One of the many perks of being a Speedhunter is getting to drive fancy press cars, and out of all the ones that my rear end has graced, I’d have to say the Mustang RTR was the most fun. Back in November, our fearless leader Rod Chong (having also driven the RTR) and I met up with Vaughn in Las Vegas after the SEMA show to give him our impressions of the car. Rather than us interviewing him, we decided to turn the tables and have Vaughn ask the questions; it went a little something like this…
Vaughn Gittin Jr: So it was Saturday at the Formula Drift Irwindale finals. Rod, you pulled up in the RTR that you had and drove through that crowd of people where traditionally a Mustang would not be accepted. A traditional Mustang would not really turn heads.
VG: How did you feel, given you knew what you were driving and you had an opinion of it? Were you like ‘yeahhh!’ or …did you have a feeling?
Rod Chong: That’s such a difficult question…
VG: No it’s not. Did you feel like you were accepted there? Did you feel like people were looking at it and you were proud to be driving it?
RC: Yeah, absolutely. There was a moment for me that comes to mind when I think of the time I spent with the RTR Spec 2. It was on Saturday of the Irwindale event in the morning, during the roll-in when the Slammed Society show participants were rolling in, but they hadn’t let them into the Irwindale event yet.
RC: So we arrived and it was like being in some car culture film. All these guys with their slammed, dished, stretched, dumped cars lined up on both sides.
VG: So you were driving through a Speedhunters post.
RC: Yeah…or Stanceworks post or a Daily Fresh post? Well that’s a Swedish thing…Anyways, we were driving through and you could see that they all stopped and looked at the RTR as we were coming through.
RC: And I think for me, standing beside the car just looking at it, it sits right. Does that make sense? It’s got attitude and some of that has to do with the way that the wheels sit on the body and the attention to detail with the stance and so forth.
RC: It’s functional, it’s not necessarily low and slow, anything but. But the style is there.
VG: So both of you had a Spec 2. Larry had the actual prototype and you had one of the first few ever produced. As we went from prototype phase to production model we didn’t change too much.
VG: So when you first saw the car what was your opinion? Did you walk around it and check it out? Did you jump in it and go? You’ve obviously seen myself and RTR grow, so when you flew out to come take the car what was the excitement, what was your first impression of just looking at it?
RC: My impression was ‘F*** Yeah!’
VG: Yes! That’s awesome.
Larry Chen: I first saw it in your driveway and when I pulled up I instantly knew, ‘ok that’s the car, that’s the car I’m going to be driving’. And the thing is, I’ve always liked Japanese cars, like you were saying when I interviewed you.
LC: But in the back of my mind I always secretly pictured myself in a Corvette or something. I kind of imagine from time to time for a quick second, maybe when I drive by one or see one on the street. So when I saw the RTR I was like ‘for sure!’
LC: I could actually see myself owning this car just because of the way it looks. I love white cars, they’re the worst to photograph, but they’re the best to look at. And it’s so clean. Even though it’s not too far from a regular Mustang, the subtle tweaks really changed it completely.
LC: I put a full tank of gas in it and drove 350 miles through three states. I drove past other Mustangs (same year, even one that was white), but they always looked over and checked it out.
LC: That’s what I thought was really cool. When you mentioned the Mustang brotherhood you kind of always say ‘Hi’ when you see another one.
LC: What really surprised me was when I took it through Times Square. I was stopped at so many red lights driving through that people would actually stop and take pictures with their cell phones.
LC: And that’s what really shocked me. I mean, maybe it was because I was revving and showboating a little bit. The whole package, the sound, the whole look of it. It’s something else. I could never see myself owning a stock Mustang but the RTR has an edge.
VG: That was definitely the whole project. RTR for me was to cross that line. To take someone that would not want a Mustang and engage them to at least have a different perception of what it could be.
VG: So even if you couldn’t potentially get a RTR, you might consider a Mustang in the future, or a stock one because you have a different perception of what it could potentially turn into. For me personally, I felt like my perception of it was a car with five-spoke wheels that might or might not fit properly, some louvers, a hood scoop, and racing stripes and I really wanted to change that perception. That’s why RTR started in general.
VG: Hearing someone like you say ‘I wouldn’t drive a Mustang, but I really love the RTR’ to me indicates success. Ford has an amazing product that comes out of the showroom with the Mustang. A lot of what is going on right now in our scene and aftermarket world in general is perception.
VG: If a Mustang is perceived to be cool and fits in with all of the lifestyle, then it’s accepted I think. Hearing opinions like yours and the success we’ve had, we are obviously seeing that this little dream I had in my head is working.
RC: I was just really excited to get behind the wheel of this machine. It was just a great feeling.
VG: Did either of you do any fun driving? Any burnouts?
