Every so often, I sneak out from behind the keyboard and behind the wheel of a special machine. It is those fleeting moments that fuel the passion to keep pace with the ever-changing world of Ford Performance. So, when the offer was presented, I simply couldn’t say no to taking a road trip in a modified 2017 Mustang GT.

The crew at Ford Performance needed its S550 demonstrator relocated from the Motor City to the Southeast. The trick was that they needed it moved just weeks before the SEMA Show in Las Vegas. Though I couldn’t really spare the time away from the desk, I just had to make this happen, so I threw caution to the wind and booked a one-way flight to Detroit.

Thanks to the addition of the Ford Performance Power Pack 2 — which includes a Shelby GT350 cold-air induction system and a high-performance calibration — this second-gen Coyote gained 21 horsepower and 24 lb-ft of torque.

I never like the new Mustangs when I first see them — S550 is the exception to that rule.

After all, this opportunity to drive home from Detroit would serve as an appropriate bookend to the end of the 2015-2017 Mustang era for which I feel inexorably linked with. From being present when the car was first revealed to the media only to speed shift from my long-running gig of chopping down trees and slinging ink. Suddenly I was serving up stories just as the new car was revealed to the public, so the beginning of the S550 will always hold a special place in my heart.

Writing about the Ford has been my world for the last 23 years. Yet, at the core, sharing those stories has always come from the same place that first had me fall head-over-heels for the Mustang back in the early ’80s — love. However, Mustang restyles haven’t always been love at first sight until this car arrived.

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Pushing Forward

“Excitement about the future raced through my head, yet relief lifted off my shoulders,” I wrote in a March 2014 column, in a long-dead publication, after seeing a life-size model outside Ford’s design studio. “I never like the new Mustangs when I first see them — S550 is the exception to that rule.”

I had always been concerned with how Ford would follow up the retro S197 era and move the Mustang into the future, but they clearly knew better than I did. When I stepped off the airport shuttle and walked up to this Grabber Blue 2017 Mustang GT, I cracked a familiar smile. This car looks great.

If you didn’t look closely for those tell-tale Ford Performance badges and center caps, you might think this was just another Grabber Blue 2017 Mustang GT optioned with the Performance Pack. This one, however, sports a few choice Ford Performance mods and we took it for a long drive to see what it felt like.

Better yet, this was no stock Mustang, which seemed fitting. The S550 has been out for a few years, so driving a stock one might have seemed a bit anti-climatic, but one with a few choice bolt-ons seemed like just the right way to ease into the 2018 Mustang, which I would drive just two weeks later…

After connecting my phone and adjusting those factory Recaro seats, I pushed the start button. The Coyote rumbles to life a bit more robustly thanks to the Ford Performance Sport cat-back exhaust system in place. This exhaust offers the ideal balance of more sound when you want it and a subtle rumble when you don’t. Throughout this trip, the exhaust never danced on a nerve and when I wanted to cut loose, it reinforced all those performance feels.

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Subtle Enhancements

If anything, the exhaust exemplified the well-rounded nature of this package. From the Track Pack suspension to the Power Pack cold air intake, throttle body and tune, the performance knobs were turned up enough to notice, but not enough to detract from the car’s daily drivability.

I experienced a bit of around town driving in and around the Motor City while paying visits to Ford Performance to get a preview of the Focus RS Drift Stick, which we shared with you during SEMA along with another special tour that will hit this page in the future.

The aerospace-inspired S550 cockpit remains largerly unchanged in this car. It was already optioned up with the Recaro seats, which proved supportive and comfortable on our long road trip. The only hint at its hot-rod upgrades is the Ford Performance round shift knob crowning the companion short-throw shifter that actuates the factory MT-82 six-speed manual.

Ford Performance Mods

• Ford Performance wheel center caps: $192

• 2015-2017 Mustang GT350 air filter: $89

• 2015-2017 Mustang Track Handling Pack: $1,520

• 2015-2017 Mustang Ford Performance strut tower brace: $239

• 2015-2017 Mustang GT cold air intake and calibration Power Pack 2: $949

• 2015-2017 Mustang Ford Performance radiator cover: $105

• Powered by Ford Performance badge: $99

• Ford Performance six-speed shift knob: $84

• 2015-2017 Mustang short-throw shifter kit: $329

• Mustang 5.0-liter Coyote blue coil covers: $100

• 2015-2017 Mustang Ford Performance windshield banner: $50

• 5.0/5.2 Coyote right-hand oil-air separator: $199

• 2015-2017 Mustang GT 5.0 cat-back Sport exhaust system w/ black chrome tips: $1,549

After a quick dinner with an old friend, it was time make time on the road en route to Indianapolis to check out a really cool EcoBoost-powered machine that you can also read about here soon. Getting on the highway provided the first opportunity to really let this pony sow its oats.

