I’m not sure how a family of Warsaw bakers – my own – ended up in the northeast of England, specifically Sunderland, in England in the 1860s. The family myth – and it is a myth, because we have absolutely no evidence for it – is that they planned to take ship for America, but were dropped off in Sunderland, having been assured it was New York City. Perhaps it was a foggy day. And if it wasn’t, how would they know it wasn’t New York City?
This myth is powerful though. Growing up in Surrey, as I did, will do that to you. Dreaming of other lives is narcotic. And it explains many things to me – why I live in west Cornwall, for instance, where I sometimes imagine I can see New York City, there being no land between us (Jews are not famous for letting go); it explains why, when I am in New York City, I feel peculiarly normal. I love, for instance, to go to AA meetings in Brooklyn and listen to the voices, so confident and familiar. It also explains why, of all the cars I have ever driven, the one I love most is the Ford Mustang GT V8: petrol, not electric. As I said, Jews are not famous for letting go.
The Mustang is Ford’s most beloved car – its 300 millionth car was a Mustang – the one it has produced the longest, and the world’s best-selling sports coupe by numbers. Its scream – and it does scream – is that Ford can, when it wants, do more than the Fiesta or the Focus. For details watch Ford v Ferrari, an account of the 24 Hours of Le Mans 1966, in which Ford came in first, second and third, beating the European giants with a whisk of a lion’s tail. (Ken Miles, who was British, drove the second car and was robbed by his own, of you want to go down that particular internet rabbit hole). It has existed since 1964, appeared in Goldfinger and Bullitt, inspired Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally, but has only been available in the UK since 2015. The Lexus LC500 is as individual, and as fascinating to watch, and the Toyota Supra is as jaunty, but neither car feels as muscular and aggressive. It is exactly what Ford wanted it to be: a sports car for everyone in possession, as I write, of £50,000 or so.
It is not an Aston Martin, nor a Ferrari, it is true. There are more refined and more beautiful sports cars. Everyone knows that, including Ford, which does nothing by accident. But it is the finest American sportscar, and there is a reason beyond convenience that cars have conquered the world: if there wasn’t, we would all drive the VW Golf in suburban circles for ever. Cars have a tendency, like dogs, to match themselves to our deepest needs, and I want this piece of ecstatic Americana, which has all the optimism that I lack. It arrives with a thrum to set the village on fire. It is unloaded in the fishing port car park. When the harbour master sees it – we did not ask permission – he bursts into laughter because it’s a Mustang. It’s the optimism. The Mustang is vast, and orange, with a vast black stripe and the prancing pony on the front. Horse to horse, this feels like a dig at Ferrari, which also has a horse. It is possible to fight via badges. It also feels like a dig at all horses who, being horses, will not care. It has a 5.0 litre engine: a monster, then, and it takes the lanes of Cornwall like a monster. Acceleration, handling: both are perfect. Some complain that it lacks finesse; that it is nothing like a Bentley inside. They miss the point. Who wants finesse from a Mustang?
So, I have a happy week in this orange piece of America made of metal. It does 0-62mph in 3.9 seconds and all – and this is important – for less than £50,000. I like that it is not as gilded as the supercars, which I fear to scratch. It’s a perfect car in itself, and it is ebbing. It won’t be long until the petrol Ford Mustang will no longer available here. I know its world is over, but I love it still. I count the pennies, count the hours.