Home Cars Hidden Horses: The Rarest Mustangs Lost in Automotive History

Hidden Horses: The Rarest Mustangs Lost in Automotive History

Vukasin Herbez April 3, 2024

The Ford Mustang is no longer just a car; it’s a cultural icon recognizable worldwide and a symbol of the US car industry. It’s also a symbol of resilience and the only pony car still standing on the market. Millions of Mustang fans worldwide can be proud since their favorite car’s future is secure. Ford’s executives say there will always be a Mustang.

However, while the history of its popular models is well-known, what about forgotten cars? There are many obscure Mustangs that few remember. So let’s look back at some hidden Mustangs that are a lesser-known yet integral part of the legend.

Photo Credit: Motor 1

Mustang I

The Mustang I concept was a big deal when it was introduced in 1962 as a fully functional concept vehicle. This was the first time the name Mustang was officially used. From the start, it was clear that the public loved the name. The connection with the Wild West mythology was a great marketing gimmick (via Henry Ford).

Ford Mustang Roadster Concept Car
Photo Credit: Ford

The Mustang I was a roadster with a rear-mounted V4 engine and a wedge-shaped body made of aluminum. The original idea behind the concept was to develop a small sports car that could compete with European imports like the Triumph TR3. Still, despite the favorable reaction from the enthusiasts, Ford decided to go another way.

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Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Pace Car

The Mustang had barely reached customers in 1964 when Ford decided to promote the first of many unique models. It was chosen to pace the legendary Indianapolis 500 Race in 1964. Ford felt that this was the perfect opportunity to promote the car further (via Car and Driver).

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Photo Credit: AMMCM

So they released a Pace Car special edition for sale at select dealerships. A total of 190 coupes and 35 convertibles got the Pace Car treatment, which included a 260 V8 engine and “Official Pace Car” decals on the doors. Unfortunately, few original Pace Cars survived to today since many were treated like ordinary Mustangs.

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Photo Credit: Ford

Shelby GT350 R

Produced in just 1965 and sold to privateers and racing teams all over America and the world, the Shelby GT 350 R was a pure racing beast. They were not street-legal and were used only for racing, which they did exceptionally well (via Robb Report).

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Photo Credit: Ford

The R version was powered by the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350 but had nearly 400 hp and numerous racing modifications. The car proved extremely fast, winning races in America, Europe, and South America. Only 34 were made, so you’ll need a fortune to own one today.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Shelby GT350 Convertible

Many will tell you that the first model year for the Shelby Mustang convertibles was 1968 but this is only partially true. In 1968, Shelby offered convertible versions for sale to the general public as a regular production option. But the first convertibles built by Shelby himself were produced in 1966 as a secret project (via Hagerty).

1966 Shelby Gt350 Rear Three
Photo Credit: Ford

At the end of the 1966 model year, Shelby produced a limited run of six GT350 convertibles and gave them to family members and friends. This was a commemorative edition to celebrate the GT350’s success and a prototype for the potential production of convertibles.

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Photo Credit: BaT

Ford Mustang 289 HiPo Convertible

The first actual muscle Mustang was made from 1965 to 1967 and was called the 289 HiPo or the K-Code Mustang. The 289 HiPo was the 271 hp V8 with improvements over the standard engine. It was available in all three body styles as a rare option (via YouTube).

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Photo Credit: Ford

For 1967, its final year, Ford produced only 50 convertibles with 289 HiPo engines. Most were equipped with manual transmissions but 16 had automatic transmissions.

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Photo Credit: Mecum

Shelby GT 500 Super Snake

This unique Shelby GT500 was produced as a rolling laboratory to showcase the possibilities of the Mustang platform. It had a Le Mans-winning GT 40 race engine and was produced in one example (via Supercars).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

There were plans for a limited production run but the proposed price was over $8,000, an enormous sum in the late ’60s. It’s too bad since it was capable of 170 mph, unheard of in the late ’60s.

She Country Mustang
Photo Credit: Mecum

Ford Mustang Ski Country Special

The 1967 Ski Country Special featured some options that helped customers. This particular version was designed for Colorado dealers and the Denver sales district, and its main theme was winter sports (via CJ Pony Parts). The car came in Aspen red, Vail blue, Winterpark turquoise, Loveland green, and Breckenridge yellow. Of course, there was a set of decals to notify those cars as Ski Country Specials.

