Home Cars Ford Innovation: The Most Groundbreaking Mustangs Ever Made

Ford Innovation: The Most Groundbreaking Mustangs Ever Made

Vukasin Herbez October 13, 2023

For many years, critics have viewed the Mustang as a mass-produced car with a V8 and a pretty body. But the truth is that Ford’s pony car was much more than that. It started the muscle car trend and introduced new groundbreaking technologies. The Mustang has been a cornerstone of Ford’s performance division for almost 60 years.

Perhaps it was never cutting-edge in technology unlike some European sports cars. However, it had more than a few innovative model and versions that were truly groundbreaking in their own right. Today, we’ll discuss those dynamic cars. Overall, the Mustang nameplate pushed the envelope further and created a legend. Some of these were highly successful while some remained just an idea. Check them out here.

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Ford Mustang 1964 ½

The first Mustang was so successful that it started a new class of cars – pony cars. The model entered the history books as one of the best first-year sales successes of all time. Over the years, the Mustang became an automotive symbol of America and one of its finest products worldwide (via CBS News).

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So what was the secret of the Mustang 1/2’s appeal? It had a good mix of performance with a V8 rumble, and a touch of luxury and good looks. That was packed in an affordable package with a long list of options. Of course, the image and legend were integral parts of the Mustang’s appeal since day one. This 1964 model showcased that.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Sedan

When Ford developed the Mustang in the early ’60s, they didn’t only make a new model. They also created a new class of vehicles – pony cars. Since there were no pony cars before the Mustang, the Ford development team went in several directions. One of them was a four-door Mustang. The car looked good and retained classic Mustang lines and proportions. However, Ford realized that it would cannibalize the sales of the Falcon since the Mustang was based on the same platform and engines (via CJ Pony Parts).

Photo Credit: Ford

Mustang fanatics are glad the Mustang sedan didn’t get built. The four-door model would have ruined the sporty appeal of the car and affected the original model’s success. A two-door coupe or convertible Mustang was an exciting performance car. A Mustang in the four-door version would become just another family sedan with less iconic appeal.

Photo Credit: Mustang Spec

Ford Mustang 4×4

In 1965, Mustang was already one of the hottest coupes on the global market. It raised attention from enthusiasts all over the world. In England, a company called Ferguson was a well-established manufacturer of farm machinery and all-wheel-drive systems. They got the idea of converting a regular V8-powered Mustang into a capable all-wheel-drive coupe (via Mustang Specs).

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Immediately, several cars were shipped to England and fitted with Ferguson all-wheel-drive systems mated to Ford’s standard V8 engine and transmission. The results were very promising. The prototype AWD Mustangs had excellent handling and superb traction in any condition. The downsides were added weight and costs. Ford brought a few examples to the States to test them further but eventually shelved the project.

Photo Credit: Auto WP

1968 Ford Mustang GT Cobra Jet

The legendary 428 Cobra Jet left the factory in 1968 and Ford immediately put it in the Mustang GT. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction. It was primarily for drag racing, which is why it had limited production. But it was still innovative (via How Stuff Works).

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This was a true beast of a car with a 390 hp engine, lightweight, and a four-speed close-ratio manual transmission. With a 0 to 60 mph time of just 5.4 seconds, this was the fastest stock car of the era and a highly valuable collector’s item today.

Photo Credit: Ford

Shelby EXP 500 “Green Hornet”

During the Mustang’s heyday, Ford and Shelby worked together to explore the possibilities and limits of the Mustang’s platform and engineering. As a result, they produced several interesting prototypes. One of the most popular is the “Green Hornet” from 1968 (via Shelby Prototype Coupes).

Photo Credit: Barrett Jackson

The Green Hornet featured innovative features like the 390 V8 with fuel injection, unique disc brakes on all four wheels, and an independent rear suspension. With this layout, the Green Hornet was a very capable car that handled better than any other sports car on the market. Unfortunately, the cost of producing those features was too high, so Ford and Shelby decided to go with more conventional technology. Also, the “Green Hornet” is one of the rare surviving cars from the era and possibly one of the most expensive Mustangs, as a $1.8 million offer wasn’t enough.

Photo Credit: Ford

1968 Ford Mustang California Special

This special version was one of the most desirable for Mustang collectors. Ford presented the California Special in 1968. It was a special model for dealers in California to boost sales of the Mustang there and it was a GT model with a V8 engine. Ford made the California Special a more upscale model and invested a lot into the groundbreaking version. First, the CS came only with a V8 engine. Second, the California Special featured a different rear end that was Carroll Shelby’s work. Also, it had a rear deck spoiler, Cougar taillights, and CS badges (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: Auto WP

The CS had a vinyl roof, side decals, and fake side scoops. Despite the fact the California Special sold in 4,325 examples, it failed to meet Ford’s sales goal. At the end of the 1968 model year, lots of unsold CS models were still on the dealer’s lots. California dealers had a problem, so they contacted Ford dealers from Colorado with the request to take over those unsold cars. That is how the ’68 High Country Special Mustang model was born. Ultimately 251 ex-California Specials became Colorado cars.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Boss 429 Rear Engine