RC: That would be unprofessional.
VG: Not when you take one of my cars!
RC: You should have said that before we drove them!
LC: I took some nice back roads around Maryland and I visited Chris Forsberg at the MA Motorsport shop. I may have driven a little spirited. I know it is not a drastic improvement in power versus the stock, but the sound and the feeling is good. The sound really adds to it.
VG: Actually it is 30 horsepower over stock…there’s not a ton of big numbers, but the two-minute changes have dramatically altered how the RTR feels compared a stock car. It’s got 64 pounds of additional torque from the stock car at 5400 rpm, so perhaps we should do a back-to-back comparison, but in general you would feel it. It probably felt really torquey and fast I would imagine.
LC: The main thing that I noticed is not that it’s super easy to drive for a fast car. The clutch is very light and it’s easy to shift. The thing is, I could drive in 6th gear pretty much all the time because of how much torque it has.
LC: Sitting in New York traffic, I was seriously in 6th gear going from 20 to 65mph.
RC: I was doing as many gear shifts as possible. I find one of the pleasures of that car is matching downshifts. You gotta go down all the way through the gears to that crossroad and make sure to use the brakes as little as possible and blip the throttle as you go down.
RC: For me, that’s one of the pleasures of driving a car like this. Even normally, I feel like it has spirit. It has a real character. And in this day in age of appliance cars, especially since every successive model is more and more of just an appliance to get you from point A to B, when you carve out so much spirit, it’s great. So much character. I don’t know if that answered anyone’s question.
LC: One stupid thing that I’m really big about is the way it sounds once it hits the rev limiter. A lot of new cars have a soft rev limiter and that just kills it for me. I just love the feeling and the sound when you bang it off the rev limiter 2 or 3 times.
VG: For this year, we have two versions: the Spec 1 and Spec 2. The one you guys drove was Spec 2. That comes with the tune, it comes with all the appearance stuff, but it also comes with fully adjustable suspension. The way that you guys received the car was set up, I actually went and tuned everything myself.
VG: I took the car to a skidpad and went through all the ranges cuz we have adjustable sway bars and fully adjustable shocks on the car. So the way the car was given to you guys was a very neutral balance. A very easy to drive, good handling car that didn’t want to oversteer or understeer. Kind of what you would want on a racetrack but works decent for a street car as well. Was that pretty noticeable to you guys?
RC: The main sense I got from driving the RTR was that it felt like a fully integrated package. All the elements were working together very nicely, from the engine sound to the gear shifts, to the steering feel and so forth. In terms of the suspension itself, what I really liked about the car was it didn’t feel heavy, because it is a heavy car.
RC: I never felt like I was driving a big heavy American car, in fact it almost felt nimble. Sometimes when you drive these big powerful cars, you can feel the tires and the shocks are trying to control the weight of the thing and I never felt that. It just felt like it was ready to rock!
LC: I thought that it had too much grip for the stock seats. I’m a pretty small person and I slide around a lot, so I had to use the dead pedal. It definitely handles too well for the stock seats. And that’s a good thing, but for a small person like me, the bolsters don’t do anything at all.
VG: I agree with that.
RC: I found the car is also quite enjoyable to drive normally. It’s just a pleasure to be driving it: whether you’re just tooling around, cruising around or going up through the gears onto a freeway launch where you have to zip in and accelerate a little bit, it just feels great.
VG: It’s always there, right where it is you want. I totally agree with that.
RC: You just feel joy from that car all the time. And you also feel like kind of badass because you’re driving a Mustang. Pass through those gears. I think if I owned one, I would have to have a different hairstyle and grow facial hair and have an American accent. Maybe change my wardrobe a little bit. It’s just got so much personality and a lot of fun.
VG: I’m overjoyed hearing of this. Because it’s everything that we worked so hard to achieve from looks and performance. You guys really felt it and it’s doing what I dreamed of the RTR to do.
RC: Some of the high performance cars that I’ve driven almost feel a bit useless, or like you’re not driving it properly unless you’re doing over 100mph before you’re getting anywhere near what the car was designed for. Anything else doesn’t seem right. And there are other cars that I think make you drive like an idiot. Like someone you would hate.
RC: I had a car on one Speedhunting trip that had a lot of power, and all you really want to do was just hard launch the thing. Then suddenly you’re doing double the speed limit and you’ve got to hit the brakes, but it doesn’t feel like you’re doing anything. So what I like about the RTR is that, no matter what you do with it, it’s just good fun. It encourages you to enjoy the car a lot but in such a way that it seems like everyone else around you also likes it too.
RC: It’s not necessarily screaming ‘I’m a rich bastard elitist person, look at my hugely expensive machine and watch me overtake you on the wrong side of the lane.’ But it almost emits a friendly character to other people. I don’t know if that’s the right character for a muscle car, but people seem to like them.