Photo Credit: Pinterest

But the interesting thing is that those cars came prepared for winter. Every Ski Country Special came equipped with a limited-slip differential, essential for driving in difficult conditions, rear winter tires, a ski rack, and a luggage rack on the trunk. It was all that you needed for a ski weekend in Colorado.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Shelby Lil Red

After almost 50 years of searching, in early 2018, the famous Shelby Lil Red was found in Texas. Known to only a handful of enthusiasts, the Lil Red was a long-lost Shelby prototype and a missing piece of the puzzle (via SPC).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

This was a unique 1967 notchback model fitted with experimental parts and a supercharged 428 engine. The car was used for the development of the famous California Special package. However, in the late ’60s, the car was gone. Everyone thought it was destroyed but it survived.

1967 Mustang Indy Pacesetter Special
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Ford Mustang Indy Pacesetter

In 1967, Ford expected the Mustang to be chosen again to pace the Indy 500 as it did three years ago. However, that didn’t happen. Ford offered an Indy Pacesetter special model (via Motor Trend).

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It featured white color and racing stripes but the rest of the equipment was the same as regular Mustangs. The Mustang experts state that this model was limited to Indianapolis sales. Today, there are only a few known to exist.

Photo Credit: Motor Trend

Ford Mustang GT Cobra Jet Convertible

The legendary 428 Cobra Jet was introduced in 1968 and Ford immediately put it in the Mustang. The Mustang 428 CJ was a mid-year introduction intended for drag racing, so it sold in modest numbers (via Motor Trend).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Besides 50 Fastbacks with CJ engines and other versions, Ford offered the Cobra Jet in convertible form. Only 34 cars were made, which makes them one of the rarest Cobra Jet models ever produced.

Ford Mustang 597
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Ford Mustang Cobra Jet Convertible

The Mustang got its third restyling in 1969 and grew in size. The new body was more extensive but the wheelbase remained unchanged. All three body styles were present with the GT package (via OCW).

Ford Mustang 995
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As expected, most were installed in coupes of Sportsroofs, but 122 people ordered the mighty Cobra Jets and Super Cobra Jets in convertible. The rarest is the Q-code Super Cobra Jet without the GT package and with manual transmission. Only five of these machines were built.

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Photo Credit: Auto WP

Ford Mustang California Special CS/SC

This special version was among the most famous and sought-after by Mustang collectors. The California Special was introduced in 1968 as a unique model for California dealers to boost Mustang sales. Ford made the California Special a more upscale model. The CS could only be had with V8 engines, and the equipment level was high. It also featured a different rear end. The CS had vinyl roofs, side decals, and fake side scoops (via Hemmings).

Ford Mustang Gt California Special 4
Photo Credit: Auto WP

Even though the California Special sold 4,325 examples, it failed to meet its sales goal. At the end of the 1968 model year, CS models were still unsold on the dealer’s lot. California dealers contacted Ford dealers from Colorado with the request to take over those unsold cars. This is how the ’68 High Country Special Mustang model was born and 251 ex-California Specials became Colorado cars.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Shelby EXP 500 Green Hornet

During the Mustang’s heyday, Ford and Shelby worked hard to explore the possibilities of the Mustang’s platform and engineering, producing several exciting prototypes. One of the most popular was the “Green Hornet” from 1968. It featured innovative features like a 390 V8 equipped with fuel injection, unique disc brakes, and an independent rear suspension (via SPC).

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Photo Credit: Barrett Jackson

With this layout, the Green Hornet was a capable car that handled better than any other sports car. 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 most expensive Mustangs for sale, but a $1.8 million offer wasn’t enough.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford Mustang E

In 1969, there was one interesting and rare particular version called “E.” This was short for “Economy.” This special version featured the base 250 CID straight six engine, automatic transmission with a unique torque converter, and strangely low rear axle ratio (via Fox News).

1969 Mustang E 1
Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Mustang E, prepared like this, was an economical machine with excellent fuel economy. But since it appeared in the middle of the muscle car craze, no one paid attention to this economy model. They were interested in high-powered, gas-guzzling models. This is why only 50 Mustangs E are believed to be produced.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Shelby Quarter Horse

In the late ’60s, Ford had several successful performance editions of the Mustang, but even so, Shelby developed a few of his prototypes to explore the platform’s limits further. Known as the Quarter Horse, pre-production prototypes built in 1969 have featured many exciting design cues linked to Shelby and Boss Mustangs (via Motor Trend).

