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It's time to clear your memory bank on the Ford Motor Company. It's changed. Road-hugging weight, the classically elegant formal look, marshmallow suspensions, and park-bench bumpers don't live here anymore. Oh, you can still find stray Granadas or LTD IIs rolling off the assembly line, wrought from obsolete philosophies, but their days are numbered. It's only the new Fords that matter now—the Fiesta, the Fairmont, and this new Mustang. The thinking behind them is as fresh as tomorrow.

Even the gray-flannel guys in Dearborn are talking performance again. And when they use such a word—culled from the Ford archives, dusted off, and sent out through excitable journalists like us—it is always preceded by an active verb like "maximize" or "optimize." The whole company is on the car-enthusiast case again. After a long stay of execution for fun-to-drive Fords, they're back. Product planners are boasting about zero-to-sixty acceleration, 120-mph top speeds, slalom-course results, and turbo motors. And there's a whole lot more than idle conversation. The hardware is right here for you to judge for yourself—Fords like you've never imagined before.

The new Mustang and its Lincoln-Mercury sister ship, the Capri, are twin bolts of automotive lightning out of an uncharted corner of the car-building cosmos. Nothing but seven chrome letters, three engines, and three transmissions was saved from the old Mustang II. We can all thank our lucky stars that every other trace of that mini-Mark has been laid to permanent rest. The new Mustang's floorpan and several steering and suspension pieces come from the Fairmont, and this is the best clue to what a blockbuster this new car is.

If you liked the Fairmont, you'll do cartwheels over the Mustang. We know you did and will. While one responsible editor right here at C/D was pronouncing the Fairmont the best American-made sedan ever, you readers were busy voting it the most significant new domestic car for 1978. Add a four-speed, your choice of a rumbly V-8 or turbocharging, sticky tires, and a body with aerodynamics good enough for Le Mans, and you've got the Mustang. It's a piece of Detroit iron ready and able to over-rev your pulse rate. Maybe, just maybe, Ford's performance penance is over at last.

It should go without saying that this new car is a lightweight, shrewdly engineered defender of the environment and saver of natural resources. Oddly enough, it's not downsized in sheer physical dimensions. The Mustang II was a cramped 2+2, kind of a stylized concentration booth. Chopped-up seating space is hardly in vogue these days, so the new Mustang is bigger: 4.2 inches longer in wheelbase and overall length, and stretched about an inch in height and in the front and rear tracks. The wheelbase is about the same as the German Capri's, but there are 4.3 extra inches in length and 2.6 more in width. Almost all roominess dimensions are up, with the biggest gains made in interior width and cargo space. Four fit inside for the first time with no need for novocaine to numb the pain of back-seat passengers.

Even so, weight has been saved. Two hundred pounds of the Mustang II and 68 pounds of the old Capri have been left on the cutting-room floor. This may not seem like much in a day of 700-to-800-pound metalectomies, but in the case of the new Mustang, 200 pounds is just slightly less than 8 percent of the base car's 2530-pound curb weight. The fact that no money was spent for aluminum cylinder heads, bumpers, or sheetmetal in the base car makes the job even more of an engineering accomplishment.

A light curb weight helps, but it's really not what brings the thrill back to the Mustang. This car works because every one of the thousands who participated in the project had his thoughts focused like a laser beam on one clear goal: to build a performance car that could burn a fresh trail through classic hot-car hang-ups clear into the Eighties. It had to look, go, and feel fun-to-drive, and, by sheer willpower as much as anything else, it does.

In our introduction to the new Mustang, the styling message came first. Ford prefers the term "design," as if styling connotes irresponsible clay modelers whittling forms that engineers could never really make into usable cars. Jack Telnack is executive director of North American Light Car and Truck Design at Ford Motor Company, and within moments of our entering his office, which looks like a prototype NASA departure lounge, he was deep into a postgraduate lecture on automobile aerodynamics. Telnack is a function-above-all-else guy, and in the Mustang's case the form that followed was one that could whistle four passengers comfortably through the atmosphere with minimal disturbance of the air. This means that the very first strokes of the stylist's pen were motivated by aerodynamic concerns, primarily low drag. It's the first time aerodynamics has played such a role in a Ford non-racing product, and perhaps the most dedicated search for low drag ever undertaken for any American-made car. Knife-edge noses, laid-back windshields, and flush-mounted side windows were drawn and redrawn to create a car that could be both built and used. The streamlined skin that came from all this was mated to a shortened Fairmont platform, where it met the harsh realities of upright seating and federal bumper and headlamp heights, so the new Mustang is indeed blunter than initial renderings. But it's still a very sleek car by today's standards.