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Beware of Snakes

Above and Below: Roadside comfort stops over 40c. note BEWARE OF SNAKES sign. What kind of snakes did they mean?


Above: the Mustang at Chez Kelly.


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Above: 28 to 43

Below: Chez Kelly, GEMBROOK VIC

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Below: Melbourne’s outer ring

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Below: Mustang stands out in a carpark

Mustang stands out in a car-park

Arguments aplenty swirl around the mystical Mustang. Is it an icon, or merely a pastiche? Does it fit modern needs, or is its day done? Do I like it, or don’t I? One thing is certain, drive one even for a short time and people notice, and your questions are answered.


Above: the McDonalds sign in Yass (MY ASS) this sign was replaced after a public outcry following its removal

A road trip from Sydney to Melbourne is a simple task, especially for a true GT car like Mustang. It isn’t just a handsome stallion that’s been fired to make good, nor is it an idea better for the glue factory as some unkind commentators have inferred. Take her to the local shops and thumbs up come from complete strangers by the dozen. I’ve taken a lot of fancied fillies for a ride and reactions have been mixed to say the least, but not of Mustang. Of course, the older set fondly remember the car chases of the 60’s and 70’s, but it is the Gen-set Y and X along with their Millennial mates who have been the real surprise. There is an appreciation club going on, make no mistake about it.

I commented on this in the past and by now expected the interest to have waned, but if anything, it has deepened. To my joy, I passed several other red GT coupes and encountered my very first “Mustang Salute”. once upon a time Owners took great joy and pride in the steeds and gave a discrete nod and wave as a similarly-minded owner passed by. Motor cycle riders still do this today in a show of comradeship and defiance. I approve of this patriotic resurgence of motoring pleasure.

I carefully packed my things, and although I had been generous with my possessions, the coupe swallowed the lot with bundles of room to spare. I insist on travelling with my full complement of 5 pillows, and since I was driving, a full-sized suit case. Not only that, but a large box of cuttings for a friend who recently moved into a new-build, and bag of snacks and drinks, a bag for the tablet and its accoutrements, and a motor cycle helmet. The latter I’d forgotten to take out of my previous test car the day before, and in a smaller car would be taking valuable real estate on a road trip.

I should disclose I am a fan of Mustang, and always have been. American muscle cars stir desire in the inner sanctum that no other car can. There are some who don’t get it. They say a small sporty hatch is better value. They say the Pony is all show and no go. Then of course there was the devastating 2-star On the Hume heading south (2)safety rating which was released whilst on my voyage of discovery. I ignored it, and will continue to do so. Ford’s response was a face-saving one, so I ignored that too. I decided it was all bollocks. I’d point out that the Mustang is 2 years old being tested against current standards.

I set off later than I had intended to. It was after midday by the time I turned on to the M4 at the Parramatta on-ramp. The final shift into 6th gear saw the Ford hurtling down the highway on one of the hottest day this summer. I set the cruise control and enjoyed the gentle burble from up front.

I set the SatNav before I got onto the freeway, and since my Mustang had Ford’s Sync 3 infotainment system ,s I plugged my phone in. Up popped my phone icons on the car’s screen. “How brilliant is this,” I thought, but had completely failed to take in the significance of my phone subsuming many of the inner functions of the system, including SatNav. You see, the system won’t let you use the car’s SatNav once your phone is connected by cable. You can’t go back to the inbuilt SatNav unless you unplug your phone, and there is no warning the SatNav is no longer guiding you. I have become so utterly reliant on the system that I failed to turn onto the M7, because the voice didn’t tell me to. I soon sorted it out and entered the details into my phone instead but it is daft not having a tone, or voice, or friendly flashing light with klaxons. To make matter more complex, my friend’s new-build is in an equally new estate and not yet on maps.

Since I was doing a run to establish how economical a 5 litre V8 is on the highway I couldn’t afford to take detours and therein lies my second problem. As the Hume gradually gained one bypass after another, it no longer goes through any towns and very few petrol stations have moved to the new road. I think you know where this is going, right, but more about that later.

The trip from Sydney to Melbourne is a long and lonely one. The summer has been brutal with records tumbling left and right. Long periods in the 40s cook the countryside to a dull and lifeless brown. The On the Hume heading south (1)grasses dry and die, then the seed heads come away in the wind like thousands of tiny tumbleweeds of cowboy film fame. With little traffic except for a few brave truckies, you feel like you’re on the set of a doomsday epic.

Trips have become significantly faster, but much less interesting. To see anything of note, you must get off the beaten track but that’s a trip for another time. This one is just to see how far you can really go with a V8 being fed from a piddling 61L tank. Can you believe anyone would think 61 litres is a good idea?

