Driving California’s scenic Hwy 74 in the 2014 Roush Stage 3 Mustang
A short while ago Roush handed us the keys to a 2013 Stage 3 Mustang and we spent a week giving it a thorough test. At the end of the seven days we came away quite impressed, concluding that the Roush offered the best of both the Shelby GT500 and the Boss 302.
Fast forward a few short months and we get another call from Roush asking if we’d like to try out the 2014 model. Truth be told, the 2014 model isn’t much different than the 2013 and there was little on the car that we hadn’t already experienced. Roush has added another ten horsepower (up to 575) to the supercharged 5.0-liter V8, there are new wheels and graphics colors available, and items like a Ford Racing Aluminator engine and a rear seat delete with cross bracing are now on the options list. Even so, who’s going to say no to a week with a Roush Mustang? “Yes, we’ll take it!”
Since we weren’t going to do a full review of the Roush, we needed to find something else to do with the car. Coincidentally, we picked up the red, white and blue 2014 Stage 3 Mustang just ahead of the July 4th weekend, so in the spirit of the holiday we began a quest to find a driving route that would give us the full American experience – a road as American as baseball and apple pie. Our search led us to Southern California’s Hwy 74. It offers up just about everything there is to experience in a road in the United States – the ocean, the desert, mountains, and some pretty incredible switchbacks.
Our journey begins in San Juan Capistrano in the heart of Orange County, with the route starting at the intersection of the 5 freeway and Ortega Hwy, as Hwy 74 is known at this point. Just a few miles of the Pacific Ocean and still in town the road doesn’t immediately impress, but it takes only a few minutes for the straight highway and stoplights to start twisting up into the San Juan Capistrano mountains. The palm trees quickly fade, giving way to mountain terrain. The Roush takes to the tight, flowing corners with ease, although heavier and less powerful vehicles struggle with the incline. Thankfully there are plenty of turnouts, so we’re never behind slower cars for too long.
A little less than 25 miles into our trip we pull into the Lookout Roadhouse. The restaurant is famous for their country breakfast and ribs, not to mention an incredible view of Lake Elsinore below, but we settle for a cold drink and a snack while fellow patrons come over and inspect the Roush. It wouldn’t be the last time the car garners attention from inquisitive eyes.
From the Lookout Roadhouse it’s only a few more miles to the city of Lake Elsinore, all downhill. While it may not be as fun to drive as the uphill parts, we don’t mind as the Roush provides a lovely sound as the engine braking slows down the car. The exhaust rumbles and pops under deceleration, loudly reminding us that it’s one of our favorite sounding systems on a Mustang. It’s hard to beat the scenery too, with the lake, desert and mountains all in full view.
At this point our journey takes a break from the twisty mountain roads, and we have to endure some driving through city streets to stay on Hwy 74. Ortega Hwy ends at Grand Ave, which we take left and circle around the lake to stay on Hwy 74. We eventually cross over the 15 Freeway and 215 Freeway, then pass through the city of Hemet. In total the city driving takes takes about 45 minutes, but it’s worth it as Hwy 74 once again transitions to a twisty mountain road.
While the road at this point is still very much in the desert, it slowly climbs in elevation until pine trees start to dominate the landscape. Although the weather is generally clear and sunny during the summer, snow can cover the ground in the winter and chains are often required on the road. That’s a stark difference to just a few miles southwest in ever-warm Orange County, and a testament to the different environments you can experience in Southern California in a close proximity.
Hwy 74 continues to wind through the San Bernardino National Forest for several miles, merging with Hwy 243 and officially becoming the Pines to Palms Hwy. The pine trees slowly start to disappear and the surrounding area begins to look more and more like the desert. Eventually we come to the small town of Mountain Center where Frank Sinatra once owned a home just off the highway. It’s easy to see why the legendary singer chose this area to retreat to from the heat of Palm Desert, as it’s perhaps one of the most beautiful areas on our route. It’s also one of the highest points too, around 4,500 feet above our starting point near sea level.
As the road slowly starts to drop in elevation, the temperatures start to rise and large vegetation essentially disappears. Coming around a bend, Palm Desert comes into full view, and it’s here where perhaps the most entertaining portion of the drive lies. The road twists back and forth down the mountain with both tight switchbacks and long sweepers, the Roush’s suspension handling it all with ease. With the ever-increasing heat (it reached 113 degrees in Palm Desert that day) we hesitate to get out of the air-conditioned car, but an overlook revealing the road and expansive desert floor below is too enticing. Once again the Roush attracts plenty of attention, as other motorists turn from the scenic overlook and head over to the check out the car while we snap a few pictures.
All good things must come to an end, though, and the twisty portion of Hwy 74 ends as we reach the city of Palm Desert. From there it’s a straight shot of city streets and stop lights towards the 10 freeway and our route home. However, we still have some time left in the day, so we flip around and drive back up into the mountains while snapping photos of the Roush as the sun sets over the desert.
At the end of the day we had accomplished our mission. We had enjoyed some of the best 120 miles of roads Southern California has to offer, taking in just about every kind of beautiful scenery you can see in this wonderful country, all in the quintessential American muscle car that is the 2014 Roush Stage 3 Mustang.
For more photos of our Hwy 74 road trip, check out the gallery below.
Photos © 2013 MustangsDaily.com
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