Ford hit the jackpot with the 1965 Mustang. It offered sporty styling, an upwardly-mobile image and enough power for the interstate highway, all for just $2,368. Detroit churned out more than a million in the first 18 months, and the Mustang quickly became part of America’s popular culture – eulogised in songs such as Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally and immortalised on film by Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
A huge tuning industry also sprung up in the car’s wake, led by one Carroll Shelby of Cobra fame. Shelby and others transformed the ‘pony car’ into another all-American archetype: the V8-engined muscle car. So, when Ford finally brought a right-hand-drive Mustang to the UK in 2015, it was inevitable that modified versions would follow. Say ‘howdy’ to the Steeda Q500 Enforcer.
Steeda was established in the US in 1988 and even has its own test-track. Interestingly, founder Dario Orlando’s father designed the original Cobra logo, along with elements of Ford’s Le Mans-winning GT40. The Q500 is Steeda’s first ‘turn-key’ car for the UK: a Mustang V8 with pumped-up styling, sports suspension and a 64 additional horses, for 480hp in total. It costs £50,093 – around £9,000 more than a Mustang V8 GT.
Let’s start with the engine. Or, more specifically, the noise. Breathing in through a cold air intake system, then out via a custom Steeda exhaust, the 5.0-litre V8 is thunderously, fantastically, anti-socially loud. Its low-rev rumble could shake buildings from their foundations, while its bellow at speed is an all-out aural assault. Like any proper muscle car, it also rocks from side to side when you rev it. Hell yeah.
With 485lb ft of torque, the Q500 will happily burble around town in fourth and fifth gears. Find an open road and it lunges for the horizon, although never quite with the ferocity you might expect. Blame the long gear ratios, which are good for cruising (and, dare I say it, fuel economy) but blunt acceleration. Nevertheless, reckon on 0-62mph in around 4.3 seconds – 0.5sec quicker than the regular car.
Steeda has only made minor styling tweaks, notably a speed hump-shaving front splitter and duck tail rear spoiler. Inside, you’ll find the smaller steering wheel from a Shelby GT350R and a cool eight-ball gearknob, but that’s your lot. The rest of the cabin is untouched and, frankly, a little underwhelming for a £50k car. Then again, the Q500’s – mostly German – rivals all cost at least £13k more.
Fortunately, the chassis mods are more comprehensive, including 20-inch Velgen alloys, adjustable suspension, beefed-up anti-roll bars and a strut brace. These stiffen the car’s chassis, making it more alert and agile than a regular Mustang V8, and allowing that mean-looking, low-slung stance. The pay-off is a firm ride around town, but this smooths out with speed. Plus, Steeda is keen to stress the set-up can be tailored to individual taste.
On Ferrari-spec Michelin tyres, traction was rarely an issue – even on damp roads. If you must, though, the Mustang’s standard Line-Lock feature holds the front brakes to allow tyre-smoking burnouts on demand. Try doing that in an Audi.
If all this sounds like boy racer hedonism, you’re not wrong. And ultimately, the Mustang’s rather inert steering means the BMW M4 and Mercedes-AMG C63 are more rewarding to drive on a twisty road. Neither, however, offers the sense of occasion of the Q500: hardly anything this side of a supercar does. And while its soundtrack is as subtle as a punch in the solar plexus, the overall Steeda package feels impressively well-honed.
If you already have a Mustang V8, the Q500 mods can be added retrospectively, while owners of the four-cylinder Ecoboost version can soon opt for a Q350 package. If you want add muscle to your pony, it’s money well spent.
• Thanks to Adrian Flux for providing insurance cover. Tim Pitt works for motoringresearch.com