MPG17 City / 26 FWY
At the 2009 SEMA Show, Vaughn Gittin Jr. wowed us with his RTR-C Ford Mustang. With a full carbon fiber body, supercharged V8 producing 550 horsepower and a custom interior, it was easily one of the coolest modern pony cars we had ever seen. The only problem was that to buy one of your own, you'd need a six-figure sum burning a hole in your "fun money" account. That's a lot of cash for any car, let alone a Ford Mustang. The solution is the Mustang RTR, a much cheaper version of the RTR-C that's actually fairly affordable for the average sports car buyer.
The question you might be asking, though, is whether there is room in the automotive marketplace for yet another specialty Mustang. It seems a new variation comes across our desks at least once a week, and there are already endless aftermarket options for those wishing to build their own personalized pony car. Plus, many of those same Mustangs have well-established names like Shelby, Saleen and Roush emblazoned on their sides, all of whom are legends in the storied history of motorsports (and the Ford Mustang in particular).
Even so, Gittin is hoping to bring something new to the table. As a series champion and one of the most popular figures in Formula Drift, he believes that he can offer something different to a new generation of car enthusiasts. When Gitten first began competing with a Ford Mustang, he felt a disconnect between the car's aftermarket and the crowds of fans who were attending drifting events. "Since I fell in love with being behind the wheel of a Mustang in 2005, I noticed that most of the aftermarket was offering parts that were so traditional and, for the most part, not really my style – nor most of my generation's style" he told Autoblog. "I wanted to introduce something fresh and aggressive to the market that would engage a new generation of Mustang owner and appeal to traditional Mustang enthusiasts at the same time." That vision became a reality at SEMA in 2009 with the debut of his RTR-C and RTR Mustang.
Still, the question remains. Is there room for yet another Mustang tuner to enter the mix? We took a quick spin in an RTR Mustang to help find out.
Because the RTR operation is still small, there were no press cars available for us to test. Thus, Gittin pointed us in the direction of Galpin Ford in Van Nuys, CA for a test drive. Galpin is the largest Ford dealership in the world and they happened to have an RTR Mustang that they were willing to share with us. They are just one of the many dealers that offer the RTR as a complete package that you can buy straight off the showroom floor (you can see a full list of authorized dealers here), or they can upfit any current Mustang GT.
Before starting it up, though, we did a brief walkaround to refamiliarize ourselves with the exterior. The RTR that debuted at SEMA was done up in Kona Blue with black graphics, which made it somewhat difficult to really see the details of the car – especially under the bright lights of the Las Vegas Convention Center. We didn't have a problem seeing the graphics on our test car, however, as the black striping along the side of the car and the hood contrasted nicely with its Grabber Blue paint. The rest of the body modifications include a new front chin spoiler and splitter, side splitters, a new rear diffuser and an aluminum rear spoiler powder-coated to match the graphics. Overall, the look is more modern than retro and very tastefully done.
Our favorite part of the exterior, though, is the RTR's new wheels. The 19 x 9.5-inch pin-spoke wheels were custom-designed specifically for Gittin, and they look fantastic finished in dark charcoal. We don't know why so many tuners immediately install a set of 20-inch chrome wheels on every Mustang they touch, but the old guard would do well to take a page from Gittin's book here.
Moving inside the RTR, there's not much to see besides the Mustang's stock interior. That isn't such a bad thing, as this particular car is a Premium model with leather seating and blue accents. Gittin has added some modest touches here and there to let occupants know they're not driving a standard Mustang, including RTR logos on the gauges, power outlet cover and floor mats. Taking a cue from the likes of Shelby and Saleen, Gittin has also signed the dash on a plaque that bears the car's serial number. Finally, the stock shifter knob has been swapped out with a stealthy black cue ball that fits nicely in the palm of your hand.
Like the interior, not much has been changed under the hood. A K&N air filter has been added to the airbox, but that's pretty much it. The RTR package also comes with a Ford Racing tune that requires 91 octane and adds an additional 16 horsepower and 7 lb-ft torque, but it hadn't yet been installed on our test car so we can't comment on it's affect on acceleration. The most noticeable change to the driveline on our car was a set of Ford Racing mufflers, but like the air filter, we think they are good for a few horsepower at most.
The reason for the lack of horsepower and interior modifications, Gittin says, is to keep pricing down for the RTR package. The total cost for all the RTR components come out to $9,995 installed. "Making it affordable was absolutely the intention," he told us. Gittin thought about adding a supercharger option or something similar to add horsepower, but decided to leave that up to the customer. "The owners have a clean slate to add anything performance-wise they want or can afford." It's an approach we can appreciate, as the price tag of tuner cars often quickly spirals out of control. It also gives owners a chance to buy performance parts piece by piece rather than forcing them to crack their wallet open for them all at once.
Even though his team hasn't touched the RTR's drivetrain, it was only fair to expect improved handling from something with Gittin's signature on it. In this case, Gittin has turned to the Ford Racing Performance Parts catalog, adding a set of FRPP shocks and struts, one-inch lowering springs and front and rear sway bars. Out on the road, the first thing we noticed was just how stiff the RTR rode. We shouldn't have been too surprised, as we've driven a few other Mustangs with Ford Racing suspension parts that were fairly harsh as well.
Unfortunately, on our test loop, that additional stiffness didn't actually translate into better handling. The RTR bounced and overreacted with every undulation in the road, conspiring to make the steering twitchy and unpredictable. Not exactly confidence-inspiring. Of course, most of our driving was limited to the streets and freeways around Los Angeles, and we probably would have found the suspension more pleasing on a racetrack or on smoother roads. Even so, the impact harshness was disconcerting. For regular street driving, we'd rather stick with the standard Mustang GT's setup, or even better, the Boss 302's more compliant adjustable suspension. We did like the grip from the Falken FK452 rubber, a tire choice that's no surprise since Gittin competes for the Falken drift team, and braking was slightly more responsive thanks to the upgraded front rotors.
As for the rest of the car, we had no other complaints. We're still big fans of the Blue Oval's 5.0-liter V8, and we're at the point where 400+ horsepower in a street car is always enough to have plenty of fun. The Ford Racing exhaust out back emits a nice tone, announcing its presence slightly more than a stock 5.0-liter, and it isn't so loud as to qualify as annoying. The black cue ball shifter made grabbing gears a breeze.
After an afternoon of driving the RTR, we're not sure if we have a hard answer about whether there's room in the market for another tuner Mustang. On one hand, Gittin has done some impressive things – especially for someone who's a first-timer. The RTR is hands-down one of the best-looking Mustangs we've seen, and we can appreciate that Gittin has kept the cost down to a reasonable price. On the other hand, we're guessing that many people will balk at shelling out nearly $10k for what amounts to nominal performance gains. Plus, the car's main nut-and-bolt upgrade – its suspension – didn't leave us with a good impression. We'd like to see Gittin work with a suspension company to develop a unique setup for the car rather than simply reaching into the Ford Racing parts bin, though doing so would undoubtedly raise the pricing stakes.
At the end of the day, the RTR may not be as good of a performance bargain as the track-ready Boss 302 or have the pedigree of the more established aftermarket builders, but we have a feeling that Gittin will find at least a few buyers for his Mustang based on looks alone. If he continues his success on track and sells a few cars in the process, then Gittin might just find himself among the ranks of the legendary Mustang tuners in a decade or two. If anything, he'll always be the first to drift on Sunday and sell on Monday.