a GT, at least. The information sheet said it was a Mustang “Premium,” which only meant that it had some upscale cosmetic features, like dual exhausts, a rear spoiler, and other trim things.

Most impressively, then, when I took off down the road, I noticed the Mustang had excellent acceleration, and it handled with razor-sharp precision. I went back to the information sheet and, to my surprise, noticed that for an engine, it was not a V8 or even a V6, but it came with a 2.3-liter 4-cylinder, with Ford’s Ecoboost system of turbocharging.

I have always regarded the Shelby GT350 and the Bullitt as my two favorite current-generation Mustangs, but I will have to find room to squeeze this one in among them.

Ford has discontinued most of its cars, but the Mustang stays strong as an annual tribute to the pony car Ford brought out in 1965 to revolutionize American driving. It began life as a 2-plus-2 coupe, very sporty looking, and with sporty handling, for a bargain price. Everybody wanted one, and every other manufacturer hustled to come out with a competitor.

As power has risen higher and higher on the scope of sporty cars, it has become more and more apparent that we don’t need as much power as can be produced, but we could really have a lot of fun if the car handles well and can parlay adequate power with impressive fuel-economy — especially with a stick-shift. Does the idea of a Mazda Miata come to mind?

Ford recently announced that it is discontinuing the Shelby GT350, much to my disappointment, because the GT350 with 527 horsepower out of its 5.2-liter V8, is a lot of fun, if not as neck-snapping as the GT500 with its supercharged version of the 5.2 developing 760 horsepower. I am here to suggest that the car I test-drove bridges the gap.

The venerable 2.3-liter 4, when turbocharged, can produce 310 horsepower at 5,500 RPMs and 350 foot-pounds of torque at 3,000 RPMs. Even with the Mustang having grown to 4,000 pounds these days, that’s enough power to make you not miss the V8’s extra oomph.

Ford has wisely dropped the V6, replacing it with the 2.3 as its base engine. But a look at the accompanying photos will make you realize that if it looks the part, goes with the force that the look promises, and handles great, and we can save a lot of money by buying the Ecoboost 4.

Joan and I, with older son, Jack, visiting, discussed driving northward. Jack insisted we should take the Mustang, and that he would curl up in the back seat — which is best suited for kids or short people — or at least people who like the cachet of the Mustang enough to sit back there — and off we went, over some smaller highways on the back roads to Virginia, Minnesota. We set a destination for Canelake’s Candy shop to get what is by now our standard fountain treats — orange soda for Joan, turtle sundae for me, and whatever Jack wanted, plus several different selections of their homemade dark chocolates and caramels as a stash to last through the holidays.

We had a lot of laughs coming back, stopping for a walk, and then returned to our home in suburban Lakewood. We got 28.7 miles per gallon, and probably could have coaxed more if I didn’t enjoy running up the revs in first, second and third gears so much. EPA estimates say 30 on the road.

During that week, we were impressed that the already departed Corvette Sting Ray was priced in the mid-$70,000 range, a definite bargain. We were very impressed that the test Mustang started with a base price of $26,670, and the Premium model started at $34,755, and loaded with options listed for $35,850.

There are only two issues I can see. First is the sound. There is practically no sound, and certainly not the throaty rumble of the V8. Second, the test-style Mustang is sorely in need of an official name, or at least a nickname. You can call it a “Premium,” because of the leather seats, fancy dash and gloss-black 19-inch alloy wheels. But it needs something more, something so we don’t miss the Shelby departed GT350, or the Bullitt, or GT.

My suggestion is: “Bob.”

That’s right, I’ll take the Mustang “Bob” and be happy. Bob is a lifelong friend of mine, named Bob Curtis. We grew up at opposite ends of Lakewood, and we went to school together first and second grades at Congdon Park, third through sixth at the brand new elementary Lakewood school, seventh through ninth at Washington Junior High, and 10th through 12th at old Duluth Central. I had about four circles of friends in those days, and Bob and I were in a non-sports wing, playing chess, appreciating the same music, and enjoying cars, but he was only a fringe participant in the sports I zealously pursued. When we graduated from Central, we both went to UMD, and near the end of our sophomore years, we both realized our futures involved transferring to the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

Bob was going to study architecture, and I was pursuing journalism school, so we decided to room together, along with two other guys we knew from Duluth and UMD. We had a lot of great times, and we both met our wives while we were down there, while living in an apartment upstairs of a house at 1514 7th St. SE, where the U has since built some athletic facilities.