In practice the extra 21 horsepower and 24 lb-ft of torque offered by the GT350 induction and Ford Performance calibration is nearly as noticeable as the bump offered by the 2018 Mustang GT. Moreover its flat-on-the-floor-friendly calibration makes this 2017 GT truly fun to drive. However, when cruising down the highway or putting around town, it drives just like a stocker.

No big wings or obvious mods out back, just those clean S550 lines. Only those with a keen nose for mods will notice the Ford Performance Sport cat-back exhaust system with black-chrome tips.

Darting on and off on-ramps outside of Indianapolis, I really started to enjoy what the Track Pack suspension upgrade had to offer. If you aren’t familiar, this package features assembled struts and springs; rear springs, performance upper strut mounts, jounce bumpers and upgraded rear toe links. It’s a complete upgrade and this addition definitely makes the first-gen S550 more fun.

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Corner Carving In Comfort

Likewise, the car’s suspension upgrades sharpen the handling when you want it, but don’t beat you up when you’d rather relax. It did take a bit of adjusting to the Mustang after most recently jumping out of a sharp-handling Focus ST, but after recalibrating to the weight and size of the Mustang, I quickly realized the Ford Performance enhancements made the car taught yet tossable.

The Pirelli tires gripped well in the corners and we never charged hard enough on the street to challenge the stock Performance Pack brakes. Moreover, those Recaros kept me planted and confident while wheeling this subtle performance.

While the nods were subtle — at least until you opened the hood — there were a few Ford Performance markings to let you know this was not another 2017 Mustang GT.

2017 Mustang GT Mods

Powertrain

Block: Stock Coyote 5.0-liter aluminum

Crankshaft:

Rods: Forged steel

Pistons: Cast aluminum

Camshafts: Stock w/ twin independent variable camshaft timing

Cylinder Heads: Aluminum DOHC, four valves per cylinder,

Intake: Composite shell-welded with runner pack

Fuel System: Sequential multiport electronic

Exhaust: Stock

Electronics

Engine Management: Stock w/ Ford Performance calibration

Ignition: Stock distributor-less w/ coil-on-plug

Front Suspension

K-member: Stock

A-arms: Stock

Struts: Ford Performance Handling Pack

Springs: Ford Performance Handling Pack

Brakes: Stock Performance Pack w/ Brembo six-piston calipers

Wheels: Stock w/ Ford Performance center caps

Tires: Pirelli P-Zero 255/40-ZR19

Rear Suspension

Shocks: Ford Performance Handling Pack

Springs: Ford Performance Handling Pack

Brakes: Stock Performance Pack

Wheels: Stock w/ Ford Performance center caps

Tires: Pirelli P-Zero 255/40-ZR19

Perhaps more importantly on a 1,200-plus-mile road trip, those same Recaros provided comfortable support for the duration of the journey. Even after hours behind the wheel, I didn’t get out feeling beat up or dreading to return to the driver seat for another extended stint.

After dropping by the Steeda Pony Wars in Valdosta, Georgia, it was to Florida in the Ford Performance Mustang, which would serve as my everyday car for a couple more days. Its hue was an immediate hit with my teenage son, and the few days doing the daily grind in the car tugged at my Mustang heartstrings. The latest Mustang, even one that’s modded, needn’t be relegated to specialty duty. This car was capable and comfortable in multiple venues.

In the end, it was tough to turn over the keys to this modded coupe. These choice Ford Performance upgrades created the kind of Mustang you wish you could drive right off the dealer lot and definitely closed the gap between the outgoing car and the latest Mustang.

So, if you still aren’t down with the 2018 Mustang styling, a Mustang GT modified with factory hot-rod parts is definitely worth considering.

This car was optioned up with nearly every option, including the Premium Sound System with the trunk-mounted subwoofer. We put this system to good use on our 1,200-plus-mile road trip.

Photo gallery

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