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20 Blue Oval’s Legendary Classic Muscle Car Hits

Vukasin HerbezMarch 20, 2019

Ford has offered some classic muscle car models that are the most sought-after and recognizable cars of that era. But the truth is, Ford wasn’t at the forefront of the muscle car culture. Although Ford was well represented on the race tracks and in international racing, on the back streets, the GM and Mopar models were dominant.

The reason is, while Ford had some reasonably powerful small block engines, GM and Mopar had fire-breathing big block engines like the 427 V8 or the venerable 440 Magnum; not to mention those 454s or Hemis. It was only in 1968 when Ford introduced their highly-respected 428 Cobra Jet, did the Ford guys have something to brag about among other muscle car enthusiasts.

However, this doesn’t mean the Ford portfolio was without some fast and memorable models. In fact, that’s far from it. So here is a list of the 20 greatest Ford classic muscle cars. From the early days of American performance and supercharged Thunderbirds to the early ‘70s with those watershed models that came from Dearborn, you will find all of them.

  1. Ford Thunderbird Supercharged

Most people don’t consider the Ford Thunderbird to be a proper muscle car since it was a luxurious two-seater with low production numbers and a high price tag. However, with its style and great performance, it helped raise the collective consciousness about the importance of performance. And that is what sparked the creation of the muscle car segment in the following years.

However, when Ford presented the Thunderbird in 1955, it outsold the Corvette immediately. But in 1957, Ford introduced two engine options that set the standards in terms of high performance. In fact, they have a special place in the history of Ford performance. They mounted a Paxton or McCullough supercharger on top of a 312 V8 engine, which was optional.

And that gave the Thunderbird a 300 HP rating. And, if that wasn’t enough, Ford offered the even hotter 340 HP version of the same supercharged engine which they originally intended for racers.

  1. Ford Galaxie Starliner

Most people don’t consider the Ford Thunderbird to be a proper muscle car since it was a luxurious two-seater with low production numbers and a high price tag. However, with its style and great performance, it helped raise the collective consciousness about the importance of performance. And that is what sparked the creation of the muscle car segment in the following years. However, when Ford presented the Thunderbird in 1955, it outsold the Corvette immediately.

But in 1957, Ford introduced two engine options that set the standards in terms of high performance. In fact, they have a special place in the history of Ford performance. They mounted a Paxton or McCullough supercharger on top of a 312 V8 engine, which was optional. And that gave the Thunderbird a 300 HP rating. And, if that wasn’t enough, Ford offered the even hotter 340 HP version of the same supercharged engine, which they originally intended for racers.

  1. Ford Galaxie 406

Ford was present on the drag racing scene, but in the early ‘60s, the company was losing ground to those powerful Mopars and Pontiacs. The biggest “Blue Oval” engine was a 390 V8, but it wasn’t enough compared to the mighty 421 Super Duty and the 413 Max Wedge V8. So, the guys from Dearborn got a new 406 V8 for the 1962 model year.

The new engine delivered 385 HP in standard trim. However, with the optional six barrel intake system, it pumped out a respectable 405 HP. Those G-Code cars were rare, but they found a way onto the race tracks. Also, they showed how capable Ford was of defending its turf against the Mopars and Pontiacs.

  1. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

Most of the market was fascinated when they first saw the Mustang in 1964. They came with compact and sporty looks, long hoods and short decks at an affordable price that seemed unreal. But there was a small portion of knowledgeable car enthusiasts who were disappointed. The reason was the technology and engine choices. The Mustang shared modest underpinnings with the economy Falcon.

Its engine lineup included mild versions of inline six and small V8 units. The power output was nothing special, so the performance was somewhat below expectations. Ford responded by hiring Carroll Shelby and producing an almost racing-ready GT 350 in 1965. But for those who couldn’t live with a screaming 306 HP 289 V8 engine in the GT 350, Ford prepared an interesting engine they called the K-Code. The K-Code was a 289 V8 but with a milder, more street-friendly tune delivering 271 HP.

And it was more than enough for the decent performance Mustang fans expected. With the optional GT package that included a stiffer suspension, updated equipment and lots of exterior details, the 289 High Power or HiPo was the top choice. Ford introduced it in 1965 and it was available until 1967. 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 Thunderbolt

Using a plain Fairlane two-door sedan body and removing all but the essentials, the Thunderbolt was all about light weight and big power. First, Ford stripped the interior and removed the trim. Then they realized that van-sourced bucket seats were lighter than the standard bench seats, so they gave the Thunderbolt two small seats in the front to save a couple of pounds.

