Lee Iacocca envisioned the Mustang as a low-cost American built alternative to European sports cars. In his own words, what he had in mind was the rakish front end of a Ferrari married to the solid, muscle-bound body of a Maserati but with a base sales price below the $2,500 mark. What we ended up with instead, is one of the most iconic American car models to ever roll out of Detroit. Cheap, fun to drive and sexy in its own unique way ‘The Tang’ gave birth to an entirely new classification of cars. The pony cars, as they are now commonly called, became the stuff of dreams for teenagers. They became a dominating force on the track and one of the most collectible car series in existence. Ford has produced a few Edsels in the line but we give you the best that have born the Mustang label.
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The car that started it all was introduced five months before the 1965 model year began, the sixty-four and a half, was a success beyond anything thought possible. Ford exec’s were hoping that with an early introduction, they could move 100,000 units by the end of the next model year. People quickly fell in love with the nimble little pony though, and it blasted through that number in just three months and went on to become Ford's bestselling car for the year.
The quickest pure production Mustang to ever hit the street, the 1968 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet is one of the few cars that a company ever tried to make look worse than it was. Basically, a street-legal dragster, the Cobra Jet’s 428 cubic inch engine, with 735-cfm Holley Carb, ram-air induction and race breed manifolds actually produced 410 horsepower, but Ford only claimed 335. This was mainly to calm the fears of insurance companies and to get drag strip owners to let it run as a stock car.
Shelby Mustangs are the stuff of legends, and most people would believe that the best of the best was his 1967 GT500, but Carroll himself was more in favor of the 1968 King of the Road. You give a man like Carroll Shelby a semi-customized 428 engine on a race inspired suspension and then tell him to make it eat everything else on the street no cost limit and magical things can happen. Even with all the technological advances since that time, the GT500KR still stands as one of the fastest Mustangs to ever be unleashed.
Some people blame the gas crises of the late 1960s and early 1970s with the absence of the Mustang GT for 12 years, but people who know will tell you it was too ashamed to show its face after the Mach 1 hit the streets. Available with an upgraded Super Cobra Jet 428, functional shaker hood scoop and race ready suspension the Mustang Mach 1 was designed to rip the paint off all its competition including the GT. Mission accomplished.
While the ’71 Mach 1 might not have had as much of a cool factor as the ’69, it did have twin hood scoops, bitchen graphics and a two-tone hood that screamed fast. Thankfully when Ford stretched out the fastback body style they didn’t screw with the powerplant or drive train that put all those horses to the ground. If you ever doubt that the 1971 Mach 1 lived up to its namesake just check its stats or better yet rent Gone in 60 Seconds to see what these babies were capable of doing.
OK, we can hear people grinding their teeth over a mid-eighties four-cylinder being here, but you have to give Ford credit for having balls. The Mustang SVO wasn’t just any four banger. Equipped with one of the earliest production turbos on the market the SVO's 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder pushed as much power to the street as the company's 5.0-liter V-8 and eventually surpassed it with an honest 200-hp rating despite all the pollution control BS.
You may be a little surprised that we picked the LX over the SVT Cobra or Cobra R version of the Fox-body Mustang, but there is a method to our madness. All three of these cars came with the same engines, transmissions, and suspensions and performed in nearly identical fashion, but the LX just didn’t look that fast. A lot of street racers lost their money to an LX just because the didn’t recognize it as a wolf in sheep's clothing.
If you disagree with the sleeper we just talked about then you will love the 2000 Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R. It not only looked fast with a power bulge hood, side exhaust and barndoor sized wing on the back, it matched its looks with performance. The hood was shaped that way because of the massive 5.4-liter V-8 under it, and as an added bonus, Ford finally saw fit to put an independent rear suspension under these cars to improve the handling.
If you never saw the 1968 Steve McQueen thriller Bullitt, you can’t really call yourself a Mustang fan; the film features a Pony in what is arguably the greatest car chase scene in cinematic history. For the movies 40th anniversary Ford created this special edition Mustang that in essence was a GT model with an upgraded engine, suspension and really cool machined aluminum dash and shifter. The movie was cool, the car is cooler but Stevey, a devoted street racer, had to be the coolest ever.
When Ford brought back the Boss 302 nameplate in 2012, many people wondered if it was going to be the real deal or just smart marketing. While we were all aware of what the legendary 302 was capable of, no one was prepared for the suspension package that Ford engineered for the car. The Boss 302 Laguna Seca went over and above and turned in track times that left even the vaulted M3 Beamer eating dust.
There something about the Shelby family and Mustangs that just go together and keep getting better as time goes by. The 2016 Shelby GT350R may well be the finest Mustang ever to be produced. It looks stunning, and with a 526-hp engine, it is every bit as fast it looks. The only thing that kept this car from being named Motor Trend's car of the year was that it couldn’t match the handling of the mid-engined, $200,000 McLaren 570S.
What follows are a few that either didn’t have high enough production numbers to be included or are just kinda Mustangs but still deserve honorable mention status. Remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and one man's dog is another’s diamond.
A Ford Mustang by any other name is still a hell of a car. When word leaked out that Ford planned to reintroduce the 302 Boss in 2008 Saleen, the boutique automaker based in Irvine, California, decided to beat them to the punch by a year. Dressed out in stunning orange and black racing livery the Saleen/Parnelli Jones Edition had so many aftermarket extras, and custom touches added to it that it was hard to believe it started life as a standard Mustang.
Larry Shinoda was an auto designer who was instrumental in putting together many of the best Mustangs including the original Boss 302 as well as many Corvette models. He eventually started his own firm, and one of its greatest creations was the 2010 Shinoda; an 800 horsepower beast with a full racing suspension based on the standard Mustang platform. Eight hundred horses flow through a live rear axle in this best.
Don Prudhomme, The Snake, is a legend among drag racing fans. In 2009 he teamed up with Carroll Shelby to build what he called an everyday racer. This is a car that moves a lot of air even when it's sitting still, but it definitely has the go where it counts, 800 horses from a supercharged 5.4-liter engine were to be had for the small cost of $99,995 and a 2007 - 2010 Ford Shelby GT500 that you already owned.