The last vehicle I owned made by an American auto manufacturer an almost-new 1985 Mustang GT. While it didn't handle particularly well, the combination of 210 horsepower and a forgiving clutch meant I could smoke the tires whenever the opportunity arose -- and since I had (have) the maturity level of a 14 year-old, I burned up the tires after less than 2,000 miles. It was a really fun car.

Yet the adult side of me soon realized it was more car than I could afford, and I sold my Mustang (for more than I paid -- how often does that happen?) and bought an old Toyota pickup.

And somewhere along the way I began to believe that imported cars were better than American cars. I wasn't alone: Say "K-car" to people my age and they'll reflexively roll their eyes.

As a result I've owned a Lexus or two, a couple Toyotas, several BMWs, a Nissan truck... for over 30 years I haven't once considered buying a vehicle made by an American automaker. Without any real evidence to back it up, I assumed domestic-made vehicles were somehow inferior.

And then one Sunday morning that assumption turned out, like many of my assumptions, to be completely wrong.  I was standing in the hotel lobby waiting to leave for Homestead-Miami Speedway for the NASCAR season-ending race when Vaughn Gittin, Jr. tapped me on the shoulder.

"My car should be out front by now," he said, "and I'm heading straight to the track. Want a ride?"

Hmm, I thought. Squeeze into an SUV with six people for an hour... or ride shotgun with a three-time World Drift Series champion, successful entrepreneur, and "Professional Fun-Haver?"

Moments later I was strapped into the passenger seat of the 2018 Mustang GT Vaughn was driving for the weekend. (When you've won dozens of races and multiple championships in Mustangs, and designed and developed a set of dealer-installed Mustang RTR packages that include styling and performance enhancements, and you're an honorary pace car driver for a sold-out NASCAR race... yeah, they let you borrow a car.) 

And all my preconceived notions began to disappear.

The interior is a first-rate blend of function -- because function always comes first -- and form. Electronics are impressive without being obnoxious. The exhaust is tunable in a V-8 GT; an optional active exhaust system opens and closes exhaust valves to modulate the sound. In "Quiet" mode, engine noise is barely discernible, while in "Track" mode... well, your inner fourteen year-old will definitely giggle.

Best of all it was surprisingly quick and, unlike my old Mustang, appeared to handle extremely well, especially on the back roads leading to the track. 

Later that morning the rest of my preconceived notions disappeared when Vaughn took me for a couple of laps around the 1.5 mile track in a 520-plus horsepower 2017 Ford Mustang Shelby GT350.

We hit 145 mph on the backstretch with ease. The car was so stable it felt like it was riding on rails. And... well, I I could go on and on, but this photo pretty much sums up how great that car is.

Still, going for a ride is one thing. Driving is another. So a couple days later I went to a Ford dealership to try out a few Mustangs.

What did I learn?

Say you want a car that's fun to drive, but value also matters. You need reliability and dependability and practicality, yet you still want the most fun your dollars can buy.

If that's a combination you're looking for, then a Mustang is really, really hard to beat.

Granted you might say, "Yeah, but a Mustang is not a Porsche." True. I've driven a variety of Porsches, and unless you want to pay well over $100k, a $65k list Shelby GT350 will out-run and out-fun any Porsche that doesn't have "Turbo S" after the "911." 

So yes, a Mustang is not a Porsche. In a good way. (Of course if you want a Porsche for the perceived cool factor, go for it. Your criteria are different than mine; not better, not worse, just different.)

Or you might say, "Yeah, but what about the Nissan GTR?" Where performance is concerned, you're right. GTRs are rockets. But GTRs are also oddly clinical, even soulless. Driving a GTR feels too much like driving a computer. And they list for well over a hundred grand. 

Or you may think a BMW out-performs a Mustang. Of course that depends on the model... but since a tricked-out Shelby GT350 lists for around $65k and the base M3 lists for over $80k, the value proposition once again favors the Ford.

My guess is the Mustang Vaughn drove to the track lists for around $45k. In relative terms, that's a steal. If you're looking for higher performance, the Shelby GT 350 probably lists for around $65. In relative terms that's also a steal.

In gross dollar terms, of course, that's a lot of money.

But if you were thinking of buying a foreign car because you assume they perform better, and were already willing to spend at least $40k, or maybe $60k or more.... consider buying American.

There's definitely something to be said for buying local. But there's also something to be said for buying national, especially when the value proposition falls squarely on the side of American-made products.

That's not just true for cars but also for electronics, or wine, or perfume, or shoes...

Give an American car another try. Give American products in general another try. 

Some of your assumptions may be proven wrong -- and you may realize that, as it was in this case, it is sometimes really fun to be proven wrong.

Published on: Dec 4, 2017