The gauge says we can expect over 685km from a tank based on 8.9L/100k. That’s not a fact I care to test on a day climbing hellishly to the mid-40s. As the brown hills rolled by one after the other, and the toilet stops became more frequent, the temperature reached 44c. As you travel further south, the country is dryer and more desolate. The Mustang’s user guide suggests premium 98ron however the Ford will take E10 according to the fuel filler cap sticker. That’s what I went in search of as the needle was nudging the ¼ tank ahead of schedule.

I rolled into a bleak spec of a town called Tarcutta after diverting off the Hume 438km south-west of Sydney. I got out to survey the pumps at the local servo to discover none served my precious E10. Fearing regular unleaded would make the pony splutter, I opted for 10 litres of premium at an eyewatering $1.60 a litre. Siri said a larger service centre lay 100km south, but she has a tenuous grip on reality at the best of times. The attendant seemed a bit put off by only 10 litres coming up on his register, but as it was not his money paying for my petrol, I left, trailing a wake of moral superiority. Siri asked me if I wanted to call the servo but I was in a big enough huff with her as it was. I didn’t trust her not to connect me with madam Lash’s Palace of pain out of spite.

On this occasion, Siri dared not let me down, and the service centre at Albury provided the much needed E10. It meant yet another diversion off the Hume, and more delays. I really don’t think the road builders thought this through as all cars on the Hume are going to need a drink sooner or later. There are hundreds of lonely kilometres that are completely full of absolutely no petrol stations whatsoever. If you didn’t have electronic help with decent cell coverage, you’d never find them because highway signage is a patchy at best. Doing this trip at night would feel like that movie where John Jarrat ran amok.


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The run across the Murray saw the temp hovering around 42c. I have never been so grateful for air conditioning that had been tested in Death Valley. My mate “Maccer” called to see how I was travelling. “Not too bloody well,” I replied. “I’m tired and every time I get out for a pee my eyeballs boil,” I said. He had the gall to say I was becoming an old curmudgeon. My fake outrage hid a rather satisfied smile.

Since Maccer’s place ex-directory, he had me meet him on a dark and lonely road about 20 clicks off the highway. As we chatted on the phone, we approached each other on a straight stretch of poorly surfaced road lit only by a rather limp moonlight. We flashed each other like they do in the movies just before one of the cars blows up. The HID lamps in the Ford made the 86 headlights look like 14th century cathedral candles, but it was enough to still my savaged nerves. Neither of us was getting out as it was still like hell outside. Maccer swung the 86 onto my side of the road, and we had ourselves a convoy-ette.

After what seemed like 20 years, and a million round abouts, we entered an estate so new that the grass hadn’t had time to grow. All I could think about was that I had to do it all again, in reverse in a week’s time.

After putting the girls to bed in the shiny new twin garage, we wolfed down half a chook and a pitcher of vodka and tonic, and hit the sack. It was the I discovered that 7 cups of strong coffee are not conducive to a good night’s kip no matter how tired you are. Bollocks!

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Above: Cool multi coloured car wash on the wind screen

I spent the following day sitting in a shattered heap under the vent of the central evaporative air cooling. It’s quite popular in Victoria so I discovered. Although it doesn’t rival proper air conditioning, it coped well with visit. The temperatures were only to reach those awful heights again the day I was due to return to Sydney.

A trip the Melbourne wouldn’t be complete without stopping by Holden’s Port Melbourne HQ. The corporate offices bristle with tech that protect secrets of a once great Australian manufacturing industry. The building which catered for a 1500-strong workforce feels like a ghost town with a mere 300 left. The heritage Centre holds some precious and beautiful hand crafted Holdens of years gone by. The concepts never saw production except for the Monaro Commodore Coupe concept. There was a Torana which, had it gone into production, may well have saved GM’s Aussie arm from becoming a minor player in its own story. The Monaro Convertible was stunning and the Ejigy Coupe is jaw-dropping. It is hard to believe with talent like that, Ford and Holden are now just importers like all the rest.

Below: Holde Concepts.

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Above:  VE Commodore Coupe, Below Torana

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I felt at home in the new digs. It is an all-white affair. In fact the only things not white were the kitchen benches, and the dog, a rather excitable Staffy pup called Reily. Reily liked me more than I liked him. I am a cat person and have no time for slobbering pets.

Chez-Kelly-Gembrook-DANDENONG-RANGES (8)After a lay-day I felt sufficiently recovered to do a day trip into Melbourne to see an old friend who has been extremely unwell. It also gave me the chance to sample some fabulous bends in and around the “outer ring”. I’m not sure how I feel about being in Melbourne’s outer ring.

The next few days were spent in various parts of outer Melbourne. Australia day saw an obligatory BBQ at “Mutha Mucka’s house, the Blue Moon. We met some friends at their rather fantastically named “Acapulco” in Elsternwick. We then followed them to The Blue Moon in St Kilda. Is that all as clear as mud?