Also, they replaced the glass with Plexiglas, giving the Thunderbolt lightweight fenders and bumpers, as well as a hood with the characteristic “teardrop” air scoop. Under the hood was the new 427 V8 FE with a factory output of 425 HP. However, most experts think that the real output was closer to 600 HP since they equipped the engine with all kinds of go-fast goodies.

They included the special intake manifold, high-performance heads and special pistons. Ford made exactly 100 Thunderbolts in 1964, selling them to professional racers for just $1 each. Out of 100 cars, 49 were four-speed manuals and 51 were three-speed automatics. Needless to say, the Thunderbolt was so successful, it won the 1964 NHRA title despite the fierce competition.

  1. Ford Fairlane R-Code

In 1966, Ford introduced the new Fairlane and immediately, the car was a hit with customers all over America. To ensure the Fairlane continue the tradition of the massively successful Thunderbolt, Ford produced 57 specially-designed R-Code Fairlane 427 Lightweights, selling them to drag racers nationwide. Also, the regular production 427 Fairlane was available with 427 V8, but in a much more street-able specification.

The 427 was the final evolution of the Ford venerable FE block. The real output was around 650 HP and this version of the 427 Medium Riser had a 13.2:1 compression ratio, which insured big power but questionable street manners. Also, those 427 Lightweights benefitted from the fiberglass hood with a functional hood scoop, as well as the lightweight fenders, bumper, and stripped interior.

  1. Ford 7-Litre

Ford presented their new full-size model for 1966, which they called the 7-Litre. The “7” stood for displacement and “Litre” spelling gave more charm to the otherwise ordinary Galaxie. Under the hood was the 428 V8, which produced a respectable 345 HP to deliver a convincing performance.

However, the 7-Litre equipment was also interesting because Ford put everything they had into this car. Buyers could get A/C, and bucket seats were standard. There was also a heavy duty suspension and power everything.

Drivers got a choice of special colors and of course, the 7-Litre badges on the sides that helped identify this model. This was a one year only model, so in 1967, they 428 was back, but only as an option on the Galaxie, not as a standalone model.

  1. Shelby GT500

The Shelby Mustang started as a stripped out version of a Ford pony car, which was basically a road racer with minimal comfort and maximum driving involvement. However, after the 1967 model year, the Shelby Mustang line evolved into a GT coupe. Bigger and more powerful than before, the 1967 GT 500 featured a new design.

Also, they modified the front and rear end, adding a big 427 V8 engine with 335 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque. But, in those days, Ford was notorious for underrating the power output of their engines and 335 HP sounded too little for the big 427.

Most car enthusiasts claim the real power was closer to the 400 HP range and the performance figures backed that claim. The 0 to 60 mph time was 6.5 seconds, which was good for the day. But, thanks to their suspension modifications, the GT 500 could handle the curves well, too.

  1. Ford Fairlane GT/GTA

Even though it wasn’t the fastest muscle car on the market, the Fairlane GT/GTA was one of the best looking cars out there. The GT/GTA package was an optional trim level for the Fairlane 500XL model. It got the standard 289 V8 with a host of visual upgrades. If buyers chose the manual, the Fairlane became a GT.

However, if you opted for the automatic, you got the GTA badges on the side. But the most desirable option was the 390 V8 engine from the Mustang and Thunderbird. It was what provided this nice intermediate muscle with some serious power.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 390

The Mustang got its first redesign in 1967 when Ford introduced a slightly bigger and more luxurious model. The design was even better and more elegant and the options list was longer than ever. Finally, performance lovers got a big block option in the form of the 390 FE V8 engine that produced 325 HP.

This was a fast and powerful car indeed. But it was more of a Grand Tourer than a pure muscle car. The reason was the engine, which they took from the Thunderbird was more suited for effortless cruising than for drag racing. Of course, it was still plenty fast and exciting to drive.

  1. Shelby GT500 KR

Back in late 1967, Carroll Shelby learned that Chevrolet was planning to introduce a special performance version of the Corvette they called, “The King of the Road.” He liked the name, so when he found out they failed to register it, he decided to put his copyright on it. Shelby planned to present a special version of the GT 500, just to spite Chevrolet.

Since Ford had just introduced its legendary muscle engine the 428 Cobra Jet, it was the perfect time to install it into a Shelby. Ford added some performance goodies and go-fast options to create one of the most sought-after muscle cars of all times, the Shelby GT 500 KR, for King of the Road.

They rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP. However, everybody knew the engine delivered more than 400 HP and had 400 lb-ft of torque. Ford highly limited the production numbers. Also, Ford loaded the GT500 KR with lots of interior trimmings and luxuries.

  1. Ford Mustang Cobra Jet

Ford revealed the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine in 1968 and immediately put it in the Mustang. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction they mostly intended for drag racing. And that is why they sold it in modest numbers.

