Wednesday, November 30, 2022 Nov 30, 2022
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Automotive

An Architect’s Review of the Mustang GT-H

What's the point of renting a muscle car to drive Dallas streets?
By Michael Friebele |
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Photo by Michael Friebele

[Editor’s note: Michael Friebele is a senior associate with Perkins Eastman. He used to live in Dallas and has previously written for D Magazine. After reading a FrontBurner post about the new Hertz-only Mustangs, he offered to review one during a business meeting in Dallas.]

About the same time Tim shared his thoughts on why Hertz shouldn’t rent a 950-horsepower car, I received the same email he did from Hertz and figured “Why not rent it?” I did so with many of his sentiments in mind.

As some readers have already noticed, the GT500-H with all its 900-plus horsepower is not available in Dallas, even though the counter at DFW Airport flashes its image behind the desk with its “Rent the Car. Own the Road.” slogan. To get that one, you will need to visit Fort Myers, Las Vegas, Miami, Orlando, Phoenix, or Tampa; all cities with access to the open road or a strip to act a fool on. If you are at all worried about Tim’s fear of a tourist blasting down Central Expressway, putting everyone in danger, you can feel relieved.

If you are flying into DFW, you must settle with the 450-horsepower GT-H, the same base specs as a standard Mustang GT. There are, however, some reasons why I think you should and why I did.

While there are many options for a sports car in the rental world, even offered by Hertz, the GT-H is the benchmark and design that kicked off why we have sports rentals in the first place. Since the first “Rent-a-Racer” was released in 1966, there have been five iterations of the GT-H Mustang along with other makes, models, and variants from different shops and namesakes. The Shelby versions are the most important and iconic of them all.

This is the point where I should preface that I am not a fan of the Mustang or anything remotely similar. The whole muscle car thing is a matter of preference, of course, and to me they often feel heavy, floaty, at times sluggish, tired in design, and quite frankly there are too many of them. As the Mustang has been sitting on its current S-550 platform for the past eight years, it feels a bit behind the times, though that is to change in 2024, electric-SUV aside.

The GT-H, however, embodies subtle changes that transform a common car into something unique with just enough nostalgia without being too stodgy. The Le Mans gold stripes over black paint are as timeless a visual statement as they come. Pair that with the updated hood, trim, and upgraded Borla cat back exhaust and it is just enough eye appeal and grunt without being obnoxious. Compared to the countless variants of the Mustang—and there are many—the GT-H seems exactly right in its balance of stock and customization.

The car is also rare, an important note for those who collect or might want one in the future. Eventually, these will come for sale, as I encountered firsthand in 2016 when trying to track down one of the 140 examples. More cared-for examples were quick to sell, “more experienced” options followed behind. Where those cars went for a little less than $50k on the Hertz lot after their rental use, you would be hard-pressed to find one under $70k today. They are desirable though one caveat: these cars will be driven hard.

All that said, what is it like to rent one and in Dallas?

A year ago, my wife and I decided to relocate to Minneapolis, Minnesota, after living for 10 years in the DFW area. For work, I split my time between working from home and often visiting our office in Dallas. After a year, you come to understand that prime seasons in Minneapolis mean you can spend a lot of time outdoors, making road-trips with the windows down, and enjoying time to get away from the work-at-home routine. Then, seemingly without notice, and with the naïve sense that the good times will live on, a breeze comes through, usually one night in early October, and with it the chill knowing that winter is quickly approaching. This year, we already had our first snow two weeks ago in the Twin Cities. The writing is on the wall that fun, day trips are about to be supplanted by shoveling and extreme cold.

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Photo by Michael Friebele

Coincidentally, it was time for the Urban Land Institute’s Fall Meeting in Dallas, where all things design, urbanism, development, cities, and community meet. With each muttering of “networking” and “get to know so and so” coming out of our business development lead’s mouth, there was already a need to escape without having set foot in the conference. Pair that with the impending winter season at home, and you have the need for something that can thrill you as well as take you away a bit.

My week with the GT-H began on the bus ride from the terminal to the counter, where there was plenty of time to take in the full experience of the DFW grounds. With every flash of the demo reel over the bus’s antiquated display that was purchased straight out of a 1990s Sam’s Club, I zoned out to imagining what it might feel like to open the car up in the LBJ Express Tunnel. Maybe, in the future, there will be a more direct route.

When we arrived at the car rental center, the Hertz line for once was not out the door. The process to rent the car was quick but does require another step or two where they check to make sure you are not the type of person to park the car in a ditch. Paperwork done, I found the car sitting out front amongst the sea of Malibus, minivans, and Kias, surrounded by the Hertz staff. You can tell the car is special as each person gets a smile on his or her face to tell you about it and to encourage you to go fast. My final inspection walk-though ended with the staff encouraging me to “get into some trouble.”