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Those cars had a Shelby front end with a Mustang rear end, a Boss 429 engine, and a Mercury Cougar dashboard. The idea was to produce a cheaper Shelby GT 500 but Ford killed the project in 1970.

Mach 1 Twister
Photo Credit: Mecum

Ford Mustang Mach I Twister Special

The cool-looking Twister Special was a unique version designed for the Kansas City sales district and based on a newly introduced Ford Mustang Mach I. The Mach I was a performance version that could be bought with three engines – 302, 351, and the mighty 428 Cobra Jet V8 (via Auto Evolution).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

All cars had a cartoon twister tornado on the rear quarter panel. The total number of Mach I Twister Specials made was 100 cars. Some other Ford models like Torino received the same treatment. Very few Twister Specials survive today, so collectors seek them.

Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special
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Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special

Ford has prepared a special version named the Sidewinder Special for promotional purposes in the Oklahoma sales district based on a 351 V8 Sportsroof model. Some experts claim the Sidewinders were based on the Mach I model but this isn’t confirmed (via CJ Pony Parts).

Ford Mustang Sidewinder Special
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford built 40 cars in various colors and they all came with a unique set of decals. The dealer applied the decals before sale. The characteristic one was the snake cartoon placed on the rear fenders. Today, Sidewinder Specials are very rare.

1971 Shelby Europa Mustang Convertible Bronze
Photo Credit: Pinterest

Shelby Europa

When Shelby introduced its line of mighty Mustangs, European enthusiasts took notice and soon the cars were popular on the continent and in the States. One of the first Shelby dealers was Belgian racing driver Claude Dubois (via Pony Site).

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Photo Credit: Auto Gespot

After Shelby production stopped in 1970, Dubois asked Shelby for the rights to produce a special line of European spec 1971/72 Mustangs under the Shelby name. Only about nine cars were made in two years, making the Shelby Europe an incredibly rare muscle car. Most got 351 V8 engines while some received the 429 Cobra Jet.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford Mustang 429 Cobra Jet Coupe

The third and final redesign of the first-generation Mustang appeared in 1971. Most performance versions continued for the 1971 model year. However, people gravitated towards the Sportsroof model, not the formal coupe or Grande (via Motor Trend).

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Photo Credit: Hemmings

That is why Ford only produced 11 Coupes with a new 429 Cobra Jet engine and four-speed transmission. Also, this is precisely what makes the car so valuable today.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, Mustang received another thorough restyle, which would be the final one for the first generation. The car grew in size and featured a new, sharper look with a much wider track. 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 exciting model introduced in 1971, the Boss 351 (via Car and Driver).

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Photo Credit: Ford

Made for one year only, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs produced with only 1800 made. It had a highly tuned version of the 351 V8 engine with around 330 hp. It was fast and more expensive than the Mach 1 version of the same model year. Today, it is a true collector’s item.

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Ford Mustang HO

In 1972, Ford discontinued Boss 351 and Cobra Jet Mustangs, while Shelby models were killed two years prior. However, the performance Mustang buyers had no choice and Ford offered the HO model. HO stood for High Output (via Mustang Specs).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

It featured a performance 351 V8 rated at 275 hp, which was high for early ’70s standards. In the end, Ford only made about 60 of these in all three body styles.

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Photo Credit: BaT

Ford Mustang Sprint Convertible

In 1972, Ford debuted the Sprint special version for the Mustang, Maverick, and Pinto. The cars featured white colors with a patriotic paint scheme. The same color combination continued in the interior (via Auto Evolution).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

The Sprint was available with all engines and all Mustang variants, with the convertible being the rarest, with only 50 made. Another interesting detail was the US Olympic team logo on the rear fenders and rear panel between the taillights painted blue.

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Photo Credit: Ford

Monroe Handler

Very few people know what Monroe Handler is. Back in the late ’70s, the Mustang was a disgrace in terms of performance and power. It was slow, ugly, and underpowered. However, Hot Rod Magazine thought that underneath all this lameness was a cool performance car. So with the help of Monroe, they built the Handler, the only real-performing Mustang II (via Mustang Fan Club).

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Thanks to a long list of modifications, the Handler had a 400 hp engine, racing suspension, and extensive body kits. Although intended as a show car, the Handler proved that Mustang II had some potential. Soon after, they produced kits for sale to the general public.

Photo Credit: Mustang Specs

Ford Mustang McLaren M81

This exciting car was built with the help of the well-known McLaren racing team. 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. McLaren and Ford did that by installing a tuned turbo engine with 190 horsepower, a significant number for the day (via Ford Authority).

