Even though the Ford Motor Company is not necessarily perceived as a performance brand, it has produced many models that provided the thrill of going fast throughout its long history. The affordable performance image was and still is very valuable for their brand. Ford did participate and won many championships in racing events worldwide.
Of course, not all performance Fords were affordable, just like many of the greatest Mustangs aren’t today. There’s no doubt the current generation has some incredible performance models of its own. But some Ford performance models of the past were and still are exotic cars, but most of them are obtainable and fun rides. Today, we will look at 30 signature performance Fords that dominated the performance enthusiast market for the last several decades.
30. 2020 Mustang Cobra Jet 1400
True Mustang enthusiasts know a Cobra Jet is a big-block V8 Mustang. Or is it? In April of 2020, Ford introduced a Cobra Jet 1400 prototype that further divided the community. Using a legendary name, this iteration of dedicated drag racer is all-electric and faster than ever.
Look at the stats – 1,400 hp and 1,100 lb-ft of torque sent to rear wheels can propel this drag racing missile to an eight-second quarter-mile time at an insane 170 mph. This Cobra Jet is set to break some records. Although it’s still in the prototype phase, we can expect that Ford will produce it in the near future and that Mustang fans will get all-electric drag legend to go along with the Mustang Mach E SUV.
When Ford introduced it in 1968, the Escort Mk1 was a compact, rear-wheel-drive saloon aimed at family buyers. The basic version used the forgettable 1.1 and 1.3-liter engines. But for those who wanted more, Ford offered the 1600 RS and RS 2000 models.
Those cars had special suspensions, special engines, lots of power and low weights. They were capable of defeating much more expensive cars, as well as some proper racing monsters. The RS Escorts were perfect rally cars, battling on the muddy back roads during the ’70s and ’80s.
At first glance, there’s nothing special about the Cortina Lotus Mk1. However, during the better part of the ’60s, it was Ford’s main touring car. The Mk1 won numerous races throughout Europe and America. But the Lotus Cortina Mk1 started life as an ordinary economy, two-door sedan. That was until Ford sent the car to Lotus for some thorough modifications.
The Ford Cortina Lotus Mk1 came with a small 1.6-liter four-cylinder engine that delivered approximately 105 HP. But, with its small weight, nimble handling and precise steering, it could beat those much bigger, more powerful cars on the racetrack.
Ford introduced a new full-size model for 1966 they named the 7-Litre. The “7” stood for displacement and the “Litre” spelling provided charm to the ordinary Galaxie. Under the hood was a 428 V8 providing a respectable 345 HP and convincing performance.
Ford put everything into the 7-Litre, such as A/C and bucket seats, which were standard. They used a heavy-duty suspension and added power everything. Buyers had a choice of special colors and the 7-Litre badges that identified the model. This became a one-year-only car because, in 1967, the 428 was back. However, Ford only offered it as an option on the Galaxie, not as a standalone model.
The story of the Ford GT40 is a saga of enormous effort and incredible support. It took a meeting involving several talented people in one place to create automotive history. After a failed attempt to buy Ferrari in the early ’60s, Ford was angry at Enzo Ferrari for his childish behavior. They decided to beat him on the race track to prove who the boss was. At the moment, Ford didn’t have a racing program or even someone to manage it. So the company looked for talented, outsourced individuals who could make things happen.
They found the base for the Ferrari-beating race car in England. It was the Lola Mk6 that they gave a new racing 289 V8 engine, turning it into the first Ford GT40 in 1964. The car didn’t look promising at the beginning, but meticulous work and money transformed the GT40 into a world-conquering machine in several months. Ferrari was humiliated between 1966 and 1969 when the GT40 won the 24 Hours of Le Mans four times in a row. It was an amazing success and an incredible achievement for a company that never appeared in Le Mans before the mid-’60s. The GT40 became an outright legend and the symbol of the American race car by dominating the European racing scene.
Inspired by the wild SVT Cobra Rs from the ’90s, Ford didn’t name the 2003 model with an “R” since it wasn’t in limited production. In fact, the SVT Cobra was available to the public rather than just race car drivers and private teams. However, this SVT Cobra was an important model for the Mustang dynasty because it featured two firsts. The first was adding a factory supercharged engine and second an independent rear suspension. The Ford Special Vehicle Team (SVT) took a standard 4.6-liter engine block and mounted different heads. They also added a supercharger to get 390 HP and 390 lb-ft of torque. They named the engine the “Terminator.” The rumor was that it delivered more than the advertised 390 HP.
