Above 3 photos: A view over the vinyards from the room.
ABOVE left Roche Winery Lunch, ABOVE Hunter Valley Resort, RIGHT RIGHT: near Mooney Mooney Bridge
Mustang is a muscle car, sure, but there have always been engines more considerate of the pocket. A canny buyer got the drop-dead-gorgeousness of the muscle car but the polar-bear-friendliness of the fuel-saving 4 and 6 cylinder power plants.
The Hunter Valley delights are best enjoyed from the open air cockpit of a convertible.
Our weekend happened to coincide with the Lovedale Long Lunch and after last year I’m not inclined to repeat that experience. Tens of thousands of drunks wobbling soporifically from winery to winer,y punctuating their progress onlyfory stops to vomit, is not my thing. Nor is lining up with hundreds in a line to get a pudding that you could have gotten 2-for-5 at Coles.
ABOVE: A view from a local winery
No, this year we did our own thing in one of my all-time favourite cars, the Mustang convertible. It was all a bit last minute, and after booking our digs after a quick flick through Google, we set off. Picture this: a sparkling autumn morning with a light breeze, you load a couple of bags into the boot then jump in and press the starter button. Before you do anything else, you reach up, grab the handle and gift it a twist to release the lock. You press the button next to it, and in a jiff the roof is gone. Instantly you’ve gone being in the third coolest car in the country, to the second coolest. The coolest is the V8 Mustang of either type. This is the first Mustang to be made from factory in right-hand drive so the blinkers are right where you want them to be.
You’d think I’d be disappointed with a puny 2.3 Ecoboost under the bonnet, but no, and I’ll tell you why: The 233kw unit is not a slug, not in anyone’s language. With the visceral V8 throb only in your imagination, you get to enjoy the car free of the guilt and stress of fuel being burnt at an Olympic rate costing the GDP of Africa.
After a few hours in the saddle, it’s obvious the chassis suffered from the roof being cut off, but who cares?
It doesn’t matter as much as you think it would because you didn’t buy it for handling, you bought it for cruising down the highway. And, that’s just what we did, skuttle be damned. As we rolled through Cessnock, yet another driver gave us the thumbs up, and not just other drivers, but pedestrians too. It’s become apparent that Ford’s runaway success deserves every accolade.
ABOVE: A group Segway tour Of the Hunter Valley Resort and Mcguigann’s vinyards.
An hour later pulled in to the resort’s drive and stopped at the front door behind a recently parked Tesla Model S. It turned out to be owned by Phil Hele (pronounced Healy), erstwhile proprietor of Bluetongue Brewery. He joked that the sale of Bluetongue financed the Model S.
We chatted about the Model S, and the Mustang. He expressed disappointment about the lack of a V8 in my car. I pointed out that the V8 only has 70 extra kilowatts over the Ecoboost, hardly worth talking about. Moreover, the difference in fuel consumption is day and night. I have a feeling most people who can’t get the tax payers to pay for their petrol will choose a the Ecoboost. I then pointed out I could cruise from Sydney to Melbourne in an hour or two faster than he could. Our tops speeds are the same, 110kph, and I don’t need 20minute top-ups and that’s only if I can find a super charger. He said he could afford to fly business class then hire a Rolls Royce at the other end. Touché!
ABOVE: unpacking at the lodgings at the Hunter Valley Resort
The next morning, we headed off to tour the wineries, roof down of if you please. This is the best time of year for fair-skinned convertible drivers. You can enjoy the sun without suffering life-threatening burns. The crispness of the morning air is bracing at 70kph, and it has to be said that there is quite a bit of breeze inside even with all windows up. The rear seats are best suited to wine purchases rather than actual people. Taller drivers leave no room for hangers-on on the poor seats.
We pottered about winery-ing, then took a fabulous afternoon tour with the lovely Michael from Hunter Valley Segway Tours. You have to be a bit careful if you want to take pics of the roos, they’re terribly shy. Segways make quite a racket en masse so the roos scattered like politicians at a vote. It’s not a bad way to keep them from eating the leaves off the grape vines, so the vine owners are happy for us to make as much noise as we like. What I loved is that after only a few minutes with the Michael, our party was confident enough to take on the slalom before heading into the bush.
We washed off the afternoon’s dust with lashings of champagne, then dined early. The fish was a little overdone but the enjoyment was not.
