It was the ultimate American road trip: from Chicago to Los Angeles on the 4,000 km long Route 66 in a Ford Mustang. Colin Windell recreates the iconic trip using the latest Roush Stage 3 derivative to get his kicks on our local R66.
At a mile marker shy of 250 kilometres, it may not have the length, the nostalgia, or the mystique of the now defunct famous Route 66 in the USA, but the journey of the same name in South Africa is a splendid mix of rolling hills, forests and history … and a Zulu Blonde.
So, what better travel companion then than a steed that itself is steeped in history and charisma? A Level 3 Roush 5.0 V8 supercharged Mustang offering 500 kW of raw power and 780 Nm of endless torque provided the perfect fit.
The subtle, but effective, body styling kit forming part of the Roush upgrade emphasise the air of menace announced by the start-up growl from the engine. If that is not enough, there is a switch that increases the volume of the exhaust and changes the note – and there are four possible settings.
On the route, the banshee howl of the V8 engine of the Roush startled birds and caused head-snapping turns from workers in the cane fields as it flashed past. A demon in blue and white.
No matter where we went in this car, everybody would gather together to look, listen, and snap pictures on their cell phone cameras. Children waved and shouted and even the local traffic cop risked a smile as we passed.
Old Trade Route
Route 66 in KwaZulu-Natal – between the Dokodweni Toll Plaza on the N2 in the South and Pongola in the North where it rejoins the N2 – follows one of the oldest trade routes through Zululand; a route like so many others in Africa that brought with it the missionaries, soldiers, police, farmers, and conflict.
The route has seen massive changes and violent wars – clan against clan, kingdom against kingdom; the place where the imperial ambitions and British military met the mighty resistance of the Zulu army – pitting spears and shields against rifles and cannons.
The rise of Shaka and the battles of the Anglo-Zulu War have inspired novels, television epics, and movies – not unlike the Ford Mustang, with at least fifty songs (including the famous ‘Mustang Sally’) and over 25 movies (think ‘Diamonds are Forever’, ‘Gone in Sixty Seconds’ and ‘Transformers’) referencing it.
It was a brutal time and we brought some of that brutish power back with the Roush Mustang. Its raw power quickly forces an adrenalin overload through the system. Yet, while its intention is announced by the chooglin’ boogie from the V8, it will play the docile feline, ambling gently – even skittishly at times – through the traffic.
However, the instant response to even the smallest movement from the right foot is an ever-present reminder of just what is lurking beneath the bonnet. We soon discovered this as we turned up the volume, turned off the highway, and headed towards Route 66.
From the southern point, it may be worthwhile to make the short detour on the R102 to the banks of the Thukela River to the site where, in 1879, the British issued the Zulu King Cetshwayo with the ultimatum that led to the Anglo-Zulu War. As a scene-setter, this gives some substance to the history of the region, even though the old wagon trails have been replaced with modern tarred roads.
The first town on Route 66 is Gingindlovu, a busy ‘village’ serving the needs of the local sugarcane farmers with little to remind travellers that this was once a military headquarters established by Cetshwayo after he had defeated his brothers in bloody battles for the throne.
The name means ‘Swallower of the Elephant’ and refers to the defeat of Prince Mbulazi and his followers, declaring he had ‘eaten up’ the greatest opponent to his ambitions. But to the British soldiers who fought two major battles against the army of Cetshwayo here 20 years later, the village was known fondly as ‘Gin, Gin, I love you’ – apparently still a firm favourite tipple at the country club.
The Roush Legacy
The drive on that first section allows time to reflect on the car – a standard sixth generation Mustang that gains a VTS supercharger, cold air induction upgrade, an exhaust upgrade, a coil over suspension kit, a complete body kit, and 20-inch aluminium rims shod with Pirelli P Zero tyres.
Mention Ford and Mustang conversions, and the names Shelby, Roush, Saleen, and Steeda inevitably crop up. Jack Roush, a former Ford engineer, established his performance engineering business back in 1976, providing performance racing parts, vehicles, and engines. In 1995, Roush Performance Products was formed in Livonia, Michigan, specialising in performance upgrades for the Ford Mustang.
