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Friday, August 22, 2008

2008 Gurney Edition Mustang

Carroll Shelby has a Mustang of his own (a whole bunch of 'em, in fact). Parnelli Jones has a Mustang of his own. And now another legendary racer, Dan Gurney, has a Mustang of his own, too. It's a limited-edition Saleen; just 300 will be sold. And, yup, like the Mustangs of his rivals, it's real fast.

Gurney hasn't raced professionally since 1970, but he's nearly as famous now as he was in the Sixties. His resume includes four wins in Formula 1 world-championship events (including one in his own Eagle F1 car), seven Indy Car victories, five NASCAR wins, and countless first-place finishes in sports-car events. He was also, as he learned from the father of Jim Clark at the Scotsman's funeral in 1968, the only rival driver feared by the late, great two-time world champion. Since 1970, Gurney has been the sole owner of All American Racers, a team that has notched 78 race wins (including the Indy 500 and the 24 Hours of Daytona). The man knows a tad about fast cars.

The Saleen-built Gurney Signature Edition Mustang certainly boasts an impressive spec chart. Under the hood lies the company's supercharged, 4.6-liter V-8, good for 465 horsepower and feeding a short-throw five-speed manual that drives a 3.73 Max Grip limited slip. Suspension is a stiff Racecraft design with a Gen-II Watts-Link rear end (a first for a Saleen), which lowers the car's roll center and helps keep the live axle centered under the car (improving handling balance). Tires are high-performance Pirelli P Zero Corsas (285/30ZR-19s in front, 285/35ZR-19s in back) on five-spoke Heritage Edition gray alloys. Brakes are 14-inch vented discs with four-piston calipers up front, 11.8-inch vented discs at the rear.

The dress-up includes a Gurney body kit, "duck-bill" rear spoiler, hood pins, and custom graphics. Inside await excellent leather sport seats with Alcantara inserts, stand-up boost and air-temp gauges, and Gurney's felt-pen signature smack-dab on the center of the dash.

Compared with a production Shelby GT500, the Gurney Mustang kicks out 35 fewer horsepower. But you'd hardly know it by the stopwatch. The Gurney rockets to 60 mph in just 4.3 seconds (same as the last GT500 we tested) and trips the quarter-mile lights in 12.9 seconds at 111.3 mph (compared with 12.6 seconds at 114.2 mph for the Shelby). Braking performance is actually better than the GT500's: the Gurney stops in just 108 feet, versus 118 for the factory Ford. And thanks to its Racecraft underpinnings and grippy Corsas, the Gurney trumps the GT500 on handling power, running our exclusive Figure 8 test in just 25.5 seconds (versus 25.9 for the GT500) and wringing out 0.96 g of maximum lateral grip (compared with 0.89 g for the Shelby).


So, for sure, the Gurney edition reveals the prowess of its namesake, particularly on the handling course. But how is it in the real world? Interesting you should mention that. I'd called Gurney to discuss his signature car, and during our chat The Master asked, "What do you think of it?" Gulp. Dan Gurney is asking for my driving feedback.

I swallowed hard and stepped into the breech. "Honestly, I think the springs are too hard. I think you could soften them, loosen up the damping a bit, and make the car more rewarding to drive on ordinary roads without giving up a lot of handling capability. I also noticed a few hiccups in the throttle response, which sometimes continues to roll on when you lift off for an upshift and sometimes hits a dead spot when you're trying to blip the gas for a heel-and-toe downshift."

Gurney was silent for a moment. I started to sweat a little, then he answered: "I agree with you completely. I think what we've got here is a car that's great for someone who wants performance optimized for the slalom course, but I wouldn't mind softening the suspension a bit -- without raising the ride height much. You don't need a race car on the street. A softer setup would be more like what a guy at my well-seasoned age would enjoy." Gurney also acknowledged that he too had noticed the throttle issue. "It's the idle return. Has to do with meeting emissions. I think we may be able to iron that out eventually." Gurney went on to suggest that he'd even like to see an automatic transmission offered in future versions of the car. "Ford has one ready to go. Would work great in this car."

Of course, by nature Gurney is a tinkerer -- even the Saleen folks will admit that, if he could, he'd constantly be making tweaks to his Mustang here or there. Which is not to say that Gurney is dissatisfied with his signature steed as it is now. "It's a wonderful thing to have a Mustang with my name on it," he says, the pride in his voice loud and clear.

Saleen offers the Gurney in just three colors: Performance White, Torch Red, or Vista Blue. You won't miss it when one rolls by: It's hard to ignore those racing-stripe accents and the Gurney Eagle logos sprinkled about. Each of the 300 cars stickers for $58,000, with the only extra-cost option being rear window louvers.

If you buy one, be sure to keep the garage locked. Otherwise, one night Gurney might sneak in and start fiddling with the caster angles.