Some Mustang hounds just love spending months doing their own aftermarket modifications–endless hours on the hoist, working out kinks, scraping knuckles and cursing parts that don’t fit where they should. This is fun? For those who can’t even wait for instant gratification (you know, the kinda guy who pounds on his microwave to get it to nuke faster), Jack Roush has an answer.
You’ve been able to buy his go-fast pieces for years. But now, if you’re just not up for a few weeks of sorting out the plumbing for an intercooler, head over to one of 200 Roush-authorized dealers. Once there, just check a few option boxes, write out a check, and faster than you can say "hi-po ponycar," you’ll be driving your very own supercharged Stage 3 Mustang. Not only that, this drive-thru order comes complete with a body kit, bad-ass brakes and interior trim.
What do you get that you can’t do yourself? In addition to extra time to watch Speedvision (okay, Baywatch reruns?), you’ll get an EPA-certified, 360-hp ‘Stang that’s legal in all 50 states. (No bowing and scraping before your local smog ref required!) Not only that, you’ll get a factory warranty, something your buddy Eddy can’t offer on his homemade, patent-pending intake manifold. Perhaps best of all, a factory-stamped Stage 3 has the potential to become certified collectible that might actually be worth something in a few years (unlike a suspect, one-off backyard projects with a grenade under the hood). Granted, the homespun tuners who prefer the handmade feel won’t be pulled in, but for those in a big hurry for big power, the Stage 3 works.
Jack Roush took his time getting to the Stage 3. Logically, he’s been offering Stage One and Stage Two kits for Mustangs for a handful of years. But given his years in racing, why’d it take so long to do his own out-the-door, turnkey car? Well, he’s been busy—real busy. His Roush Industries spends most of its time doing engineering work for Ford and the other two-thirds of the Big Three, and its racing arm has been winning in nearly every racing series you can imagine, including NASCAR.
But now that his company’s got the bandwidth, Roush has developed the first complete vehicle to share his name. "It’s a rifle shot," Roush says: a stock 2001 Mustang, saddled with a supercharger and buttoned down with new control arms and brakes, all meant to transform the already quick ‘Stang into a streetable race car. Although Roush says his first priority still is to help other car companies get their products ready for market, it’s clear he sees some free air above the standard GTs and SVT Cobras in which to fly.
At a time when do-it-yourselfers have made the Mustang do just about everything except audition for Survivor III, it’s not stupid to ask who would pay almost $20,000 more than a 320-hp Mustang SVT Cobra for a full-bore Roushtang? In his estimation, it’s someone looking for a "modern-day musclecar," something drooling with extra horsepower and a little exclusivity–in short, something to make the statement on Woodward Avenue.
In defining its market niche, the company floats comparisons with more exotic fare–quicker to 60 mph than a BMW M3, faster through the quarter-mile than a BMW Z8, stickier than a Corvette Z06 and way cheaper than a Dodge Viper. It’s clear that Roush believes the Stage 3 will attract a very specific group of motorheads, those guys who want hot rod performance with the ready-to-race durability of a roadgoing car right from the factory.
For those who need some element of customization (especially in the budget area), there are three distinct levels to the Roush Stage 3 Mustang. The first, for $39,500 (not including additional Ford options), gets you a basic 2001 Ford Mustang with a Roush-modified V-8, the fog-lamped front fascia, and four-piston disc brakes. The 18-inch chrome wheels and tires and a suspension upgrade are optional. The second stage includes the 18-inch wheels and suspension mods (tighter front and rear springs, Bilstein shocks, and specially crafted lower control arms), with optional Alcon four-piston brakes and chrome wheels and tires, all for $44,050. The final level for the nosebleed performance set includes all of the above, plus an immense rear wing, a body kit with side skirts and a rear panel, polished side exhaust, sport leather seats, badging, white instruments, decals, and machined pedals. That’ll cost you a total of $48,975, not including destination charges.
The Stage 3 is available in manual or automatic transmission, coupe or convertible body style. But one thing is common to all of these Roush cars: the Stage 3’s powerplant is a 4.6-liter V-8, with single overhead cams, pumped up to produce 360 hp and 375 lb-ft of torque.
Wonder where the power comes from? It’s an ’01 Mustang 4.6-liter SOHC V-8 from the get-go. Roush replaces the induction system and adds an Eaton supercharger at 6 psi of boost. Special fuel injectors and a BBK throttle body complement a lighter flywheel. An air-to-water intercooler with a water pump keeps the engine operating closer to optimal temps, while the automatic gearbox versions get a fluid cooler.
