Home Cars 20 of the Best Ford Mustangs From Every Generation between 1964 and 2017

20 of the Best Ford Mustangs From Every Generation between 1964 and 2017

Vukasin Herbez October 9, 2017

The love affair between car enthusiasts and the Ford Mustang has lasted over 50 years. Ever since they unveiled the first Mustang in April 1964, people across the world haven’t been able to get enough of Detroit’s favorite pony car. Over the years, Ford has produced over nine million Mustang cars. This has made it the Mustang one of the most successful nameplates in company history as well as the entire car industry.

However, not all Mustangs were instant classics and collector’s items. In fact, over the years Ford has produced quite a few mediocre Mustang models. Sometimes the standards of the industry have forced the Mustang to be docile and more of a pony than a wild horse running free. Other times, a long list of options meant some owners transformed their cars into boring daily commute runabouts rather than fire-breathing muscle cars.

Whatever the case, the truth is, not all Mustangs are created equal. Some are far better than others. So here is a list of the best Mustangs from each era. These cars are true representations of the Mustang heritage. They have the style that helped them leave a mark with their performance, looks, and image.

  1. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

Most of the automobile market was fascinated when they first saw the Mustang in 1964. With its compact and sporty looks, long hood and short deck and affordable price, it seemed unreal. But there was a small portion of knowledgeable car enthusiasts who were disappointed. The reason was technology and engine choices.

The Mustang shared modest underpinnings with the Falcon, which was an economy car. The engine lineup included milder versions of six and small V8 units. The power output was nothing special and the performance was somewhat below expectations. Soon, Ford responded by hiring Carroll Shelby to produce an almost race-ready GT 350 in 1965.

But for those who could not live with a screaming 306 HP 289 V8 engine in their GT 350, Ford prepared an interesting engine they called the K-Code. The K-Code was 289 V8, but with a milder, more street-friendly tune producing 271 HP. This was more than enough for the decent performance Mustang fans wanted.

With an optional GT package that included a stiffer suspension, updated equipment and lots of exterior details, the 289 HiPo or High Power was the choice of real car guys. Ford introduced it in 1965 and it was available until 1967. Notably, the 289 HiPo was the first Mustang that ran as well as it looked, especially if you ordered it in the gorgeous Fastback body style.

  1. Ford Mustang 390 GT

The Mustang got its first redesign in 1967 when Ford introduced a slightly bigger, more luxurious model. The design was even better and more elegant, and the options list was longer than ever. Performance lovers finally got a big block option in the form of the 390 FE V8 engine, which produced 325 HP. However, if you are thinking this was a crazy-fast Mustang that burned rubber in any gear, think again.

The 390 GT was fast and powerful, but it was more of a Grand Tourer than a muscle car. The reason was that Ford got the engine from their Thunderbird. So, it was more suited for effortless cruising than for drag racing. With bigger dimensions than the 1967 to 68 Mustang and better equipment, this was the perfect engine for making a compact luxury coupe.

However, the 390 GT Mustang was immortalized by the legendary Steve McQueen when it appeared as a co-star of the famous detective flick, Bullitt, in 1968. The Highland Green 390 Fastback made history with one of the best car chases ever on film, which propelled the 390 engine to legendary status.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 302

The third redesign of the Mustang emerged for the 1969 model year and it grew in size once again. Ford changed the engine choices as well as the equipment list. They focused the Mustang lineup in two main directions. One direction was a luxury car with the new Grande notchback model. The other direction was a pure muscle car with three new models, the Mach I, Boss 429 and Boss 302.

With these models, Ford introduced the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine. It became a regular production option that put the Mustang among the fastest muscle cars of the era. But for many people, the Boss 302 is the most important model. Ford produced it for only two years, in 1969 and 1970. The Boss 302 featured a 302 V8 engine they conservatively rated at 290 HP. However, the real output was closer to the 350 HP mark.

Ford intended to use the Boss 302 for racing in the Trans-Am championship. Apart from the blackout hood, spoiler and other details, it featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension, close ratio gearbox and high revving engine. The car was lighter due to the lack of any unnecessary luxuries.

This model belongs on this list because it was perfectly balanced with great performance and driving dynamics. It was a muscle car, but its handling characteristics, high revving engine and overall feel made it more of a sports car with racing success. Basically, it’s the best of both worlds and a unique model in Mustang’s long history.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, Mustang received another thorough restyle that would be the final one for the first generation. The car again grew larger in size and weight, but it featured a sharper new look with a much wider track. Unfortunately, the Boss 302 and Boss 429 versions were gone, but the Grande and Mach I stayed, albeit with lower power ratings. However, there was one interesting model Ford introduced in 1971, and that was the Boss 351.