This one is one of the most interesting Mustang prototypes. Despite the fact it didn’t appear on the show circuit back in the late ’60s, it caused a lot of controversy. Basically, this model was the 1969 Boss 429 with the engine moved to the trunk. This move was extensively tested by Ford to see if the conversion had significant advantages over the standard layout (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: Ford

The engine was placed longitudinally in the trunk and connected to the rear wheels over the C6 automatic transmission unit. The rear glass was turned into a hatchback door to have access to the engine, and the whole conversion was surprisingly trouble-free. This Boss 429 had a 40/60 weight balance, as added weight over the rear axle helped launch off the line and reduced wheel spin. However, Ford realized that there weren’t any significant performance improvements and decided to kill the project.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang 1974

The second generation of the Mustang debuted in 1974 and was on the market for four years until 1978. Despite the fact it was the subject of so many jokes and bad press, the Mustang II was actually a fundamental model. The downsizing of the Mustang range, the introduction of economical four-cylinder engines, and part sharing with other Ford models helped the model survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car movement (via Mustang Specs).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The downsized, hideous 1974 model was controversial enough. But the truly shocking news was that there was no V8 available. The 2.3-liter straight-four was the base engine, with a 2.8-liter V6 as an optional power plant. The V8 arrived a year-and-a-half later in 1975 with low power and compression. But at first, the Mustang II was no faster than an import economy car. This was one of the most controversial decisions in Mustang history, and it could have ended the Mustang legacy.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Wagon

In 1976, Ford decided to play around with the idea of a Mustang wagon based on the Mustang II platform It was equipped with a roof rack and woodgrain inserts on the sides. In those days, Chevrolet had the Vega three-door station wagon for sale and Ford wanted to compete in that market segment (via Mustang Specs).

Photo Credit: Ford

However, Ford supporters loved the fact that it never went beyond the concept stage. That was because the Mustang station wagon with wood grain would undoubtedly kill the sporty characteristics this model barely even had. The Mustang II has almost destroyed the Mustang’s reputation from the ’60s and the wagon version would have ended it for good. Although some companies in the ’60s converted Mustangs into interesting three-door wagons, it was better to leave this idea alone.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Ford Mustang RSX

For a brief moment in 1979, it looked like Ford would produce this unique Mustang as a homologation special for rally racing. Over the years, the Mustang was a drag racer, street racer, circuit racer, and even entered Le Mans, but it was never a successful rally car. With the Mustang RSX, Ford wanted to change that (via The Daily Drive).

Photo Credit: Ford

The car had a stock 2.3-liter engine, but Ford worked on turbocharging it. The public was interested and the RSX concept gained a ton of coverage from car magazines and fans. Yet Ford decided to drop it.

Photo Credit: Mustang Specs

Mustang McLaren M81

This exciting car was built with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team’s American operation office in Michigan. The idea behind the project was to take the 2.3-liter turbo engine from the regular Mustang and transform it into a street racing beast. It featured a race-tuned suspension, a lightweight body, and a host of other modifications. McLaren and Ford did that by installing the tuned turbo engine with 190 hp, a significant number for the day, especially from 2.3 liters. They also totally changed the looks of the Fox-body Mustang (via Motor Trend).

Photo Credit: LMR

The result has good performance and driving dynamics but also a high price tag. It cost $25,000, which was roughly three times the price of a regular example. Needless to say, despite all the interesting aspects installed in the M81, it was a tough seller. Only around 10 were sold before the project died.

1982 Ford Mustang GT
Photo Credit: Car And Driver

1982 Ford Mustang GT

Ambitiously marketed with the slogan “The Boss is Back,” the 1982 Mustang GT 5.0 proved to be a big step forward for the Fox-body edition of the Mustang. It was the first GT model in 13 years, and one of the hottest cars in 1982. Ford discontinued the GT model in 1969 to concentrate on other performance variants. In 1982 with the introduction of a 5.0-liter with 157 hp on tap, they decided to reintroduce it (via Supercars).

Photo Credit: Car Domain

The 1982 GT was significantly faster than other Fox-body Mustangs. It had a redesigned front end, spoiler, and hood scoop as well as suspension modifications. Even though its power output was mediocre, the 1982 GT marked the beginning of the Mustang’s performance renaissance.

Photo Credit: Car and Driver

1983 Ford Mustang GT Turbo

Common knowledge tells us that all Mustang GTs were V8-powered throughout the years. But, for two short years from 1983 to 1984, Ford offered a turbocharged 2.3-liter Mustang GT with four cylinders and performance similar to its V8 cousin. Back in those days, Ford was experimenting with small-displacement turbo engines and had one in the Mustang SVO (via Autopolis).

