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Milestones In Horsepower: 20 History-Making Ford Mustangs

Vukasin HerbezJuly 3, 2019

Although mechanically ordinary and not all that special, the Ford Mustang was an extremely influential and significant piece of machinery. It wasn’t even the first pony car since they released the Barracuda two weeks earlier. But it was by far one of the most important cars from the ’60s and one of the most memorable American cars ever.

No one can deny the Mustang is a true automotive legend that still lasts today. Over the course of the Mustang’s vibrant 54-year history, Ford produced many interesting and landmark models. So keep reading to learn more about the 20 most significant ones. These are the cars that created history and made the Mustang the global legend it is.

  1. Ford Mustang 1964 ½

The first Mustang was so successful, it started a new class of cars they called pony cars. But better yet, it entered the history books as one of the best first-year sales of all times. Over the years, Mustang became an automotive symbol of America and one of its finest and most respected products worldwide.

So, what is the secret of the Mustang’s appeal? Well, it is easy, mix a good amount of performance with V8 engine rumble, add a touch of luxury and good looks, and pack it in an affordable package with a long list of options. Of course, don’t forget the image and the legend which was an integral part of the Mustang’s appeal since day one.

  1. Ford Mustang 289 HiPo

Although the Mustang looked sporty and cool, it 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 and the performance was somewhat below the expectations. Ford responded with an interesting engine they called the K-Code.

The K-Code was the 289 V8 but with the milder, more street-friendly tune and 271 HP, which was more than enough for the decent performance Mustang fans asked for. Introduced in 1965 and available until 1967, the 289 HiPo was the first Mustang that ran as well as it looked, especially if you ordered it in gorgeous Fastback body style.

  1. Shelby GT350 R

As you already know, Shelby started building Mustangs in 1965 as fire breathing machines that brought Ford much needed recognition and performance credentials. But, the cars that were responsible for its racing success were 34 “R” models Ford produced only in 1965. And they sold them to privateers and racing teams all over America and the world. Those cars were not street legal and were purely for racing purposes, something that they did extremely well.

The GT350 R had numerous modifications and it was lighter, faster and sharper than the regular GT350. The R version was powered by the same 289 V8 as the regular Shelby GT350 but it had close to 400 HP and numerous racing modifications. The car was light, well balanced and proved extremely fast. And, it won numerous races in America, as well as in Europe and South America.

  1. Ford Mustang 390 GT

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. The performance lovers finally got a big block option in the form of the 390 FE V8 engine which produced 325 HP.

This was a fast and powerful car, but it was more of a Grand Tourer than a muscle car. The reason was the engine which Ford took from the Thunderbird. In the end, the 390 GT was more suited for effortless cruising than for drag racing.

  1. Shelby GT500

Over the years the Mustang had some performance versions like the GT with the 289 HiPo V8 engine or Shelby GT 350 in 1965. However, the first true performance Mustang with big block engine and respectable 0 to 60 mph times was the 1967 Shelby GT 500. Bigger and more powerful than before, the 1967 GT 500 featured a new design.

Also, Ford modified the front and rear end and added a big 427 V8 engine delivering 335 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque. But in those days, Ford was notorious for underrating the power output of their engines, so 335 HP sounded too little for the big 427. So some Mustang enthusiasts claim the real power was closer to the 400 HP range. And the performance figures backed that claim.

  1. Ford Mustang Cobra Jet 428

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

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

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 302

The third redesign of the Mustang appeared for the 1969 model year and the car grew in size once again. Among the many performance options, the Boss 302 is the most important model. Produced for only two years, 1969 and 1970, the Boss 302 featured the 302 V8 engine which they conservatively rated at 290 HP.

But the real output was closer to 350 HP mark. The Boss 302 was intended for racing in the Trans-Am championship with its blackout hood, spoiler on the trunk and other details. Also, it featured a stiff track-tuned suspension, close-ratio gearbox and high revving engine.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 429

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

And that helped it achieve higher revs and better flow inside the head. So ultimately, 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.

  1. Ford Mustang Mach I

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

But this was the definitive option to have. Only 428 CJ-equipped Mach Is had true performance potential and could beat other muscle cars on the street. The 428 Cobra Jet was rated at 335 HP but everybody knew that it produced more than 400 HP.

  1. Ford Mustang Boss 351

In 1971, the Mustang received another thorough restyle that would be the final one for the first generation. And again, the car grew in size and weight, featuring 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 they introduced in 1971, and that was the Boss 351. Available for one year only, the ’71 Mustang Boss 351 was one of the rarest Mustangs Ford produced at only 1,800.

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 Mach 1 version of the same model year. And today, it is a true collector’s item.

  1. Ford Mustang II King Cobra

The second generation of the Ford Mustang debuted in 1974. It 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 an important model. The downsizing of the whole Mustang range, economical four-cylinder engines and parts sharing with other Fords helped the Mustang survive the recession of the ’70s and the death of the muscle car movement.

But there was one particularly interesting Mustang, and it was the special edition King Cobra model. Ford knew that their 5.0 V8 engine made only 140 HP in the Mustang II and the performance was slow. But they also knew that by dressing up the car, they could attract some buyers.

  1. Ford Mustang SVO

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

However, the biggest news was the introduction of the turbo engine, a modern device for the time. The Ford Special Vehicle Operations (SVO) department introduced a special Mustang SVO for 1984. It featured a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder with 175 HP. And that was quite the power output for a small engine. As a light car, the ‘84 Mustang SVO was hot at the moment.