Available for one year only, the 1971 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs Ford produced at only 1,800. It got its power from a highly tuned version of the 351 V8 engine with around 330 HP. It was fast, good looking and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. And today, it is a true collector`s item.

This was one of the quickest muscle cars of the period, as well as one of the quickest classic Mustangs ever. The powerful 351 V8 managed to launch the Boss 351 to 60 mph in 5.8 seconds. That was and still is fast for an analog muscle car from the early 70’s.

  1. Ford Mustang II King Cobra

The second generation of the Ford Mustang debuted in 1974, but it was only on the market for four years, until 1978. Despite the fact it was the subject of many jokes and negative press coverage, the Mustang II was an important model. The downsizing of the whole Mustang range, economical four-cylinder engines and parts sharing with other Ford models helped the model survive the recession of the 1970s as well as the death of the muscle car movement.

But all of that doesn’t mean there weren’t any interesting Mustangs between 1974 and 1978. They just were quite slow. However, there was one particularly interesting model, and that was the special edition King Cobra Mustang. Ford knew their 5.0 V8 engine made only 140 HP in the Mustang II and the performance was slow. But they also knew dressing up the car would attract some buyers.

So, they introduced the King Cobra. With a flaming snake on the hood, front and rear spoilers and full body kit, the King Cobra was a typical 70’s factory custom car. Ford added the 5.0 V8 to a four-speed manual transmission in an attempt to make a performance car. Even though the performance was not great, that outrageous body kit stole the show. Today, car enthusiasts worldwide consider the King Cobra a collector’s item.

  1. Ford Mustang SVO

The third generation of Ford Mustangs appeared in 1979. They brought a much-needed modernization to the Mustang range; not only in design but in technology, too. The new so-called Fox-body Mustang was sleeker, modern and aerodynamic. It was also somewhat lighter and nimbler, which reflected in the performance. However, the biggest news was the introduction of a turbo engine, a modern device at the time.

Ford’s Special Vehicle Operations department (SVO) introduced a special Mustang SVO for 1984. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP. It was quite the power output for a small engine. As a light car, the 1984 Mustang SVO was hot at the time.

The package included four-wheel disc brakes and a stiffer suspension and sharper steering, transforming the little Mustang into quite the capable sports car. For 1985, SVO upped the power to an impressive 205 HP, which turned the eyes of motoring public to this third-generation Mustang.

  1. Ford Mustang 5.0 H.O.

The rise in the power of domestic cars during the 1980s brought the first real performance to the Mustang range in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more powerful with each model year. By the late 1980s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was pumping up to 225 HP with 300 lb-ft of torque, which translated to quite competent 0 to 60 mph times.

Mustang was again an affordable performance car with cool styling, lots of options and enough power to spin the rear wheels in any gear. That is why Mustang fans consider the 1988 to 1993 Mustang 5.0 GT one of the best Mustangs in a long line of quality machines. This car marked a return to its roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance.

Also, late the 1980’s Fox-body GT was popular, so they are plentiful today, which makes them a great choice for entry-level collectors. On the other hand, the aftermarket for those cars is enormous, so with a little money and effort, you can modify and make your Fox-body GT to run even faster.

  1. Ford Mustang Cobra R

The coolest-looking fourth-generation Mustang is undoubtedly the 2000 SVT Cobra R. Again, this is a limited edition model with the “R” designation. Ford produced in only 300 copies they intended for racing drivers and teams. Compared to other regular Mustangs, the Cobra R featured many improvements and enhancements.

First and foremost was the engine, a 5.4-liter V8 with 385 HP and 385 lb-ft of torque. Second, the body kit included front and rear spoilers and side skirts. Third, they added a stiffer suspension and a few chassis modifications.

They clearly intended to offer the car for performance, so car buyers got exactly that when they pressed the gas pedal. The 0 to 60 mph sprint was achievable in just 4.4 seconds and its top speed was around 150 mph, which was quite impressive for the day. Too bad Ford built only 300 of those thoroughbreds because they are impossible to find today.

  1. Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Inspired by the wild SVT Cobra R’s from the 1990s, Ford didn’t name the 2003 model an “R” since it wasn’t limited in production. It was also available to the general public, rather than just racing drivers and private teams. However, this SVT Cobra was an interesting and important model for the Mustang dynasty, since it featured two firsts.

The first was a factory supercharged engine and the second was an independent rear suspension. SVT took the standard 4.6-liter block and mounted different heads and supercharged it to get 390 HP and 390 lb-ft of torque. They named the engine the “Terminator” since the rumor was it delivered more than the advertised 390 HP. To handle all that power and torque, Ford equipped the SVT Cobra with an independent rear suspension setup similar to the first Ford GT.