ABOVE: packed bags ready to depart
Next day we packed the car with several cases of wine, a couple of carry-on bags, some coats, and sundry plakky bags, all without folding down the rear seats. The boot is spacious especially for a convertible. Some convertibles allow the roof stowage compartment to be collapsed making the boot space larger while the roof is deployed (aka closed). Sadly, that is not the case here.
We set off into the crisp morning. Clouds gathered but the rain held off for the trip home. It’s just as well because you have to come to a complete stop before you open or close the roof. That’s just daft.
The skuttle we spoke about earlier was particularly evident on the concrete sections of the Pacific Motorway, previously known as the F3. Drop tops of the past such as the SAAB 9-3 had a similar problem where body rigidity allowed more vibration than the roofed equivalent. It didn’t stop people from loving them like their own children. Open top motoring has no equal. You have a helmet on when riding a bike, and freefalling from a plane without a parachute is hazardous to your health, so 110kph in a convertible is the nearest thing most of us will get to real freedom.
There are a few things I’d change, such as adding Carplay. SYNC III will be standar on 2017 MY cars. I would also like to be able to tune any radio band to any memory button too. For example, having button 1 as DAB, and button 2 as an FM station, and for those with no will to ive, an AM station on button 3.
This is a view during the Segway tour of The Hunter Valley Resort from across the lake.
The brakes are excellent with loads of feel. The steering feels good but you won’t like it if a Golf GTI is more your thing.
The seats are part electric with up/down, back/forward, and lumbar up/down/in/out. They are heated and cooled which comes in very handy on the crisp days we experienced.
I’d like to spend a few moments talking about the roof if I may.
It’s been the subject of much speculation and discussion. Unusually for modern convertibles, this one still has a handle on the inside which locks it to the windscreen when deployed. It’s no trouble but you could be in strife at 100kph if you forget to lock the roof to the windscreen. The roof doesn’t have a cover over the stowage compartment like other convertibles. Instead, Mustang uses the front 30cms of roof which is a hard section covered in fabric. When opening, the roof simply folds back on itself leaving the front section exposed on the rear deck between the rear seats and the boot. It also leaves all the struts exposed. Other brands have fancy bits of plastic with fold and unfold with origami-like precision to form covers. Their rear decks are flat with no holes. To save money, and possibly weight, Ford gives the buyer a couple of plastic bits you can use if you can be bothered. But, you have to schlep round to the boot, get them out, then stand there like a gormless village idiot trying to fit them. I tried, and couldn’t even after half an hour of trying. Then of course, you have to remember to remove them again before you close the roof. It’s just daft, so in the bin with them! Besides, there is nowhere to store them so two plastic parts of about 40cms long, so they spend their time sliding round the boot.
BELOW: the covers from the roof mechanism sliding about the boot
The roof is permanently attached to the rear deck like Mazda’s MX5, and relies on an internal plastic gutter to move the water away and into the drain pipes. More complex fabric roofs lock down on to the top surface of the deck so avoid this gutter. Both kinds of mechanisms leak in to the boot if not properly maintained.
The Mustang is a little less sophisticated then some of its rivals, but is streets ahead in looks and X-factor. It commands attention and comments of all who see it. Several people asked how old it was. You might think this is bad, but it is a good thing. It means that this Mustang is instantly identifiable with the muscle cars of the past. In other words, Ford isn’t selling a particular Mustang, it is selling every Mustang ever made. It is selling every Mustang car chase, every dream of driving the US Pacific Coast and every movie kiss atop Mulholland Drive. Movie history evokes powerful memories, so in a way, Mustang was always going to succeed in a muscle-car-obsessed nation like Australia. It isn’t perfect and Ford knows it, but it doesn’t matter because it is as good as its loving owner thinks it is. In fact, the allure is so powerful that most who sit in it will experience the aura in some way or other.
While cruising down the Pacific Highway through Chatswood, we encountered another red Mustang, but this was a V8 GT Coupe with a “PONY” number plate just like the press cars. The driver stopped and said “nice car mate,” which was not the first time I had heard that in the Mustang. But, it was the first time I heard it being said by a fellow Mustang driver. He said “the coupe is the only one for me. The convertible is too heavy in the arse end,” and I actually took slight offense. The insult was complete when he took off in his manual V8. Earlier, a Bentley zipped past us just near the Mooney Mooney bridge, but in some kind of crazy alternate reality, I preferred the Fire Engine Red ‘Stang albeit a 2.3 4 cylinder one.
Such is life.
My mind is made up and I couldn’t think of a nicer way to spend a weekend.