The 1980s and 1990s glory years of Germany’s DTM were so good they made legends out of its competitors. The BMW M3, for example, was made to dominate this series alone. But no German car that race in DTM was ever as cool as the most powerful car of its time, and certainly the coolest: a Fox Body Ford Mustang, carburetor and all.
Every year, Jalopnik’s most Chosen members – well, just me this year – have brought you the very best of Group C and GT1 racing from the 1980s and 1990s. We even did a Group B rally theme once. But for some reason we’ve never covered arguable the most successful racing formula of all. It’s the awkwardly-titled Group A-smas, worthy of celebration.
There was a while that I got to travel for this job, and I made a habit of picking up some kind of foreign-language car magazine at whatever airport I passed through. I have a kit car magazine somewhere from the same trip to the UK when I got an issue of Classic Tractor. I have a Japanese buyer’s guide that I cannot read for a car I will never buy. But I do have one that does come in handy every so often. I happened upon Auto Motor und Sport’s 30 Jahre DTM: Die Fahrer, Die Rennen, Die Historie (30 Years of the German Touring Car Championship: the drivers, the races, the history) and I’m glad I dropped the 6,90€ on it. Otherwise I’d never have known about Gerd Ruch’s 1990 steed.
I love this car so much. Growing up, a Fox-Body Mustang was about as far from a DTM machine as a car could be. The cars that I knew that raced DTM were small and agile and technologically adept. Little boxy Fords and Alfa Romeos with boxy fenders screaming around tight race tracks with high-strung engines that promoted efficiency over anything else. I wanted those DTM-style cars. I wanted something featherlight and nimble, fast and raw but also refined.
In my town, Fox-Body Mustangs were like a rear-wheel drive Hondas. They weren’t fast. They were loud. I never understood why they had such big engines, if all they did was guzzle gas and do burnouts. A Fox Body built to corner like nothing else, to grip and howl around a race track? As a kid I couldn’t imagine it.
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That one did race as a touring car, and did it in the home of all those M3s and Mercedes 190Es, it was perfection.
To be clear, actually, more than one Fox Body ran in DTM, and Ruch’s wasn’t even the most successful of them. A Fox Body Mustang won four races in the inaugural 1984 season, as one guy on Reddit pointed out a few months ago. A couple other Mustangs stuck around the series while other independents dropped away, including one that competed as “Buffalo Boots Racing.”
As for Gerd Ruch’s car in specific, there are, I think, three main points to keep in mind. The first is that Sport Auto’s 1990 test drive of the thing notes that the gas-guzzler from the United States also did not skimp on luxury. It had power steering, power windows, and even power mirrors.
The second point is that this was far and away the most powerful car DTM had ever seen. The screaming four-cylinder BMW M3s of the day made 330 horsepower from 2.5 liters, as the test notes. The championship-winning Audi V8s made 420 HP from 3.6. The Mustang, with pushrods and two valves per cylinder, made 530 HP from its 5.0's 4.9 actual liters. No matter how low tech it was, the car was a powerhouse.
The final distinction was that it was cheap. The car was only part of a small, independent team, and I think it was only possible because of the car’s low-tech/low-cost design. “This carburetor costs just 1,200 Marks,” Gerd Ruch told the magazine. By comparison, the ECU on the official Ford entry to DTM, the Sierra Cosworth, cost 60,000 Marks, as the magazine noted. Ruch’s budget for his 1990 season was just 100,000 Marks altogether. This was a simple machine for going fast.
If you want to get a sense of what I mean about a dissonance between Gerd’s Mustang and the rest of what ran in DTM, here he is mixing it up at the front (well, front-ish middle) of the grid in 1993 along with his brother Jürgen, also in a matching team Mustang:
A wall of induction noise buzzes towards the camera coming from various Alfas and Benzes, drowning out the roar of the Ruch brothers’ smiling Mustangs. It’s hard to believe they’re part of the same series.
Sure, Ruch never won in the Mustang. He never made it onto the podium with it, either, as carefully noted on Ruch’s driver database profile. But he campaigned the car for seven straight years, from 1988 through 1994, as an independent. Ruch mixed it up with big-budget factory teams, and he endured. That comes down to the simplicity and cost-effectiveness of that Mustang. I have to think part of that was down to its charm, too.