This maintained stability at high speeds and hard launches, which made this Mustang handle like a dream. The 0 to 60 mph time took only 4.7 seconds, making the SVT Cobra a drag strip terror. Ford offered this model in 2003 and 2004, producing around 20,000 of them in coupe and convertible form. Despite being almost 15 years old, those cars still command high prices on the used car market.

  1. Ford Mustang GT

The world was stunned when Ford introduced the fifth generation of Mustang in late 2004 as a 2005 model. The retro-futuristic design was perfect for the times. Not only did it captured the essence of the legendary first generation, but it also presented an elegant, sporty shape that is still modern, even 15 years after the unveiling.

The new Mustang featured a lot of new technology but still had the old platform with a live rear axle. Nonetheless, buyers went crazy for the car. During its 10-year market life, Ford introduced numerous special versions and extremely powerful Shelby models. But the sweet spot in the range was always the regular GT model.

With a 4.6-liter 300 HP V8 engine at first and 5.0-liter 425 HP V8 engine from the 2011 to 2014 model years, the GT was a capable car with exceptional road manners. It was fast, handled good and looked cool in any color. Its affordable price means it is quite common and simple mechanics means it is affordable to maintain.

The soundtrack coming from the V8 engine is second to none and the looks are still fresh. If you are looking for a V8 powered Mustang with performance and loads of attitude, but you are on a budget, this is the car for you.

  1. Ford Mustang Shelby GT-H

With the retro-looking car craze came the return of the legendary Mustang special versions, like Shelby GT-H. Back in 1966, Shelby offered its GT350 model as a rental car through the Hertz network. They painted the cars black with gold stripes and added the GT350-H model designation. Exactly 40 years later, Ford did exactly that with the 2006 Mustangs that they turned to Shelby specs and named the GT-H.

The cars were regular GTs with a 19 HP power increase, new front ends, some details and of course, black paint with gold stripes. Once again, they offered the Shelby GT-H as a rental car at selected locations. After that, they sold all the cars to the public as used cars. So if you want a cool piece of modern Mustang history, search the classified ads for a Shelby GT-H in top condition.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 302

Ever since the first retro Mustangs appeared in showrooms across America, Ford fans have asked for the return of the Boss 302. For those who don’t know, Ford presented the Boss 302 in 1969 as a racing car homologation special for Trans-Am races. A full 43 years later, Ford revived the Boss 302 with a new 5.0-liter Coyote V8 that delivered 444 HP and 380 lb-ft of torque.

Again, this was a pure racing car with no back seats, a factory-installed roll cage, and a host of other external and internal modifications. As you would expect, the performance was better than the regular Mustang GT. The 2012 Boss 302 could accelerate to 60 mph in 3.97 seconds with a top speed of 155 mph. Until there is a future version of the Boss 302, car fans consider the 2012 model as one of the best Mustangs of all time.

However, the modern Boss 302 was an expensive limited production model when it first came out. Since it was so good, the demand for well-preserved examples is still high. So, the prices are well beyond the average 2012 Mustang GT. If you want to become the owner of a new age Boss 302, hurry since the best examples are getting more expensive every day.

  1. Ford Mustang EcoBoost

The all-new for 2015, sixth-generation Ford Mustang was quite a revolution. Ford abandoned the retro look in favor of more aggressive, modern styling, so the whole platform was new. Finally, as a regular production item, the competent independent rear suspension found its way to the Mustang.

Under the hood of the new Mustang, there was a surprise. It was a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder Ford offered as a middle model. They slotted it between a V6 and 5.0 V8. The 2.3-liter delivered 315 HP and superb performance. It was reminiscent of the classic 1984 Mustang SVO that also had a 2.3-liter turbo.

The modern turbo power brought interesting handling to the often nose-heavy Mustang. With this engine, Ford transformed their muscle car Mustang into a modern import sports car. If you want a Mustang of the future, this is a perfect choice.

  1. Ford Mustang Shelby GT 350 R

For those who want a classic, screamer Mustang with Shelby heritage, but with modern technology and unbelievable V8 performance, the new GT 350 R is a great car. Even though they based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of its suspension, design, aero package and engine are updated. The biggest single difference was the fantastic Voodoo engine that offered a 5.2-liter displacement, 526 HP and 429 lb-ft of torque.