Usually when someone writes a column like this, for something like Road and Track, the GT-H would be on a pristine road with the world passing by in a sunny blur. My trip with the GT-H started by exiting the rental lot into a downpour, reminiscent of my prior time visiting Dallas, when the year’s entire rainfall was dumped in one day. Traveling down 183 toward Dallas in the GT-H, it was an exhausting start and put on full display the Mustang’s hatred for the rain. The car’s unique hood also did not help, as the unnecessarily large bulge shot the water right into the field of vision—more so than the standard coupe. While the all-weather performance Michelin tires seemed to help, the car was not able to feel fully in control. Aside from moments where you may turn the traction control off to spin around a large wet paved area, the GT-H is not at its best in the wet.

The side streets were no better heading through the Design District toward Turtle Creek, but the slow driving did give plenty of opportunity to get to know an interior that is miles beyond the cheap finishes Ford once was known for. The design has gone more forward-thinking with time but does not lose sight of the nostalgic as well. Switches configure the drive mode, traction, and other points of configuration with the car, all of which transform the character of the full digital dash. That change alone can make you feel like you are on a track for a moment rather than a slightly flooded Riverfront Drive. All very amusing. What sets the GT-H apart are the subtle changes in the cabin as well, from the name stitched into the seats to the 60th-anniversary plaques that remind you of the car’s specialness. And, of course, there is a large touch-screen for maps, music, and other points of configuration. The interior is a wonderful place to be.

When I arrived at my office garage, I did what any one would do and rolled down the windows to hear the Borla exhaust. The revs do put a smile on your face and can set off a car alarm or two. Stepping out with more time to observe the car than at the pick-up, you appreciate how it stands out without shouting, but what you also notice is the wear of rental. The curbed wheels, dings, and scratches all remind me of the examples for sale in 2016. People love the idea of the car, but I do wish it were respected a bit more.

The rest of the trip in town was sunny and uncharacteristically cooler—dare I say Minnesota-like. Staying at the Highland off Mockingbird and Central, the car was always parked out front and ready. The start of each day involved hopping on the service road and driving the car through the city. On a normal street, the car drove as though it always wanted to go fast and, of course, you always wanted to take it there. In a city like Highland Park, where speed limits and traps limit you to always drive at the pace of a golf cart, the car lurches, and lumbers on, as if it wants to be somewhere else. Anywhere else in the city, you feel a bit freer to drive it how the GT-H was intended. You do need to be aware and expect that every modified car around you will want to race. Comes with the territory I guess.

With the final day at hand, I was determined to get the car down to Dallas’ closest thing to a speedway feeling, the LBJ Express. I am not all advocating here to speed, as the confinement, paired with the repetition of the tunnel’s structure and the acceleration all together give a feeling all too like the Millennium Falcon propelling toward the Death Star’s core. The fun was at hand, but not without a traffic jam and plenty of Peter Gibbons-like moments between. It was here, again, where the car felt like a bull being held back, and while my anticipation was matched, the constant stop/start was not. Again, the car is not a joy to drive under certain circumstances. When I reached the ramp at Preston, I switched the GT-H into its Drag Mode, which adjusts the exhaust note and turns the traction control off. I floored it and was off. For that brief drive from North Dallas to DFW, it was clear why you rent the car. I smiled the entire way.

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Photo by Michael Friebele

Then it came time to return the GT-H. As I walked away from the car, parked in a lonely lane ready for its next uncertain driving adventure, I left it wondering why I chose to drive it in the first place. After all, the car was uncomfortable and at times seemed like it would rather be in a garage than on wet pavement or in traffic, where in Dallas it would be most of the time. The city, whether Dallas, Minneapolis, or elsewhere, just does not feel like the place for it. You want to be able to take it on the open road, stop at a Keller’s-like drive-in out in the middle of nowhere, and see the back country of America. I now get more than ever why the GT500H is offered where it is (other than Vegas where it is destined to wind up face first in an elaborate fountain with a plume of tire smoke trailing behind).

What I loved about the entire experience was that in every situation while driving, the GT-H was able to make the occasion just a little more special. Sure, there were my sentiments about the Mustang going into the experience, none of which really went away, but you come to see the car’s imperfections as something endearing. And, there were surprises, like planting your foot down on the pedal in a moment where the car just seemed at its most awake. One instance on Turtle Creek felt like a rocket was lit and you were off. It was these moments that I wish the car were a bit more consistent though it was appreciated.

Regardless of being in an urban or rural setting, or my thoughts on the Mustang in general, I want one when it is retired. There is something about walking away from it where you feel like you are leaving the best of tour guides behind and you have not even scratched the surface of the journey. It also felt like I was leaving something to be abused, thrown around, and inevitably to be torn up by those who do want to race it.

If you rent the GT-H, please take good care of it. It is a special machine, and when the world switches to fully electric someday, I feel it will be appreciated even more.

Author

Michael Friebele

Michael Friebele

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