Ford rated the new 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, but everybody knew the new big block produced far more than that. The real output of race-prepared white Fastbacks was closer to the 500 HP mark. Even with less power than some competitors, the Mustang managed to win races since it was smaller, lighter and better balanced than those Mopars.

  1. Ford Torino Cobra 428

Ford scored big with the Mustang and the Shelby. But in the mid-size muscle market, General Motors and Chrysler were dominant. Ford responded with the new and totally redesigned intermediate Torino, which was the ideal base for a hot new muscle car.

Ford marketed them aggressively and gave its mid-size range some serious muscle with the 390 and 428 Cobra Jet engines. The Torino Cobra finally was a muscle car that could beat Chevelle SS or Dodge Charger in street race. And that is exactly what Ford wanted.

  1. Ford Mustang Mach I

Ford presented the original Mach I as the affordable performance version of the Mustang Sportsroof in 1969. It featured a long list of options and three engines. The base was the 302 V8, and then the 351 V8. But the top of the line model was the mighty 428 Cobra Jet. Although Ford built over 20,000 Mach Is in 1969, only a small number had the Cobra Jet engine.

However, the Cobra Jet motor was the definitive option to have. Only the 428 CJ equipped Mach I had the true performance potential to beat other muscle cars on the street. They rated the 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, but everybody knew it produced more than 400 HP. With its four-speed manual transmission and a skilled driver, the 428 Mach I could accelerate from 0 to 60 in just 5.5 seconds. For the time, this was a fantastic number that still demands respect today.

  1. Ford Torino Talladega

Ford was always successful in the NASCAR championship. However, when Dodge started moving in with their specially-prepared Chargers, Ford reacted with its own Aero-warrior model they called the Torino Talladega. The idea behind the Talladega, which Ford named after the NASCAR track, was to take a standard Torino and give it a unique front end.

Next, Ford added a few slippery details to homologate it for the superspeedways. They built a total of 754 Talladegas in a short time, using many of them were for racing.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 302

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

Produced for only two years, 1969 and 1970, the Boss 302 featured a 302 V8 engine they conservatively rated at 290 HP. But, the real output was closer to the 350 HP mark. The Boss 302 was a model Ford intended for racing in the Trans-Am championship.

They equipped it with a blackout hood, a spoiler on the trunk and other details. Also, it featured a stiff, track-tuned suspension, close ratio gearbox and high revving engine. The car was light and without any unnecessary luxuries, which helped the performance.

  1. Ford Ranchero GT

Ford offered the Ranchero in the late ’50s as a reasonable proposition to car/truck dilemma. It sold reasonably well and became a practical vehicle for people who wanted the usability and payload of a light truck with the drivability and road manners of a car. However, in the late ’60s when the muscle car craze took the American automotive landscape by storm, Ford decided to introduce its most potent muscle car engine.

And that was the mighty 429 Cobra Jet, which they added to the Ranchero line. If you opted for the GT package in 1970 and the 429, you could get one of the fastest trucks on the planet. It came with optional wood grain sides, a hood scoop and suspension upgrades. They rated the Cobra Jet engine at 335 HP, but in reality, it had over 400 HP. Because the performance was brutal, the Ranchero GT was a bit of a handful to drive.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 429

The mythical Mustang Boss 429 is a proper Ford muscle car legend. Ford conceived it in 1969 as a pure racing engine they intended for use in the NASCAR championship. The Boss 429 featured a totally different engine architecture than the rest of the Ford big blocks. The Boss 429 was much wider and had semi-Hemi combustion chambers.

As a result, it could achieve higher revs, better flow inside the head and it produced more power and torque. Rated at 375 HP by the factory, 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. So, Ford homologated the Torino Talladega as the body and the Boss 429 as the engine. They participated in the 1969 season with Torinos and Mercury Cyclones powered by the Boss 429 engines. Those cars proved successful, winning 30 out of 54 races that year.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, the Mustang received another thorough restyle, the final one for the first generation. The car again grew in size and weight. Also, it featured a new sharper 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. They made it for one year only, so the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs ever. In fact, Ford only built 1,800 of them.

It was powered by 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.

  1. Ford Torino Cobra

As the last true muscle car of the bygone era, Ford introduced the Torino GT in 1971. It came with the Cobra Jet engine to produce 370 HP under its long hood. The 1971 model was one of the coolest looking cars out there. It had the semi-fastback rear end, low stance, and wide track.

Also, it came in coupe or convertible form. The engine options were simple, too. You could get the venerable 428 Cobra Jet or 429 Cobra motor, both with the same power ratings.

These are 20 of the Blue Oval’s greatest, most legendary classic muscle car hits. Which one was your favorite? All these cars came with devastating designs and unparalleled power.

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