So to handle all that power and torque, Ford equipped the SVT Cobra with an independent rear suspension. A setup similar to the first Ford GT, it increased stability at high speeds and hard launches. Also, it 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, building around 14,000 of them in a coupe and convertible form. Despite being almost 15 years old, these cars still hold high prices on the used car market.
If you come from the generation that grew up on those pioneering hot hatches, you probably want the new Focus RS. It’s one of the best hot hatches. This isn’t your typical midlife crisis car, but it is one of the most interesting and fun cars on this list. Under the hood of the new Focus RS is a 2.3-liter turbocharged unit pumping 345 HP to all four wheels. Performance is incredible because 0 to 60 mph takes only 4.7 seconds with a top speed of 165 mph.
Looking at this furious compact will tell you it is a genuinely fast Ford. They packed the Focus RS with innovative and advanced technology. It includes an intelligent all-wheel-drive system, special driving mods, and a host of electronic aids and systems. However, Ford kept the six-speed manual as the only transmission option since it wanted to make the RS a true rally car for the street.
Because they designed it in the UK, the Capri was a European Mustang in every way. Using the “long hood-short deck” formula and semi-fastback styling, the Capri had a fantastic stance. Even though Ford based it on the standard Cortina floor plan with the same engine, the Capri looked like a thoroughbred sports/muscle car.
In fact, people often confused it with a U.S.-built Ford. However, most Capris came with slow, four-cylinder engines. Unfortunately, even the six-cylinder versions were sluggish. So, in 1971, Ford UK presented a limited edition Capri they called the RS 3100. It had a 3.1-liter straight-six engine delivering 145 HP, so it could sprint from 0 to 60 mph in just 7.6 seconds. The rear spoiler, unique wheels, and graphics made the RS 3100 a highly-desirable British Ford.
If the first Raptor lacked quick acceleration, the second generation managed to earn it back for Ford. The latest Ford Raptor includes a 3.5-liter turbocharged V6 with 450 HP and 510 lb-ft. It also has a 10-speed automatic transmission with sub-five-second acceleration times. Although that suggests it’s an exotic supercar, it’s a full-size pickup truck with room for five people and a regular truck bed. The Ford Raptor is the closest thing to a full Baja 1000 racing vehicle that drivers can buy today. The truck-buying public didn’t expect such a move, but they were fascinated by the truck’s looks, performance, and capabilities.
Ford built the fastest offroad tuck money can buy by installing numerous chassis and suspension upgrades as well as a powerful engine. The best thing about the Raptor is that Ford prepared an extreme off-road truck with a warranty for customers. With multiple driving modes and an adaptive suspension, you can take this truck rock crawling, desert crossing, or mud dipping. Ford did a great job of combining the toughness of an extreme off-road truck with the usability of a regular modern pickup.
Even though 2020 wasn’t the best year in the car industry because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Ford was still able to introduce new products and new designs by further expanding the Mustang range. One such product was the brand-new 2021 Mustang Mach I. This model marked the return of the legendary Mustang nameplate, which was used periodically from 1969 to 1973 and from 2003 to 2004. This Mach I is better than ever and has more power and performance than its predecessors. The 2021 Mach I is envisioned as a step up from the regular S550 Mustang GT and GT Performance Pack II but a step below the Shelby GT350 and GT500.
Interestingly, for 2021 Ford will discontinue the Shelby GT350 since Mach I and Shelby are aimed at the same market and have somewhat similar price tags. Under the hood is the same 5.0-liter Coyote V8 but with fewer Shelby and Bullitt parts, which results in a 480 hp rating (same as the Bullitt). Customers hoped for a 500 hp rating, but for some reason, Ford decided to keep it 480 hp using already existing components. However, the 2021 Mach I will come with special body parts, a handling package, special paint, decal trim, and a host of unique details to enhance this special Mustang’s identity. Since Ford is getting ready to introduce the next-gen Mustang in two years, you can expect the Mach I will be a limited production model.
Back in the mid-’80s, motorsports were all about rallying and the dangerous Group B. Group B was a part of the World Rally Championship. They featured factory prototypes loosely based on production cars, only with insane turbocharged engines and all-wheel-drive systems. The cars were crazy fast and dangerous, yet loved by fans all over the world. Eventually, they canceled Group B. But for a few years, manufacturers battled each other for supremacy on world rally stages. This brought the public many fast road cars since car manufacturers were obligated to produce a number of road-going vehicles.