VG: I think for me, as long as there’s smiles inside and outside of an RTR, I think that’s a success.
RC: That may be it. Some cars are just smiles inside, but around envy it becomes ‘look at that rich man without taste’ or whatever, like ‘Nice car, I hate you.’
VG: I’m obviously biased, but when I come out of the grocery store or wherever, and the car’s in the parking lot, I look at it and I’m like, ‘damn it looks so good.’ I mean the stance, and when you get in it, the feel, everything you guys are saying is how I feel about the car. It’s really awesome to hear that. On another point of view, what would you change about the car?
RC: The steering wheel.
VG: The look of it? or the feel of it?
RC: Both. When you drive a performance car, or even a luxury car, one of the key things is tactile qualities of the things that you touch. It should feel quality, and the main thing that you touch most of the time is the steering wheel. I think it could use something that’s leathery or feels like it’s special.
VG: It’s not necessarily the shape, I mean, it is leather now, but it’s the feel of the material.
RC: The car should say to you ‘this a performance car; this is a performance steering wheel,’ because the rest of it is. You look around the back it’s got this custom exhaust, it’s got the wheels, all the stuff around it, but your main interface is this wheel and I think that that should be one of the customizations.
LC: It’s mostly just the ergonomic thing for me, to be able to stay completely in my driving position at all times. That’s mainly it.
RC: Maybe you need to workout and build up your body so you’re more manly.
LC: Yeah maybe I need to bulk up. The Mustang is designed for all shapes and sizes, but if I were to buy one, I’d definitely change the seat just so I could drive it more comfortably on the track if I take it to track days or autocross. Other than that, I think the car is really good.
RC: I think there’s a universal quality about muscle cars that a lot of people seem to like, not only in America but around the world. Something that goes back to the history of the automobile. The muscle car seems to make people feel warm and fuzzy inside. I think this car really carries on the spirit of some of those original one-of special editions from the 60’s. I felt very special driving it, much joy is there in it.
VG: And joy is a quality situation to have in your life.
RC: It’s cool when the car just makes you feel badass. I like that.
VG: I agree. So whether you’re looking at it or driving it, you feel badass. That’s success to me. I’m really pumped. It’s just funny to think of this, how all this is all happening.
VG: I’m getting compared, as ridiculous as it is, to Carroll Shelby. I had a designer who I really respect here this weekend (SEMA) on Spec 3, he’s like, ‘you’re doing this. You’re going to be the next Carroll Shelby.’ That’s ridiculous to hear that! Those are a huge pair of shoes to fill, something I would never even tell myself. But when you look at what Carroll did, it’s like he had success on the track, but what he wanted or needed wasn’t there, so he went out and did what he wanted to do and it just turned into something. For me, it was kind of that same scenario. I’m doing what I want to do, and of course there’s this legend I’m being compared to because he’s the only one who’s done it in this world, and it’s just weird to me to be in that sentence.
RC: Remember we had Camille with us, the girl from France who’s a mechanic? I brought her over to meet you. She’d really like to get involved with drifting as a mechanic. She’s a professional mechanic right now in the French Air Force. I was explaining to her what you’re doing with your life. When you start listing it out on paper, professional drifter, you’ve done this and you’ve done that, in your 20’s, but then when you add ‘well he’s got his line of custom Mustangs,’ you think, ‘What? How did this happen exactly, how did this all come together?’
RC: I think for some of us who have been involved and seen this thing evolve organically over time, we see how hard you’ve worked to get to where you are. But someone who’s very new, who’s meeting you for the first time, it seems kind of crazy to think that all this stuff is happening now. Hats off to you. It’s pretty cool, very exciting.
VG: Yeah it’s unbelievable. It still to this day continues to blow my mind because I think I just spend so much time doing-doing-doing and I don’t really realize what’s happening until I’m walking up to the Ford dealership with my Mustang that I designed and built with my team sitting in their showroom.
RC: We were driving this car around and I find it quite significant that the signature is on the dashboard. This guy, this is his thing that he’s made.
VG: Then you look over and you’re like, ‘oh wait, it’s JR’.
RC: Well I know you, but let’s pretend for a minute that I don’t. You signed this thing, this is your project, you put it together. I think ‘wow, that’s pretty amazing; what an achievement.’ Maybe even more so than what you’ve done as a professional driver. To create a car that people can actually buy, and experience, have it become a part of their lives, and have them enjoy driving and owning this car.
RC: I think that’s pretty wild. Not many people do that.
RC: Cars with their names on it. Not many people do that.
VG: It’s still so weird to me.
RC: I’m trying to make you cry here.
-Vaughn, Rod and Larry