Bob always liked cars, as I did, but I pursued them for reviews. After Bob and Kathy spent a couple years on a major design project in Iran, they returned home and bought a townhouse in Arden Hills, just across I-694 from where we had a townhouse in Shoreview. Our kids grew up there, and we stayed close. I gave Bob a ride when the new Ford Taurus SHO had first come out, and he bought one, which ran strong and gave him some grief, but he loved it. I had owned a Mustang Boss 302 for years, and he always admired that car, too, so one of the most recent cars he bought was a Mustang. It looked good, lean and clean, although it was really a base model, with a V6 engine, and a stick shift, which was a bargain sporty car, and he enjoyed driving it.

After I had spent 31 years writing for the Minneapolis Tribune, and Star Tribune, Joan and I moved back to Duluth where I had a lucrative job offer from Murphy McGinnis Media’s Up North Newspaper Network and accepted an “early retirement” buyout but really just changed jobs, so I could be close to my mother, who was stationed in a nursing home as she made her way through her 90s. Bob and Kathy would stop to visit when they made annual trips to Grand Marais, but those became less frequent in recent years, when they acquired grandchildren and our two sons, Jack and Jeff, kept putting offthat task. We heard Bob had been ill, and we intended to get in touch with them when we went to the Twin Cities for a game, or to visit our older son, Jack.

I still read the Minneapolis Star Tribune seven days a week, and advancing age causes me to read the daily obituaries with greater interest. A few weeks ago, I spotted an item: Robert Allen Curtis, 78, had died of pancreatic cancer, leaving family, numerous architectural accomplishments — and one very good but now-distant friend in Duluth. When I called, Kathy told me Bob hadn’t been able to drive the last little while, but he had gotten over a previous ailment before he was blindsided by inoperable pancreatic cancer.

I’m not over it yet. These things take time. Former 1960 Duluth Central classmates of ours will remember Bob and be surprised, too, I’m sure. I wondered what they did with Bob’s old Mustang. Not that it matters.

Except now. I’ve always joked about how we personalize our cars, often giving them nicknames and assigning human tendencies to them. This would be a departure, but the timing is right. If Ford is looking for a special name to give to a surprisingly over-achieving yet bargain, basic Mustang — let’s call it “Bob.”

  • About the Author

    John GilbertJohn Gilbert is a lifetime Minnesotan and career journalist, specializing in cars and sports during and since spending 30 years at the Minneapolis Tribune, now the Star Tribune. More recently, he has continued translating the high-tech world of autos and sharing his passionate insights as a freelance writer/photographer/broadcaster. A member of the prestigious North American Car and Truck of the Year jury since 1993. John can be heard Monday-Friday from 9-11am on 610 KDAL( on the "John Gilbert Show," and writes a column in the Duluth Reader.

    For those who want to keep up with John Gilbert's view of sports, mainly hockey with a Minnesota slant, click on the following:

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  • Exhaust Notes:

    More and more cars are offering steering-wheel paddles to allow drivers manual control over automatic or CVT transmissions. A good idea might be to standardize them. Most allow upshifting by pulling on the right-side paddle and downshifting with the left. But a recent road-test of the new Porsche Panamera, the paddles for the slick PDK direct-sequential gearbox were counter-intuitive -- both the right or left thumb paddles could upshift or downshift, but pushing on either one would upshift, and pulling back on either paddle downshifted. I enjoy using paddles, but I spent the full week trying not to downshift when I wanted to upshift. A little simple standardization would alleviate the problem.

    The Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution has the best paddle system, and Infiniti has made the best mainstream copy of that system for the new Q50, and other sporty models. And why not? It's simply the best. In both, the paddles are long, slender magnesium strips, affixed to the steering column rather than the steering wheel. Pull on the right paddle and upshift, pull on the left and downshift. The beauty is that while needing to upshift in a tight curve might cause a driver to lose the steering wheel paddle for an instant, but having the paddles long, and fixed, means no matter how hard the steering wheel is cranked, reaching anywhere on the right puts the upshift paddle on your fingertips.

    Even in snow-country, a few stubborn old-school drivers want to stick with rear-wheel drive, but the vast majority realize the clear superiority of front-wheel drive. Going to all-wheel drive, naturally, is the all-out best. But the majority of drivers facing icy roadways complain about traction for going, stopping and steering with all configurations. They overlook the simple but total influence of having the right tires can make. There are several companies that make good all-season or snow tires, but there are precious few that are exceptional. The Bridgestone Blizzak continues to be the best=known and most popular, but in places like Duluth, MN., where scaling 10-12 blocks of 20-30 degree hills is a daily challenge, my favorite is the Nokian WR. Made without compromising tread compound, the Nokians maintain their flexibility no matter how cold it gets, so they stick, even on icy streets, and can turn a skittish car into a winter-beater.