All Roush conversions are fully supported by Ford Motor Company and the completed car comes with a 3-year/60,000 km drivetrain warranty along with the standard new vehicle warranty, meaning it can still be serviced at your dealer of choice.
In South Africa, there are three Ford Performance Centres supplying Roush conversions – Lazarus Ford in Gauteng, Enzo Kuun in Cape Town, and the newly rebranded Neil Woolridge Motorsport operation in Pietermaritzburg, which supplied our test car.
This special Mustang (yours for an eye-watering R1,534,400) is a straight-up promise of power and speed … and it delivers oodles of both. As with the standard specification car, the driving modes change the vehicle settings and define how it responds to steering and throttle inputs.
It offers paddle-shift gear changing for the auto ’box, but I found, for on-road use, the gearbox reacted quickly enough in both ‘Normal” and ‘Sport+” modes to handle anything from very slow to very fast. Cruising, as befits a road trip, fuel consumption was around the 7,0 l/100 km mark, rising above 16,0 l/100 km when driving in ‘angry’ mode.
Hills, Forests and History
Eshowe, close to the centre point of Route 66, is a good base of operations from which to explore the surrounding landmarks such as the Dlinza Forest, the Fort Nongqayi Museum Village, The George Hotel, and the Zululand Brewery.
Elevated on a hilltop above the humid coastal plain means Eshowe boasts a cool, comfortable climate wrapped within the 250-hectare Dlinza Forest – one of the last true forest reserves remaining in the country, home to 65 bird species, 80 butterfly species, and an equally dazzling array of vegetation.
It has a number of ground trails (all less than 2 km) with the main attraction – the 250-metre aerial boardwalk – stretching out from the top of a valley above the tree tops.
Zulu kings, Norwegian missionaries, and British forces besieged by Zulu warriors makes the area around Eshowe a fascinating slice of history, yet little remains to remind you of this apart from Fort Nongqayi.
The white three-towered fort was built in 1883 as headquarters of the barefoot Nongqayi Zulu Police and only has three towers because the British ran out of money during its construction. On the same grounds as the fort and Mission Chapel Museum is the Vukani Cultural Museum, housing some 3,000 items of traditional and modern craftwork and basketry.
The large veranda, wooden floors, and grand staircase of the George Hotel is a reminder of life when the pace was slower and people were prepared to take time out. It is 110 years old and it actually started life as the Zululand Stock Exchange.
And the blonde? Well, the hotel is also home to The Zululand Brewery. In this small enclave, brew master and hotel owner, Richard Chennells, came up with the formula for Zulu Blonde – an award-winning ‘blonde’ lager style beer with a mix of traditional barley brewed beer blended with wheat beer. Also look out for the Zululand Pale Ale which should be launched soon.
Back on the road, the wide Pirellis kept the distinctive Mustang stuck to the road like Zuma to power, while the active safety systems such as traction control and anti-lock brakes kept over-enthusiasm from turning a prize possession into roadside rust art. The Roush Mustang is a ‘Grand Tourer’ in the traditional sense. It eagerly devours long roads and loves fast sweeps and curves, rather than being a ‘point-and-squirt’ kind of car.
Our next stop on Route 66 was Melmoth, established in 1887 and named after Sir Melmoth Osborn, the resident commissioner. Just outside the town is a spring where maidens gathered every day to collect fresh water supplies, transporting it down into the valley where the Zulu king, Dingane, built his capital, Mgungundlovu. It is also close to Fort Victoria where the British army built a garrison following the defeat of King Cetshwayo at Ulundi, the next town on the route.
From Ulundi, the drive to Pongola and the end of Route 66 is fairly short. I experienced a sudden shift to present-day reality as I rejoined the N2 and the hustle and bustle of modern life; the muted rumble of the special Mustang cruising sedately down the highway perhaps a reflection of my sad thoughts on having to hand it back …