One of them was the RS200 Ford introduced in 1984 as a mid-engine, turbocharged, sports car. It featured lightweight body construction, a 2.1-liter engine producing 250 HP, and two seats. It was a race car with no intention of hiding it. Thanks to the all-wheel-drive, it was capable of jumping from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds. They made 200 road versions they detuned from 450 HP and up to 500 HP for the race version.
Ford presented the legendary 428 Cobra Jet engine in 1968 and immediately put it in the Mustang. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction Ford intended for drag racing, which is why they sold modest numbers. But the real drag racing special was the 50 Wimbledon white Fastbacks with the 428 CJ engine. They came with a close-ratio four-speed transmission and heavy-duty suspension to qualify for NHRA rules.
Ford rated the new 428 Cobra Jet at 335 HP, but everybody knew the new big block produced 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 more balanced than Mopars.
Ford was always successful in the NASCAR championships. So when Dodge started moving with their specially-prepared Chargers, Ford reacted with the Aero-warrior model they called the Torino Talladega after a NASCAR track. The idea behind the Talladega was to take a standard Torino and give it a unique front end. Next, they added a few slippery details and homologated it for the superspeedway.
Ford built a total of 754 Talladegas, using many of them for racing. In contrast to the extreme Charger Daytona, Ford decided to modify the front and the back of a regular Torino, removing the pointy wings and front end. This approach proved to be successful, so the Torino Talladega won many races.
Ever since the first retro Mustangs appeared in Ford showrooms across America, car fans have asked for the return of the Boss 302. And for those who don’t know, they presented the Boss 302 in 1969 as a racing car homologation special for the Trans-Am races. 43 years later, Ford revived the Boss 302 with a new 5.0-liter Coyote V8. Its engine delivered 444 HP and 380 lb-ft of torque. Again, this was almost a pure racing car with no back seats. Also, it had a factory-installed roll cage and a host of external and internal modifications.
As you would expect, performance was better than the regular Mustang GT. The 2012 Boss 302 could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in 3.97 seconds and top 155 mph. The 2012 model is widely considered one of the coolest Mustangs of all-time. However, the modern Boss 302 was an expensive, limited production model when it first came out. But since it was so good, the demand for well-preserved examples is high. So, prices are well beyond an average 2012 Mustang GT. If you want to become the owner of a new-age Boss 302, you’d better hurry up since good examples will go up in price with time.
In 1963, Pontiac, Chevrolet, and GM were done with factory-supported racing. While Mopar dominated the drag strips with the Max Wedge engine, Ford was lacking the firepower to compete with Dodge and Plymouth. However, that changed in 1964 when Ford introduced its new factory-built drag racer, the Fairlane Thunderbolt. Ford used a plain Fairlane two-door sedan body and removed all but the essentials. That made the Thunderbolt lighter in weight with big power. Under the hood was the new 427 V8 FE with a factory output of 425 HP.
However, most experts think the real output was closer to 600 HP. The high numbers were due to the special intake manifold and pistons as well as its high-performance heads. Ford only made 100 Thunderbolts in 1964, selling them to professional racers for one dollar each. The Thunderbolt was so successful, it won the 1964 NHRA despite fierce competition.
The rise in power of domestic cars during the 1980s brought the first real performance to the Mustang in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more powerful with each model year starting with 175 HP in the 1983 model. By the late ’80s, the venerable 5.0-liter V8 engine was pumping 225 HP and 300 lb-ft of torque. This translated to competent 0 to 60 mph times. The Mustang was again an affordable performance car with solid styling, lots of options, and enough power to spin the rear wheels in any gear.
That’s why most car fans consider the 1988-1993 Mustang 5.0 GT one of the best ’80s muscle cars ever. This Mustang marked a return to Ford’s roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance. Also, the late 1980s Fox-body GT was popular, so they are plentiful today. This makes them an accessible, affordable choice for entry-level collectors. The aftermarket for those cars is enormous so you can modify your Fox-body GT to make it faster.
Ford’s quest for performance and racing victories in the early 21st century is the mirror image of the Total Performance Program of the 1960s. However this time, there is no Ferrari or revenge. The new GT is a race car disguised as a road-going supercar. They installed practically every component, part, and design feature with racing in mind.
Although the new GT looks like a road-going sports car, it’s truly a race car. Nobody was surprised when Ford won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in 2016 after a long battle with Ferrari. Ford’s success was the perfect commemorative moment for the legendary 1966 Le Mans win as they beat a red Ferrari for first place yet again.