On Friday, I collected my unwell friend to take him to his daughter’s genteel country estate in the Chez-Kelly-Gembrook-DANDENONG-RANGES (27)Dandenongs. Two hours each way, presented another chance to sample more of Victoria’s brilliant roads albeit at a more leisurely pace than I’d have liked. For some reason, Victorians insist on driving no faster than 75% of the speed limit. They’re all as mad a March Hares.

The country pile lays at the end of a short dirt road. The tree-lined drive winds up the hill towards the stately residence like something from a period English TV series.

With the cars tucked under a couple of shady trees, we lunched in the homestead before repairing to the garden for Pimm’s and tiny cakes under the trees. No, seriously, Pimm’s and cakes! We sat on wicker chairs in the shade of one of the most beautiful private gardens I’ve ever seen. I took some snaps, what-ho!

Chez-Kelly-Gembrook-DANDENONG-RANGES (18)After a turn around the grounds, we said goodbye to our host and her horses, and took our leave. We delivered the ailing gent safely home and headed for more bends with the 86 leading the way. The scenic route north heads through some of the most achingly beautiful country you’ll ever see. There are little villages tucked into the side of hills with stone cottages and ancient shopfonts. We crossed old bridges over babbling creeks, and on to the brilliant winding roads through hills and valleys of the deepest green hew. We passed stately mansions as the hills gave way to open planes near Doreen. Yes, there is a place in Melbourne’s outer ring called Doreen which is just near Mernda. Let that all sink of for a bit.

All that Pimm’s and cake, and the ample pitchers of vodka which flowed when we got home, left me feeling knackered and another lay-day ensued. After mustering the strength to shove the cuttings into the back garden a few days later, the final day of my trip came around.

It was with some sadness that I climbed back into the saddle. A road trip is something best shared with a special friend. A solo affair is slightly depressing but the Mustang went some way to assuaging those wayward thoughts.

I’ve already alluded to another day of blistering Australian summer temps for the return trip, and so it was. Again, the Mustang copped figures into the 40s. The wind was even stronger than it had been on my trip south. It whipped tens of thousands of tumbleweeds into frenzies as they shot across the road like as mass escape from HM Prison Pentridge.

Below: Como House, MELBOURNE

This time I had gotten away early and the whole trip was completed in daylight. As fond as I am of the bucolic delights of the Australian countryside, I’ve decided that if not to be shared, it is best seen from 12,000 metres.

I filled the old nag in South Gundagai, off the highway of course. The dashboard said 41c which leads me to another point: the temperature readout is only on the main screen. It doesn’t appear on the CarPlay screen so you have to keep pressing the exit button, the CarPlay once the temperature has been ascertained. Why not also have it display in the driver’s cluster? By the way, the silver bezel had a bad habit of buzzing when the engine was pushed hard and only stopped when pressed hard with a finger.

By now, the browns hills, B-Doubles, and L platers had driven me quite mad and all I wanted to do was get home. I’d filled an Aldi cold-bag with frozen water bottles, cheese sandwiches, grapes, cherries and bananas. I wasn’t stopping for anything that didn’t involve petrol or pee.

The slow throb of the engine is hypnotic but even that gets old, fast.

The trip ended 9 hours after it began and not a moment too soon.

The great Aussie road trip is an anathema to many, but with your babe on board, it could be the perfect antidote to a week of stiff city stress.

Rakish playboys in GT cars are part of motoring folklore and the Mustang in particular holds a place no other car can match. It is the perfect GT, especially in V8 guise. It crosses continents comfortably without complaint, in great style. Of course there are other Grand Coupes, but not at this price, and not with 306kw and 530Nm under the bonnet. Ford says Mustang is unique, and I agree.

A few final words:

Were it not for the need for hot fresh coffee, and the urgent pee-stops it produces, the Mustang could have stayed in 6th all day. Unusually, it got better than the company economy claims with a combined of 10.5 L/100km and a highway score of an impressive 8.9L/100km. Highways like the Hume have gentle hills and curves where GT cars can stretch their legs for a bit. It is ridiculous that the speed limits are policed so assiduously because there is no evidence speed has ever killed anyone. There is certainly no evidence that cameras and fines have saved lives because both punish the driver after the alleged speeding occurred. In many places, the Hume is in considerably better repair than the Autobahns. It covers more country and it beggars belief that the speed limit is still set at 110kph

The 2017 Ford Mustang excelled in every way. It is true that Ford should have updated the 2 year old car with active safety tech. There should be seatbelt warnings on every belt and ISOFIX points for capsules. Had this been done, and more care taken with airbags, a 2-star ANCAP rating would have been more like 4-star. Will it damage sales? I rather doubt it. Let’s see Ford’s 2018 effort which should see off most of the criticisms. If they have any brains at all they’ll insist on another crash test series.

I would still buy one.