“Would you like the damage waiver for just $30.99 per day?”
My brother-in-R&T-arms Zach Bowman just wrote a very nice review of the limited-edition Hertz Penske Mustang GT in which he visits many interesting places and takes many interesting photos. It’s thoroughly recommended if you’d like to read about the car itself or about the way it fits into the Austin landscape. If you want to hear about abusing the car on-track and propositioning African-American rental attendants, you can stay here.
When Derek and I got off the Hertz shuttle at Houston’s Hobby Airport, also known as The Official Airport Of Southwest Airlines, The Flying Bus Full Of People Whose Shirts Inexplicably Don’t Include Any Fucking Sleeves, the shuttle driver had a few words for us. To put this in perspective, I should note that the shuttle driver would have been an excellent stand-in for Huell Babineaux on “Breaking Bad”.
“Ya’ll need to hit that Mustang right there. That’s a bad ride. Need to fire it up and hear it.” Let’s take a look.
Ooh. Just $99 extra a day. I was hesitant, but Derek insisted, and he’s the boss. I think. Maybe I’m the boss. Things are fuzzy around here lately. Anyway. I popped the door, threw the luggage in, and fired it up, allowing the five-liter “Coyote” engine at least half a second to properly lubricate all rotating internal parts before revving it up to the not-quite-a-Boss 7000-rpm redline.
“DAMN!” the shuttle driver laughed. “Listen to that!” No diggity. This thing’s loud. I’m reliably informed by Zach that the Penske has the front splitter from the Boss 302 and the rear bumper from the GT500 and a wing from somewhere and a suspension from FRPP, but it’s the exhaust that you’ll notice first. It sounds almost too perfect; it’s the Mesa/Boogie Mark V of Mustang exhausts, delivering that perfect compressed squish of musclecar bump and grind. While the rest of the Hertz #1 Gold Club members waited in a line to get their cars — something about a computer glitch, I guess, the line was fifteen people long and being served by one depressed-looking teenager — Derek and I roared up to the remarkably well-proportioned young woman doing the checkout. I estimated her to be the same age as my college diploma. Still, faint heart never won fair lady.
“What time do you get off, baby boo?”
“One o’clock,” she replied.
“You want to go to the cabaret with us?”
“Mayyyy-be. Like to ride in that car a bit.” But truth be told, within ten minutes, I’d forgotten about her and our sort-of-appointment for rental debauchery, because it was more fun to pull donuts in a nearby church parking lot. (Memo to self: getting old.) The agreement stated that we would be permitted exactly one hundred miles per day in this fine automobile, which was costing us a rather frightening $589.40 for a four-day period even after my existing Hertz vouchers were applied. What could we do with just a hundred miles a day?
The answer was: forty-five laps. When we arrived at MSR Houston the following morning for LeMons Test and Tune, our race car had yet to arrive. (Spoiler: it wouldn’t arrive until more than halfway through the actual race, and when it did arrive, it wouldn’t run. But that’s a super-fun story for another day, and half of it will be written by our in-house counsel Curvy McLegalbriefs, I think.) What the hell were we going to do all day? Watch a bitch-basket VW convertible run 2:20s from the balcony while eating Whataburger?
And then I remembered the stories about the original GT-H Hertz Mustangs. How they’d come back on Mondays with missing interiors and plasma-torch marks from where rollcages had been welded in and then removed. How they would have blown motors and crash damage and all sorts of stuff. The thousand abuses of the Shelby GT-H were the stuff of legend, but today’s Penske Mustangs are safe and sane affairs, designed for a simulation of that old feeling and under no circumstances to be taken on a racetrack. The contract specified every penalty short of “forcible decapitation” for even wandering near a track in one.
Ten minutes later we were talking to the man who runs MSR Houston. “You understand,” he said, “that it’s all race cars out there, and you could get hit or injured or something.”
“Not a problem.” I assured him. “I’m from Road&Track, I’m an experienced racer with Grand-Am starts under my belt, and my name is Zach Bowman.”
“You have a racing suit?”
“Zach Bowman always has a racing suit.” Time to get this wagon past the flag tower, pronto.
My GoPro footage, which I’ve been advised by counsel to delete and never ever show to anyone, indicates that we turned a bunch of easy 1:56s in traffic, often including a respectful pause behind whatever Geo Prizm or Seventies-era BMW 528i happened to be occupying the space ahead. Let me say this: you could not pick a better car in which to learn roadcourse craft. Let’s count the Penske’s many virtues: It has Recaros. It looks awesome and frightening to cars that you are about to pass. It’s viciously fast with the Coyote engine under the hood. The automatic transmission doesn’t exactly shift under command like a GT-R does but it’s okay enough and if you just leave it in “S” it will be fine. I did three entire sessions before I realized it could be shifted with a little rocker button on the gearshift, and once I started doing that I didn’t go any faster as a consequence. Just let the transmission do the work for you and focus on the track.
The miniature Brembo front calipers are straight off the GT Track Pack, as are the wheels, and they’re okay but not spectacular. If you had all weekend with the car, you’d want to flush some decent brake fluid in it (perhaps the verboten Super Blue, but ATE 200 otherwise, this ain’t no high-roller Motul ride) and put on a set of Hawk race pads both front and rear. Doing ten or fifteen easy laps at a time with no ABS activation proved to be well within the GT’s skill set.
The FRPP suspension is properly tuned for track work and unlike most aftermarket suspension installs it fails to teach the Mustang any bad or dangerous manners. It will go sideways on exit or under trail braking just slightly more eagerly than the stock GT, but fundamentally this thing’s a sweetheart, it’s a T-16 waiting for you to bulls-eye some womp-rats. Which we did, lapping most of the on-track LeMons cars while giving them a wide berth. We rarely got passed, even on cool-down laps. It’s just much faster than the average crapcan racer. Which is fair, because to duplicate this car with a showroom GT would cost you probably $40,000. Hertz bought 150 of these, ten of which apparently have a manual transmission and are reserved for in-house use. Those will probably fetch $100K each at auction. I don’t know what you’ll pay for one of these in two years, but it’s worth considering at any price within, say, five grand of an equivalent used GT.
Given time, I’d have driven the Penske until the tires, brakes, or fuel ran out, but out of consideration for future renters we pulled the plug after fifty or so laps. The tires still looked good and there was plenty of pad left. I cannot stress enough just how easily this thing will zip around MSR Houston at a laptime that’s within five or six seconds of what a hard-driven Porsche GT3 street car can manage. If you were willing to endure a little risk and push it on the final Carousel, it might halve that gap.
When the actual race began the following day, a TTAC reader showed up with his base-GT-avec-Recaros:
There’s something just amazing and wonderful about how much performance you get from the current GT for the money. It’s a true successor to the old Fox five-liter and it will make the next decade or so of club racing very interesting. NASA’s already fired up a Spec Iron class for the thing and though said class isn’t currently well-subscribed, once you can buy a used Coyote for ten grand it will be. If you’re a performance-minded buyer with $25K or more in your pocket, you should take a look. Around a racetrack, the GT will command your respect, and the Penske GT will do more than that. For $150 a day, how can you go wrong?