The first Mustang to wear the Shelby name in almost 40 years was the 2007 model conceived by the Ford SVT department. They were the same folks who designed the Cobra R models. However, the 2007 Shelby GT 500 was something else. It looked mean and had an aggressive design with multiple upgrades.
Best of all, it sounded terrifying thanks to the new 5.4-liter supercharged V8 engine with 500 HP and 480 lb-ft of torque. This was the first production Mustang that broke the magical 500 HP barrier. So it was the most powerful muscle car at the time. With racing stripes on the hood, roof, and trunk, four exhaust pipes, and the scary rumble from the massive V8, the 2007 Shelby GT 500 would make Carroll Shelby proud. Of course, performance was amazing with 0 to 60 mph times taking only 4.5 seconds. But this car probably could do better. Its massive torque burned the rear tires if you pushed the pedal too hard.
Built from 1992 to 1996, the Ford Escort RS Cosworth was one of the best British muscle cars of the 1990s. Ford used Sierra RS Cosworth parts to build this smaller Escort. Also, it featured an updated 2.0-liter turbocharged engine delivering 227 HP.
The exterior was attractive with flared wheel arches. Ford installed a special hood with cooling vents and a massive easily-adjustable rear wing. One of the main features was the rally-proven all-wheel-drive system. This was necessary since the car developed over 230 lb-ft of torque. The Escort RS Cosworth was fast with a 5.8 second 0-to-60 mph time, signaling that it could beat most sports cars of the day.
The swan song of those SVT supercharged Mustangs is the 2013 Shelby GT500. This glorious muscle car had a 5.8-liter supercharged V8 that pumped 662 HP and 631 lb-ft of torque. At the time, this was the most powerful American-made V8 motor and a proper beast of an engine.
They installed in an RWD, live axle platform. The car was famous as a tire smoke generator. But besides its burnout and show potential, it was also a serious performance machine. A 0 to 60 mph sprint took only 3.5 seconds. So, this $50,000 Mustang could embarrass a $250,000 Ferrari at a stoplight drag race. Car buyers loved this overpowered Mustang. And despite the fact Ford discontinued it, the Shelby GT500 still is the king of the hill among many Mustang fans.
One of the most famous Australian muscle cars was the mighty Ford Falcon GT HO 351 they introduced in 1971. Despite its performance portfolio, it was still a four-door sedan. But, it still came with all the proper muscle car equipment.
Under the shaker hood was a Ford 351 V8 with a beefed-up suspension and brakes. The power output was 300 HP for the standard version, but Ford offered the Phase II and Phase III options. The car looked the same except that Ford upgraded the mechanicals. Also, in the ultimate Phase III version, the Falcon GT HO produced over 350 HP.
For those who want a classic, screamer Mustang with Shelby heritage but modern technology and unbelievable V8 performance, the new GT350R is a perfect choice. Although Ford based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package, and engine was new. However, the biggest single difference was the fantastic Voodoo engine, which has a 5.2-liter displacement, 526 HP, and 429 lb-ft of torque. But the main feature of this high-revving powerplant is the flat-plane crank technology. It allows the powerful V8 to scream to almost 9,000 rpm. It is the same technology exotic car makers like Ferrari use.
Yet this is the first time a muscle car has had such an advanced engine. Ford’s investment into the Shelby GT350R paid off since the performance produces a mind-boggling 3.9 seconds for 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers don’t do justice to this car. The Shelby GT350R is a pure sports car that delivers fantastic driving dynamics and experience to drivers. It’s much closer to the Porsche GT3 in terms of precision driving and cornering speeds than it is to those humble Mustangs of yesteryear. This car is not only one of the fastest Mustangs ever, but also one of the best sports cars made in recent years.
After all the talk about electric Mustangs, we are finally getting the most powerful, quickest, and most expensive Mustang ever, the mighty and glorious Shelby GT500. We’ve waited a long time for the absolute pinnacle of Mustang performance, and this is it. The 2020 Shelby GT500 has a 5.2-liter supercharged V8, which delivers 760 hp and is designed to go against its main rivals – the Dodge Challenger Hellcat and Chevrolet Camaro ZL1. The results are impressive, and GT500 can reach 60 mph in 3.5 seconds and quarter-mile in just 11.0 seconds straight from the box.
However, even though its numbers are impressive in every way, there is one figure that we find freighting, and that is the price. With over $70k MSRP and over $18k for the optional Carbon Fiber Track Package, the new Shelby GT500 is dangerously close to a staggering $100,000 sticker price. Even though the performance and driving dynamics of the 2020 Shelby GT500 is close to exotic cars, we are not sure that the market is ready for the Mustang with the price of an exotic.