  1. Ford Mustang 5.0 GT HO

The rise in power of domestic cars during the ‘80s brought the first real performance numbers to the Mustang range in almost 20 years. The Fox-body Mustang grew more powerful with each model year, starting from 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.

And that translated to quite competent 0 to 60 mph times. This car marked a return to the Mustang’s roots with a strong V8 engine and exciting performance. Also, the late ’80s Fox-body GT was popular, so they are plentiful today.

And that makes them a great choice for entry-level collectors. On the other hand, the aftermarket for those cars is enormous, too. So you can modify and make your Fox-body GT even faster easily and affordably.

  1. Ford Mustang Cobra

Although there has been a recent rise in prices, the Fox-body Mustang Cobra flew under the radar of mainstream collectors for a while. Most people tend to dismiss it as another Fox-Body Mustang, but the Cobra is much more than just that. It is a proper performance car, blurring the line between classic muscle cars and sports coupes.

Ford produced the Cobra for one year only, in 1993. And sadly, it marked the end of the Fox-body Mustang generation. Under the hood was SVT prepared 5.0-liter HO engine with trick GT40 heads and various other upgrades. The 0 to 60 mph time was well under six seconds.

The 1993 Cobra handled perfectly thanks to the revised suspension. Unfortunately, Ford made just 4,993 Mustang Cobras in 1993. So, you should hurry up before they become the Shelby GT350s of the 21st century.

  1. Ford Mustang SVT Cobra

Inspired by the wild SVT Cobra Rs from the ‘90s, the 2003 model was not named “R” since it wasn’t a limited production car. Also, it was 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.

One was the first factory supercharged engine and the other was the independent rear suspension. The SVT took the standard 4.6-liter block and mounted different heads and supercharger to get 390 HP and 390 lb-ft of torque.

They named the engine the “Terminator” and rumor was that 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. Interestingly, that was a setup similar to the first Ford GT.

  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. This Mustang captured the essence of the legendary first-generation. But it also presented an elegant and sporty shape that is still modern, even 15 years after the unveiling.

The new Mustang featured a lot of new technology but a somewhat 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 a 5.0-liter 425 HP V8 engine from 2011 to 2014 model year, the GT was a capable car with exceptionally good road manners.

  1. Ford Mustang Bullitt

When this retro-looking masterpiece of design saw the light of day embodied in the 2005 Mustang, fans of the legendary pony car were ecstatic. The new car not only looked fabulous, but it also introduced new levels of power and performance. However, its retro look opened the doors for numerous special editions that mimicked the fantastic Mustangs from the past.

Again, Ford couldn’t resist, so in 2008, they presented the new Bullitt Mustang. Just as before, it was dark green with a blackout grille, American Racing wheels, and a few mechanical modifications. The 4.6-liter V8 engine pumped 315 HP and 325 lb-ft of torque.

And that was enough to launch this Highland Green Mustang coupe to 5.0-second 0 to 60 mph time. And again, they produced the 2008 Bullitt Mustang in limited numbers, so it now has a collector’s car appeal.

  1. 2013 Shelby GT500

The swan song of the 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 moment, this was the most powerful American-made V8 and it was a proper beast of an engine. Installed in RWD, live axle platform it was a tire smoke generator.

But besides its burnout and show potential, it was also a serious performance machine. The 0 to 60 mph sprint took only 3.5 seconds and the $50,000 Mustang could embarrass a $250,000 Ferrari at the stoplight drag race. Buyers loved this overpowered Mustang, so despite being discontinued, it still is the king of the hill among Mustang fans.

  1. Ford Mustang GT 5.0 Performance Pack 2

What exactly is the Mustang GT Performance Pack 2? Well, it is a GT, which means it has a 5.0-liter Coyote V8 with 460 HP and 420 lb-ft of torque. Ford mated it to a six-speed manual transmission in the best tradition of classic muscle cars. With the 0 to 60 mph times in the low four-second range, the Performance Pack 2 is definitely fast, but the numbers are just half of the story.

The essence of the Performance Pack is in the handling, braking, less weight and a whole lot more driving dynamics. So, for $6,500 above the price of a regular GT, you will get an updated chassis and aerodynamic improvements.

Also, it comes with stiffer springs, beefier anti-roll bars, performance tires, bigger brakes, racing seats and a lot more. With this package, the standard Mustang GT transforms from a great sports car into a fantastic driver’s machine.

  1. Shelby GT350

For those who want a classic screamer Mustang with a Shelby heritage, but with modern technology and unbelievable V8 performance, the new GT350R is the perfect choice. Despite the fact they based the Shelby on the Mustang GT, much of the car’s suspension, design, aero package, and engine were new.

However, the biggest single difference was the fantastic Voodoo engine, which has 5.2-liters of displacement, 526 HP and 429 lb-ft of torque. The main feature of this high-revving powerplant is the flat-plane crank technology. It allows the big V8 to scream to almost 9,000 rpm. It is the same technology the exotic manufacturers like Ferrari use.

However, this is the first time a muscle car has had such an advanced engine. Ford’s investment in the Shelby GT350R has paid off since the performance is mind-boggling with 3.9 seconds for 0 to 60 mph. But the numbers don’t do justice to this car.

These are the top Mustang milestones. They are 20 of the most significant Ford Mustangs they ever made. Which one appealed to you?

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