Beneath the stock fenders, the suspension’s stock coils were swapped for a new set of springs that lets the Mustang ride a little lower. For more precise adhesion to the pavement, Roush also added a different stabilizer bar in the front and new tubular aluminum rear lower-control arms. Ride quality received some extra attention, says chassis engineer Chip Minich, since the last set of mods was a little stiff. This time around, the engineers softened it up, "made it more friendly," in Minich’s words. "The chassis’ been around since 1979…you know what variables you can go after."
For you number geeks, Roush estimates that the Stage 3 will punch a hole in the air to 60 mph within 4.9 seconds as long as you opt for the manual gearbox (count on 5.3 seconds for the automatic). You’ll spin around the skidpad at least to 0.96g, hurtle through the quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at 109 mph, and yank you back from 60 mph in 120 feet. Whew.
With numbers like those, it’s hard not be enthusiastic for the Stage 3, even if it’s only driven on the track as we experienced. We drove the Roush on Bob Bondurant’s course in Chandler, Ariz., where the ashtrays at the lunch tables are the heads of pistons that have been blown out of school cars. It’s the perfect place to move up to a test of a modified Mustang, after a few warm-up laps in Bondo’s school fleet of orange Mustangs.
If the general idea sounds a lot like Ford’s own SVT Lightning pickup on paper, it sounds even more like it on the track. The Roush Mustang whines around corners with a characteristic whistle, and thusly throbs with enough torque to make you think out the power applications on a racetrack hairpin. It’s not as easy to rotate as the Lightning, obviously, but power-on oversteer never felt so readily accessible and controllable in a Mustang. The supersized tires don’t affect the steering much at all. And the Roush’s brakes felt phenomenal, especially in the context of mushy-pedaled Mustang GTs. The only letdown was not driving the Stage 3 on open roads. Until we get one on the highway, we can’t say whether Roush’s suspension upgrades have made it unbearable on anything but marble-smooth surfaces.
All of the modifications, plus Roush’s own name on the badges, make the Stage 3 Mustang an interesting proposition for collectors and track-dwellers with forty grand to play with. Coming at the end of the ‘Stang’s life cycle-–a new ponycar platform, the first since 1979, is due in 2003–it might seem shortsighted to develop a car on a lame-duck design, until you realize Roush is already making many of the parts found on the Stage 3. And since they’ve done a lot of development work for Ford, it’s not as if the Mustang is some exotic creature in need of thorough investigation.
More to the point, the Roush engineers see an opportunity between the stock sportscar and the myriad of aftermarket tuners and makers offering go-fa
st pieces or entire modified Mustangs at a premium. The difference is Roush’s army of engineers and OEM-quality development, says Craig Barker, program manager for the Stage 3’s powertrain. "It’s not a kit car, not a project car." That’s an important distinction, because as a major engineering outsource for Ford, Roush has the technical know-how to make aftermarket power with the manufacturing savvy of a full-line carmaker. Since the Roush car is legal in all 50 states, meets all relevant emissions standards, and will be sold through authorized Ford dealers, service should be a snap. "Many tuners haven’t gone through the certification [process]," Roush points out.
It doesn’t seem to bother the mothership either, at least for the time being. Although Ford markets its own 320-hp Mustang Cobra through its SVT microbrand, Barker says they’re not running interference with their own business partners. "Ford is anything for general enthusiasm for Mustangs," he explains.
The big question is, whether a $40,000 or $50,000 Mustang is the best use of money. If your American heartstrings are tugged by the notion of a super-hot ponycar that’ll spank a preening German perfectionist or a Corvette Z06, then there can’t be anything more exhilarating than 360 horses pawing the ground, hot and ready, no waiting.
2001 Roush Stage 3 Mustang
Base Price: $39,500 - $48,975
Engine: 5.4-liter SOHC V-8 with Eaton supercharger and water-to-air intercooler
Output: 360 hp @ 5250 rpm; 375 lb-ft @ 3000 rpm
Transmission: Tremec five-speed manual or Ford four-speed automatic transmission, rear-wheel drive
Length x width x height: 208.0 in x 79.1 in x 70.9 in Wheelbase: 119.8 in
Curb weight: 3465 lb (manual coupe) – 3625 lb (automatic convertible)
EPA City/Hwy: N/A
Safety equipment: Dual front airbags, anti-lock brakes, traction control
Major standard equipment: fog lights, air conditioning, power locks/windows/mirrors, Roush-modified engine, revised front fascia
Contact: 800/59-ROUSH; www.roushperformance.com
This article was written by Marty Padgett.