Photo Credit: LMR

The result has good performance, driving dynamics, and a high price tag. It was offered for sale at $25,000, which was roughly three times the price of a regular example. Needless to say, despite all the new features installed in the M81, it was a tough sell, and only about 10 were sold before the project was canceled.

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Ford Mustang GT350 Anniversary Edition

In 1984, Mustang celebrated its 20th birthday, and Ford introduced a special edition called GT350. The car was available as a coupe or a convertible with all engines but with several unique features, white color, and stripes identical to those on the `65/66 Shelby GT350. The production was limited to only 5,260 copies, which sold fast (via CJ Pony Parts).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

However, this car proved problematic for Ford since immediately after its release, Carroll Shelby, the man behind the legendary Shelby Mustangs, sued Ford for unauthorized use of the “GT350” name. The matter was settled out of court and Ford used the GT350 name in the 2015 model year.

Ford Mustang Lx 5.0 Coupe
Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang 41X

No one really knows how many Fox-body Mustangs with trim code 41X were made, which is a big part of its appeal. This 41X is possibly the rarest part of Fox-body Mustang history (via Motor Trend).

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

The 41X is the trim code for stripped base LX models with a 5.0 HO engine and manual gearbox. When the 5.0 HO became available, serious drag racers wanted lighter cars for drag strip duty. So they ordered their base models with top-of-the-line engines and no equipment. Cars delivered this way got the 41X trim code. They were extremely light and mainly used for racing.

Photo Credit: Mecum

Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

Although we witnessed a recent price rise, the Fox-body Mustang Cobra flew under the radar of mainstream collectors for a long time. Most people dismiss it as another Fox-Body Mustang, but the Cobra is more than that. It’s a proper performance car blurring the line between a classic muscle car and a sports coupe (via Silodrome).

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Photo Credit: Mecum

It was produced for one year only in 1993 and marked the end of the Fox-body Mustang generation. Under the hood was a 5.0-liter HO engine. The 0 to 60 mph time was well under six seconds and the 1993 Cobra handled perfectly thanks to the revised suspension. Ford made just 4,993 examples in 1993 and hurried up before they became the Shelby GT350s of the 21st century. They only made 107 Cobra R models, which were illegal, and you could get one if you had a racing license.

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Photo Credit: Pinterest

Ford Mustang 7 Up Edition

The story about 7 Up Mustangs is one of the more bizarre tales in the long history of America’s favorite pony car. In 1990, soft drink manufacturer 7 Up made a deal with Ford to purchase 30 special edition convertibles as a giveaway car (via Hemmings).

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Photo Credit: BaT

The deal fell through for unknown reasons, and Ford was left with 30 cars and decided to sell them as a particular version. The response was good and the factory decided to produce around 4,000 more. All were dark green LX convertibles with white interiors and a 5.0 V8 engine.

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Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang Glass Roof

The unique versions of the modern Mustangs are all accounted for and there’s not much to say about them. However, most customers need to learn Ford offered an attractive glass roof option in the 2009 and 2010 model years. The $2,000 option was available on V6 and V8 models (via Mustang 6G).

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Photo Credit: Ford

Even though the Mustangs with Glass Roof option looked cool and provided an airy feel in the tight cabin. For some reason, this option wasn’t a favorite with the customers. Only about 4000 cars got this treatment. Today, it’s very rare to see one. We’re still determining the collectability of this particular option in the future, but it might appeal to some collectors.

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Photo Credit: Ford

Ford Mustang R Spec

The Mustang was always a car that welcomed modifications and models that created the performance aftermarket industry. Ford didn’t offer the Shelby GT350 outside the US. Still, after a couple of years, Australian fans got their high-performance version of the Mustang. The Mustang R-Spec was a joint venture between Ford Australia and a company called Herrod Performance. The idea behind this vehicle was to offer street-legal performance (via Performance Drive).

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Photo Credit: Ford

The list of modifications is extensive. But the main thing was under the hood – a 2.65-litre Roush supercharger with 12 pounds of boost. The result was 700 horsepower, an astonishing number for a road-legal vehicle with a factory warranty. However, modifying the engine wasn’t the only thing Herrod Performance did. R-Spec Mustang got a new front bumper, various exterior details, a choice of four unique colors, extensive suspension modifications, and six-piston Brembo brakes all around. Ford announced that only 500 would be built all in RHD and for the Australian market only. Of course, all sold in a matter of weeks.

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