The main feature of this high-revving powerplant is the flat-plane crank technology that allows the big V8 to scream to almost 9,000 rpm. It is the same technology exotic car manufacturers like Ferrari use, but this is the first time a muscle car has such an advanced engine. Ford’s investment into the Shelby GT 350 R paid off since the performance is mind-boggling with just 3.9 seconds to get from 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers don’t do justice to this car.

The Shelby GT 350 R is a pure sports car that delivers fantastic driving dynamics and experience to the driver. It is much closer to the Porsche GT3 in terms of precision driving and cornering speeds than it is to those humble Mustangs of yesterday. This car is not only one of the fastest Mustangs ever, but it is also one of the best sports cars available in recent years.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 429

Like the Shelby GT, the mythical Mustang Boss 429 is a proper muscle car legend, too. Ford conceived the Boss in 1969 as a pure racing engine for use in the NASCAR championship. But the Boss 429 featured a totally different engine architecture than the rest of Ford`s big blocks. The Boss 429 was much wider and had semi-Hemi combustion chambers to help achieve higher revs. With a better flow inside the head, it ultimately produced more power and torque.

Although it was factory-rated at 375 HP, this unit produced over 500 HP in reality, and much more in race trim. Ford decided to put this engine into the Mustang, creating a limited production Boss 429. However, NASCAR decided not to homologate it since the series only accepted intermediate and full-size cars, and the Mustang was a pony car model.

  1. Ford Mustang McLaren M81

Ford built this interesting car with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team at their American operation office in Michigan. The whole idea behind the project was to take a 2.3-liter turbo engine from the regular Mustang and transform it into a street racing beast. To do that, they would add a race-tuned suspension, lightweight body, and a host of other modifications.

McLaren and Ford installed a highly-tuned turbo engine producing 190 HP, which was a big number for the day, especially coming from 2.3-liters. The result was a good performance and driving dynamics but also a high price tag. The Mustang McLaren came at the price of $25,000 which was roughly three times the price of a regular Mustang. Despite all the interesting stuff in the M81, it was a tough seller. Ford only about 10 before canceling the project.

  1. 2018 Ford Mustang GT 5.0

In 2011, qfter many years, Ford reintroduced the legendary 5.0-liter V8 engine in the Mustang GT. This engine is a quintessential part of the GT package appeal, and in the latest 2018 Mustang, it is better than ever.

The 5.0-liter Coyote V8 is full of the latest in modern engine technology. Also, it is one of the best power plants Ford has produced in recent years. It delivers 460 HP and can launch the stylish fastback from 0 to 60 mph in under four seconds.

  1. Ford Mustang Bullitt

One of the biggest Mustang legends is Steve McQueen’s Highland Green 1968 Fastback they featured in Bullitt, a cop movie from 1969. The movie became famous for its chase scene, so for decades, this Mustang represented one of the coolest cars in the world. Ford couldn’t resist using it for special versions.

So far, they’ve released three Bullitt Mustangs: 2003, 2008 and 2018 as a 2019 model. Ford has based all the Bullitt special versions on the GT V8 model featuring the special green color and dark wheels. They made an upgrade in power and numerous trim changes. All three Bullitt models are highly collectible and desirable cars as well as big parts of Mustang history.

  1. 2003 Ford Mustang Mach I

The early 2000s saw a redesign of the fourth-generation Mustang resulting in the introduction of some interesting and powerful versions. One of those is the Mach I, which featured a retro-inspired graphics package and new colors as well as an upgraded engine and exhaust. Clearly, the Mach I from 2003 was a loving homage to the fire breathing Mach I from the late ’60s and early ’70s.

Ford tuned the 4.6-liter V8 engine to deliver 305 HP and 320 lb-ft of torque, sending it to the rear wheels over a six-speed manual gearbox. The 0 to 60 time was swift at 5.6 seconds. However, the coolest, most iconic details were those gorgeous retro-inspired five-spoke wheels.

  1. Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Drag Car

Ever since 1968 and the introduction of the famous 428 Cobra Jet engine, Mustangs with this name on the back were dragstrip terrors and true street fighting machines. However, in the last couple of years, Ford has decided to introduce specially-prepared Mustangs. Because they are not exactly street legal, they sell them only to drag racing teams and privateers.

Ford named the 2018 Mustang version the Cobra Jet. They equipped it with a 5.2-liter Coyote V8 that comes with a 3.0-liter massive supercharger on top, pushing close to 1,000 HP. The drag slicks, special rear axle and numerous other details are all part of the deal. Ford produced just 68 cars in 2018 at $130,000 each.

If you’re a big Mustang fan, you are lucky because you have lots of choices. The cars on this list are sure to not disappoint since Ford put so much innovation and technology into their design and performance. All you need to do now is start shopping before they become too expensive to touch.

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