The Mustang has become a regular sight on South Africa's roads, but the new California Special just evokes so much emotion. Wheels24's Janine Van der Post explains...
Life is such a hustle these days. We're always in a hurry to get somewhere and have something done. Even with fuel prices soaring and grocery prices climbing, we're always in a rush. Sometimes, we just need to stop and listen.
The limited edition Mustang California Special pulled up in the Wheels24 test garage for a couple of days. It was a hectic week and the limited time with this car prohibited any cool shoots or extended drives.
Mustangs are not a rare sight on our roads since the modern version was officially launched in South Africa in 2015. And for the first couple of years, these cars sold like hotcakes. July saw 18 Mustangs find new homes, and from R1 084 900 a pop, that's pretty impressive.
Ford is also known for being the king of limited edition models to keep older models fresh and relevant. Since its launch, Mustang brought out the Bullitt (55 models in 2019) and Mach 1 (100 models in 2021) special editions in limited numbers. The most recent being the California Special. You won't find it on the Blue Oval's local website either because all 100 models have already been sold out. So, when you do see this particular model on the road, it's one special pony car. Excuse the pun.
DRIVEN | The Ford Mustang California Special isn't just a new car, it's an icon
The California Special is available exclusively in the fastback coupé body style, and under its muscular bonnet, there's the renowned 5.0-litre V8 engine mated to a 10-speed automatic transmission delivering 330kW and 529Nm. It also has an active valve performance exhaust that makes you want to cruise along listening to that glorious burble all day long, especially when driving in peak traffic. Obviously, the more you feed the throttle, the more the engine breathes even louder, instantaneously making you want to give this pony horns.
The iconic Mustang was first launched in 1964, and naturally, special editions were created even back then. One such model was inspired by the 1967 Shelby GT notchback coupé prototype and came to be called the California Special.
According to Ford, that original version had a blacked-out grille, fog lights, side racing stripes that ended ahead of the rear side air scoops, and a Shelby-inspired spoiler. The automaker then created a limited number of these models in 1968.
Paying homage to the original, this model has a honeycomb front grille finished in Ebony Black. It features a GT/CS badge in Race Red and lower side stripes finished in black, red and grey. Incorporating GT/CS logos, the lines run from the front to the rear wings and feature a hidden "California Special" script that is almost invisible in low light conditions but becomes much more prominent in stronger sunlight.
It's also available in nine very cool colours; the one I was driving was painted in the signature Atlas Blue body, while the other is Cyber Orange Tri-Coat. The other five metallic colours include Rapid Red, Dark Matter Grey, Carbonized Grey and Oil Slick Purple. Solid colours comprise Shadow Back and Oxford White.
I'm convinced the blue paint attracted so many people to this car - that and all the CS/GT badging in prominent areas. No matter where I went in the two days driving this car, men and women of all ages would come up and ask, "Is this the California Special? It's stunning!". I love engaging with our readers about cars we have in our test garage, and just allowing others to get up close and personal with a vehicle they would not usually see always gets a special kick. And, not forgetting the countless photos and selfies granted, it just makes my heart happy when a car can bring such joy to others.
But it's also thanks to the car's aerodynamic enhancements, which scream out about its V8 performance. There's the more prominent front splitter, a rear wing from the GT Performance Package, and the introduction of side air scoops behind the doors for the first time on the Mustang range in SA – all of which give the car a more muscular stance. At the rear, a California Special faux filler cap sits above quad 4.5-inch tailpipes. It's no wonder young boys would yell at me at every corner, begging me: "Aunty, 'maakit, maakit'! (implying I should rev the car and pull away fast).
However, I don't often engage in conversations with strangers late on cold nights. Still, something made me put the window down for the elderly gentleman at the window as I was reversing out of a parking lot at the local Checkers on Saturday night. You know when it's so cold, your bones ache, and you just want to get home under the covers; that's how it felt.
The gentleman had his top shirt buttoned up, wearing beige pants and a plaid blazer. He had reading spectacles and a walking stick in his left hand. I had spotted the man out of the corner of my eye when checking my mirrors, and my husband had asked why I was not moving. I said a man was walking behind the car before he knocked on the passenger side window where hubby was sitting. "Oh, I'm sorry, I thought this was a left-hand drive," wanting to speak to the driver when he realised there was a woman in the driver's seat. "I just want to tell you, this is a beautiful car, and there's nothing better than driving a Mustang. I used to have one back in 1975, I bought it for just over R2000. Seeing this car just makes me think back to that amazing feeling of driving one."
"Do you still have it, sir?" I ask because, at this point, I think this would make such a great story, and I would love to give this man a ride. "No, sadly not; put your car off because I have to tell you about it."
I hit the engine stop/start button without hesitating. My bad cough prevents me from getting out of the car in the cold, so the gentleman is hunched over as he chats away; I hardly have a moment to ask his name.
He starts telling us about the Mustang he bought in the early 1970s and how all he ever wanted to do was just drive it for days, as hard as he could. "I don't think my Mustang would have been going today if I still had it. I drove the shit out of that car because it allowed me to. I eventually sold it, but I wish I hadn't.
"But I just had to come and speak to you when you started up this beast. The sound of this engine took me right back to my younger days when I was in my 20s. Thank you for listening to me and for reminding me of how wonderful the Mustang still is. Damn, how I miss mine."