Back in the late 1980s, Ford caused a revolution with the introduction of the Taurus. This was the first truly modern American sedan that ditched the heavy ladder-type chassis and big engines. Instead, it went in a different direction with a sleek, aerodynamic body and front-wheel drive. The Taurus was a big seller and the most interesting was the famed SHO version. The Super High Output or SHO was the performance model in the Taurus lineup. It featured a Yamaha-sourced, 3.0-liter, high-revving V6 with 220 HP. This may not sound impressive, but for 1989 it was a lofty figure. Also, performance was outstanding with just 6.7 seconds to go from 0 to 60 mph.
But on the outside, the Taurus SHO looked like any other regular Taurus. Only the badge on the back revealed its true sports car nature. That was more than 25 years ago, but even today, the modern Ford Taurus SHO is the champion of an understatement. It is also one of the best sleepers you can buy. It has a powerful Ecoboost V6 engine displacing 3.5-liters and delivering 355 HP to all four wheels. The new Taurus SHO can outhandle and outperform many current sports cars. It must be frustrating to lose a race to a Ford sedan that looks like a rental car but flies like an Audi S6.
The coolest-looking fourth-generation Mustang is undoubtedly the 2000 SVT Cobra R. Again, this is a limited-edition model with the “R” designation. And Ford produced only 300 of them they intended for racing drivers and teams. However, compared to the other regular Mustangs, the Cobra R featured many improvements and enhancements.
First and foremost was the engine, the 5.4-liter V8 with 385 HP and 385 lb-ft of torque. Second, the body kit with front and rear spoilers and side skirts. Third, stiff suspension and a few chassis modifications. The car was clearly for performance, so the buyers got exactly that when they pressed the gas pedal.
The Ford F-150 Lightning is a legendary truck. It wasn’t the first muscle truck, but it was one of the best and extremely well-executed. All that made the first generation, which Ford sold from 1993 to 1995, a true automotive icon. The basic idea was to make a muscle truck using a regular F-150, similar to the Chevrolet 454 SS.
However, Ford did it with more care and better engineering. Also, they gave the Lightning a lighter and smaller, but equally powerful engine. Under the hood was a 5.8-liter V8 with 240 HP and 340 lb-ft of torque, giving the classic F-150 Lightning respectable performance.
Introduced in 1985, the Ford Sierra was Ford’s typical family sedan they produced in numerous versions. The car featured rear-wheel drive and an independent rear suspension. However, when Ford decided to contract the Cosworth tuning house for a performance model, a legend was born. Cosworth added a special body kit with spoilers, unique wheels, and colors.
Under the hood was a 2.0-liter turbocharged engine that produced 225 HP. It propelled the car to 60 mph in just 6.5 seconds. For 1985, those were fantastic numbers. Soon, the Sierra Cosworth became one of the hottest Fords at the time. It was also quite successful on the tracks, winning many races.
In 1999 with the new, totally redesigned generation of F-150 trucks came the new Lightning. This time it was much more aggressive and packed much more firepower. Ford installed its 5.4-liter V8 with a supercharger, which was good for 360 HP at first and 380 HP later. This was much more than the previous model and also much more than any truck on the market at the time.
Also, performance numbers were sublime because the Lightning could accelerate from 0 to 60 mph in five seconds and top 140 mph. Those figures were more suited to a Porsche 911 than to a regular pickup truck that could haul cargo just like other F-150.
The most controversial Mustang introduced in recent years and probably ever is definitely the Mustang Mach E. Some will even claim that this isn’t the Mustang at all, and Ford calls it “Mustang-inspired.” Yet. it is painfully apparent that it is, in fact, a Mustang, but a very different one. For those who don’t know, Mustang Mach E is an all-electric, performance-oriented, four-door SUV. The Mach E is all that regular Mustang isn’t, and that makes it controversial. However, looking at the interest and pre-orders Ford has collected, the general market seems to be crazy about the new, all-electric Mustang-inspired family SUV. This is probably the first proper Tesla Model 3 fighter there is, and that alone is impressive.
But one thing is sure; the Mach E is fast like a Mustang needs to be. The base version can get to 60 mph in low 6 seconds, and the top-of-the-line model can do the same in about 3.7 seconds, which is as fast as the 2020 Shelby GT500. Power is ranging from 266 hp to 459 hp, and prices start at around $40,000. The advertised range is between 210 and 250 miles, which isn’t revolutionary, but it is enough for everyday driving.