Rare Mustang RTR Spitfire is a rally to save one of SA's historic fighter planes
The sexy limited-edition speedster you see here was inspired by a historic aircraft that served in our country's Air Force
There are many vehicles in automobile history with origins owed to military application. Humans and the penchant for conflict is a relationship as old as the wheel itself.
Consider examples like the Willys-Overland Jeep, Volkswagen Kübelwagen and Mercedes-Benz Geländewagen. And we cannot omit one of the most legendary brutes of them all: the High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicle (HMMWV).
You may otherwise know it as the Humvee, that khaki-coloured behemoth which inspired General Motors' Hummer brand. While the nameplate was retired a decade ago, it is poised for a revival as a manufacturer of electric vehicles. A war on climate change? More like a delayed salvo in retaliation to the battery-powered pick-up wave as sparked by Rivian and Tesla. Electrification is the way forward, as virtually all carmakers are showing. The revolution might not to be without its consequences for the planet.
Now back to our military apparatus topic. And into the skies, as we reference two famed wartime aviators from yesteryear: the 1942 P-51 Mustang built by North American Aviation and the Supermarine Spitfire from England, introduced in 1938.
Both handles went on to adorn four-wheeled models birthed after World War 2. The former was affixed to a hallowed muscle car from the Dearborn, Michigan, manufacturer of products with blue ovals, which needs no introduction. And the latter was appropriated by a less popular 1962 roadster from defunct automaker Triumph, which we can forget about after this mention.
The Ford Mustang you see here was designed as a special ode to the British single-seat fighter aircraft, more specifically, one that served in the South African Air Force.
Enter the story of Spitfire #5518. It first landed on our shores in 1947, serving in Langebaan, Western Cape, at the flight training school and at Air Force Base Waterkloof before being decommissioned. The South Africa Air Force Museum (SAAF) Museum restored the plane as a showpiece and for flying demonstrations at airshows.
It met a tragic fate in the year 2000. While in action at an event, it suffered severe damage during an emergency landing. Since then, the stricken flyer has spent its days languishing in a container. But that looks set to change, catalysed by the land-based namesake you see before you.
The Performance Centre, a respected modifications outfitter specialising in Ford products, has collaborated in a project with the SAAF museum and Friends of the SAAF to raise the R750,000 needed for the restoration of #5518.
The effort has resulted in an extremely unique interpretation of the Spitfire lineage using the vaunted coupé from the US of A as a canvas.
First, the Performance Centre procured 10 licences from prominent stateside tuning company Ready to Rock (RTR) Vehicles, for the use of its Mustang Spec 5 package. Note the wide exterior kit with exaggeratedly swollen arches and splitters that could slice a finger. While it wears a camouflage colour scheme (hand-painted), this is anything but incognito.
Those chunky alloys with an aggressive pattern are shod with Pirelli P Zero tyres (285/30/ZR20 in front and 305/30/ZR20 at the rear).
That heftier footprint at the hind is tasked with transmitting additional power over your regular Mustang 5.0 since in this case the standard 4951cc V8 has been supercharged. And before you ask, the answer is no: the Spitfire tribute cannot be had with the four-cylinder version as a base. It would simply defeat the purpose.
Taking the helm of the rare Mustang, my excitement is overwhelming. Pepper that with a smidgen of anxiety. This is the first unit of the batch. And the numbered tag, signed by RTR founder and drifter extraordinaire Vaughn Gittin Jr, stares up at me. Imagine the shame, embarrassment and trollery I would suffer on social media should anything serious happen.
A plaque on the passenger side is made from an actual piece of its Spitfire honouree. Each of the models is chronicled on the official RTR Registry in the land of the Star Spangled Banner.
Tipping the shiftier into its most spirited S-mode, I open the taps a bit and revel in the sheer truculence of that fettled eight-cylinder engine. A Brembo braking setup works effectively in reversing the thrust of this power source.
In the side mirrors, those fenders with the stylistic rivets (aping those found on the fuselage of the aircraft) are a novel sight. In my delusions I am Lt-Gen Bob Rogers, the decorated pilot whose name is emblazoned on the doors. Right until a patch of turbulence hits.
Gently babying the Mustang back to its owners after our driving experience and photography session, an unavoidable pothole claims the front left tyre, leaving me stuck on the side of the road, making an awkward call to the friendly marketing manager. Luckily, there were no other injuries to the vehicle aside from the deflated rubber.
As the Performance Centre support truck whisks me away, I hang my head despondently. It was an unceremonious goodbye, leaving the Mustang Spitfire, with its hurt foot, in the battlefields of Tshwane. I'd never have survived in the army.
• Contact Performance Centre on 012-003-7000 to inquire about Mustang RTR Spitfire ownership.
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