Bill Ford’s Evocation of “Go Like Hell” is Everything That’s Wrong with the Mach1 Electric Crossover

Nostalgia is a powerful thing. But like any powerful tool, it needs to be wielded carefully. That’s what Ford found out when it decided to name an electric crossover after one of the most memorable Mustangs of all time. Turns out they haven’t learned their lesson.

Speaking at a Crain’s Detroit Business Newsmaker of the Year luncheon, Bill Ford evoked a phrase that his uncle had spoken in the ‘60s, saying that the Mustang-inspired (no longer named the Mach 1) crossover “is going to go like hell,” as reported by Automotive News.

I hardly need to remind you that “Go like hell” is what Henry Ford II told his Le Mans team when they were creating the GT40 specifically to scorn Enzo Ferrari and his capricious brand of Italian business.

Bill Ford’s use of it wasn’t an accident. The phrase is supposed to signal that Ford isn’t going to be building weeny EVs for hypermiling, they want to build quick EVs to take on the world’s best.

“When we first started talking about electrification, there was this thought that there had to be a trade-off: It was either going to be green and boring and no fun, or really exciting but burn a lot of fossil fuels,” Ford said. “Electrification has come to the point that you can do both.”

Quite aside from the fact that this is an admission that Ford is on its back foot in terms of automating, and besides the fact that claiming that electrified cars can be fast off the line is about as interesting and new a statement as “puppies are cute,” the quote shows how Ford doesn’t even know how to use its own history.

Ford is flailing around, using references with all the subtlety of a fart in church. Go like hell is the phrase that evokes one of the most legendary on track battles in the history of racing.

It’s associated with one of the great classics and how it earned that status at one of history’s most epic races. It evokes the wild excess of the ‘60s, the insane design of the of the mid-engine speed machine, and the man who made some of history’s best tuned cars, Carroll Shelby.

Like Mach 1, it’s being applied to something that’s neither a spiritual nor a literal descendant of the car it alludes to. An electrified crossover share neither the engineering, nor the excitement that surrounded the referent.

Don’t take this to mean that I don’t think an electric (or electrified) crossover is a good idea. It is, at the very least, a necessary idea right now. The industry is inevitably moving towards electric crossovers because they’re a good idea. 

Quiet, quick, efficient, and spacious, the EV platform is a great basis on which to build a family car. And sure, it’s not perfect, but it is good and there are advantages to exploit.

But none of those advantages have anything to do with endurance racing, macho follies, or human drama. None of them captures the imagination like the GT40 or the Mach 1 Mustang.

That makes this feel less like a reference made with love than a crude, cynical ploy. We need look no further than the Bullitt Mustang to see how to evoke a historical idea well. That car, despite cashing in on Steve McQueen’s mystique, also shows an acute focus on the details and references that prove that the people who built it actually liked it.

It’s kind of like the difference between a good spoof and a bad one. The best spoofs, like Anchorman or Walk Hard, are made with love. The references and jokes land because they aren’t made out of anger. And since the people who will get those jokes are the same people who watch a lot of other movies in that genre, and since watching a lot of movies in a genre is a high water mark for liking that genre, they don’t get offended.

Similarly, people who love the original Bullitt Mustang aren’t offended by the new Bullitt, because apart from being an actual Mustang, the finer details (color, wheels, shifter, etc) are lovingly recreated. People who loved the Mach 1 and the GT40 won’t be as happy because the thing they love is in no way represented by an electric crossover.

Ford here has made a bad spoof. They’ve decided they want to imply speed, so they’ll just plumb the depths of their history for any old reference. Next they’ll be calling the F100 because it can carry a lot.

Which is dumb since there are a bunch of references that would fit really well here. Ford Falcon, for instance, might work.

Whereas the original was a small family car that eventually became the Mustang, the electric crossover is a bigger family vehicle that has the same love of frugality and intelligent design. And even if a normal person doesn’t get that it’s historical, Falcon is a cool enough name that they won’t care.

How about Galaxie, if you’re more into big cars? As loath as I am to suggest it, even Thunderbird would be a better name, since it’s so electric. And it suggests performance. I still fear, though, that might inspire the ire of the Thunderbird collector.

Torino, given its scale and its history NASCAR might be a good fit, too.

Country Squire, I admit, is a bit pedestrian for Ford’s ambitions. While I love the name, and would love to see it return, it might not be ideally suited to the car they’re trying to build.

Whatever the case, trying to borrow the name of a non-familial pony car and the history of a wildly expensive race car, aren’t the best ideas for a company that’s trying to convince the world that their slightly quick, but ultimately family-focused and affordable crossover is worth buying. And doing that is only going to turn people off. 

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