Alan Cesar
Alan Cesar Dork
2/22/12 2:13 p.m.

The Mustang has long been one of Ford’s halo cars. It’s a powerful, rear-wheel-drive machine with a one-word objective: fast. The hottest versions have typically featured massive V8 engines, muscular styling and an earth-rumbling roar reminiscent of the most testosterone-spewing, Cookie Monster-imitating heavy metal singers.

Funny, then, that this automotive monster has something in common with a certain pink, battery-hawking, drum-beating bunny. The Mustang keeps going and going. Decades of development gave engineers a long history to draw from when they designed the current S197-chassis Mustang. When the fifth-generation car hit showroom floors for the 2005 model year, it represented the Mustang’s first ground-up redesign in a quarter century. The fourth-generation chassis that hit in the mid-’90s, dubbed SN-95, was still based on the aging Fox body.

While its contemporary competitors—namely the Chevrolet Camaro and Dodge Challenger—have independent rear suspensions, the updated Mustang keeps its drive wheels mated to a solid axle. This isn’t the hindrance that it seems to be on paper. In the same way that Porsche has managed to build incredibly capable rear-engined cars, Ford’s long-running experience with live axles has resulted in machines that make the best use of them.

The new model’s retro styling arrived to rave reviews, and the make’s motorsports division, Ford Racing, followed the flash with a series of factory-built race cars. These complete, fire-it-up-and-hit-the-track cars arrive with roll cages, adjustable suspensions, track-calibrated electronics, and countless other upgrades. Since 2005, an entire turnkey racer has been available as a simple part number in Ford Racing’s vast catalog.

Following a long tradition, the automotive aftermarket filled their catalogs with parts for the newest Mustang. Aggressive body add-ons, supercharger kits, short shifters and exhaust systems loud enough to make your neighbor hide in the garage are all as close as a Web search for “Mustang performance.”

Whether powered by the carry-over Modular-series 4.6-liter aluminum-block V8 or the new high-tech Coyote 5.0-liter engines, the current Mustang has proved a strong runner on the street, the race track and, in Cobra Jet form, the drag strip. Like that Energizer-powered rabbit, these horses have shown that they can keep going and going and going—all the way to the podium. You just need to decide which formula is right for you.

Our Ultimate Track Car Challenge weekend at Virginia International Raceway included a broad variety of track-only Mustangs, but for this test we cast the net a little wider to include some street Stangs, too. NASA Mid-Atlantic, our hosts for the day, provided us with lap times for anything with a transponder. Time for some horsing around.

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