Photo Credit: BAT

With just 145 hp and 180 lb.-ft of torque, the Mustang GT Turbo wasn’t fast or powerful and it was also more expensive than its V8 model. That’s why it could have been more well-received and Ford only managed to sell 483 examples.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang SVO

The third generation of the Mustang appeared as the 1979 model and brought much-needed modernization to the range, not only in design but in technology as well. The new, so-called Fox-body Mustang was sleeker, more modern, and more aerodynamic. It was also somewhat lighter and more nimble, which was reflected in the performance (via Ford Performance).

Photo Credit: Ford

However, the biggest news was the introduction of the turbo engine, a very modern device for the time. Ford’s SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) department introduced a special Mustang SVO for 1984 that 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 ’84 Mustang SVO was very hot for the time.

Photo Credit: Mce Cars

1986 Ford Mustang GT 5.0 H.O.

Even though the 1986 Mustang GT will always remain in the shadow of the 1987-1993 models, it was a very important piece of the puzzle in Ford’s performance portfolio. It’s historically relevant because it was the first year for an electronic fuel injection system in Mustang, which was a big deal in the mid-1980s. It was also the last year of the characteristic “four-eye” body style (via Hemmings).

Photo Credit: BAT

The 5.0-liter V8 EFI delivered 200 hp and 285 lb-ft, which were very respectable numbers for the day. The car had sub-seven-second 0 to 60 mph times and introduced the Mustang community to new technology as it secured its future. The best was yet to come.

2006 Ford Mustang Convertible.
Photo Credit: And Driver

2005 Ford Mustang GT

The muscle car world was stunned when Ford introduced the fifth generation of the Mustang in late 2004 as a 2005 model. The retro-futuristic design was perfect for the times. It not only captured the essence of the legendary first generation but also presented a sporty shape that is still modern even 15 years after its unveiling. The new Mustang featured a lot of new technology but a still-classic platform with a live rear axle. Nevertheless, buyers went crazy for the car. During its 10-year market life, Ford introduced numerous special versions and even the extremely powerful Shelby models (via Edmunds).

Photo Credit: Ford

The sweet spot in the range was always the regular GT model. With a 4.6-liter 300 hp V8 engine at first and a 5.0-liter 412 hp V8 engine from 2011-2014, the GT was a capable car with exceptionally good road manners. It was fast, handled well, and looked cool in any color. Its affordable price means it is quite common and its simple mechanics mean it’s cheap to maintain. The soundtrack from the V8 engine is second to none and its looks are still fresh. If you’re looking for a V8-powered Mustang with performance and attitude on a budget, this is the car for you.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang GT 5.0 S550

The 2015-23 GT is truly a world-class sports coupe with muscle car roots and a throaty soundtrack. The S550 platform finally got an independent rear suspension and its great design has technology to match that. The S550 Mustang was a truly global car sold worldwide even in right-hand drive (via The Truth About Cars).

Photo Credit: Ford

The heart of any GT is its engine. From 2015 to 2023, that heart had five liters, 32 valves, direct injection, and lightweight construction, which equals 460 to 480 hp delivered to the rear wheels over a six-speed manual or 10-speed automatic transmission.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Mach E

The Mustang has been a sports muscle coupe or convertible with gas-powered engines and a rear-wheel-drive train for almost six decades. This is a winning formula and should largely stay the same. Most Mustang fans agree with that but Ford obviously doesn’t (via Ford).

Photo Credit: Ford

For the 2021 model year, Ford introduced the Mustang Mach E, a fully-electric, five-door SUV model with Mustang-inspired styling but technology straight from the Tesla Model X. To millions of Mustang fans, this was terrifying news and a precise attack on the legacy of the Mustang as a true muscle car. Some even thought it was a joke. But it wasn’t and the Mustang E configuration is up. Fans can even reserve one now. It still needs to be seen how this will affect the Mustang lineup in the future.

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang GTD

The 2025 Mustang GTD is something nobody expected and caught the car community by storm. As road-going Mustangs go, this model sets the new standard in technology, performance, looks, and insanity. So what is the 2025 Mustang GTD? It’s a GT3-spec racing car for the road but even more extreme (via Ford).

Photo Credit: Ford

Ford already introduced the Mustang GT3 race model, designed to take on Le Mans. However, Ford’s engineers took this concept a step further with the GTD. This turned the Mustang GTD into an even more capable and crazy beast. Just look at the specs – a 5.2-liter supercharged V8 with 800 hp, racing transmission, and an active aero and transaxle gearbox for ideal weight distribution, which is something no Mustang had before. But the best thing is the rear suspension with an inboard design directly from a Formula One race car.

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Ford Mustang Raptor

Numerous manufacturers have made off-road versions of their sports cars after the instant success of the Porsche 911 Dakar and Lamborghini Huracan Sterrato. Although it sounds like an impossible thing to match, the results were often stunning and highly exciting (via Car and Driver).

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Ford is, apparently very close to presenting a similar variant based on Mustang. It will be an off-road version, possibly with an AWD drivetrain, a 5.0-liter V8, an off-road suspension, and a special body kit. It could appear in showrooms in 2026 and could make the Raptor lineup complete and unique as a result.

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