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Mustang Milestones

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by Bruce Caldwell  More from Author

Mustang Hall of Fame

Style has a strong correlation to sales success. The revolutionary 1965 Mustang stands as a testimony to that fact. Looking at the handsome long nose, short deck, pillar-less hardtop few people would suspect the underneath this slick exterior are many Falcon-based components. Using common parts was one way that Ford was able to bring the base coupe in at the very attractive price of $2,321. It was easy to run that tab up to the $3,000 range if you went wild with factory and dealer-installed options, but the low initial price got buyers interested.

A massive pre-introduction publicity and advertising blitz primed the public for the April 17, 1964 introduction. The whole idea of a fun, affordable, stylish car struck the car buying public just right. The Mustang had many attributes of the earlier compact cars, but it traded rear passenger room and cargo space for sporty styling and performance. It was a winning formula that General Motors and Chrysler scrambled to emulate.

Officially there weren’t any ’64 ½ Mustangs, only early ‘65s and late ‘65s. The ’64 ½ term has become a popular way to differentiate the cars built before August 17th and those built after.

The Mustang introduction was perfectly timed for the car to be chosen as the 1964 Indy 500 Pace Car in May. Pace Car convertibles are the rarest of the rare. There were two used in the actual race and thirty-five given to Indy VIPs. Ford also built 185 Indy Pace Car replica coupes that were awarded to Ford dealers as part of a sales promotion. All Pace Car coupes are Pace Car White with blue vinyl interiors, the 260 ci V-8 and the automatic transmission.



2. 1965 2+2 FASTBACK

Ford really hit a styling homerun when it introduced a third body style, the 2+2 fastback in September 1964. The fastback body style really accentuated the Mustang’s sporting flair.  Other manufacturers had cars with similar sloping rooflines, but not with such short deck lids. The 2+2 fastback had an exotic, European flavor. All this excitement was available at a starting price of $2,533.

The 2+2 moniker came from the four-passenger capacity. To call the rear seat room enough for two fails to mention what size duo will comfortably fit in the close-to-the-floor seats that straddled the driveline tunnel. The low seating position was necessary due to the diminished headroom. A fold-down rear seat option greatly increased the practicality of the fastback.

One of the boldest, most popular colors on early Mustangs was this brilliant orange-red known as Poppy Red. Dual Red Band nylon 6.95x14-inch tires were a no cost option on fastbacks equipped with the 271 horsepower 289 V-8.



3. 1965 SHELBY GT 350

The Mustang excitement factor took a big leap in January 1965 when the Shelby GT 350 was introduced. This hybrid Mustang took the car from a stylish, sporty image to being a real sports car. In a union made in automotive heaven Lee Iacocca and Carroll Shelby joined forces to homologate a car that could be a serious contender in SCCA competition. In the process the Shelby GT 350 gave the Mustang a huge credibility boost.

The small-block Mustangs didn’t have the cubic inches to compete with the emerging musclecars such as the GTO and big-block Chevelles, but with Shelby’s help the Mustang became a serious sports car contender.

Several obstacles had to be cleared in order to homologate the Shelby for SCCA competition. A big hurdle was the requirement that the car be a two-seater. This was required of the street cars, so a flat fiberglass shell replaced the rear seat. The spare tire was mounted on top of the shell. Most of the homologation improvements were in the area of improved handling. The 271 hp 289 was fitted with an aluminum intake, 715 cfm Holley carb and Tri-Y style exhaust headers. Those and other improvements boosted advertised horsepower to 306. The full race “R” models were further modified to reach the 350 hp mark.

The Shelby GT 350 had great success in SCCA competition winning the B/Production National Title in 1965 and dominating that class for several years. All this track success did wonders for the Mustang’s image and sales.    




The first anniversary of the Mustang, April 17, 1965, was highlighted by the addition of the GT Equipment Group option. It has since gone on to become one of the most popular early Mustang options. The name played off the Shelby GT 350.

The option package was a combination of performance and appearance upgrades. It was only available on cars with either the 225 hp or 271 hp V-8 engines. Items included manual (non-power) front disc brakes (with “Disc Brakes” on the brake pedal), a large disc brake style master cylinder, dual exhaust with chromed “trumpet” tips that came through the lower valence panel, fog lamps and grille bar to mount them, GT stripe along the lower rocker panel, handling package, quick ratio steering, a five-dial instrument cluster, and GT badges.

Styled steel wheels and the steering column mounted Rally-Pac tach and clock are frequently seen on Mustang GTs, but they were stand alone options and not part of the GT option. The GT Equipment Group option was available on all three Mustang body styles. The option found its way onto 15,079 1965 Mustangs.



5. 1967 390 BIG-BLOCK

The Mustang was redesigned for 1967. It was longer and wider, but still had the same 108-inch wheelbase. There was an obvious resemblance to the ’65-’66 Mustangs, although the features seemed more pronounced and aggressive. The fastback was now a true fastback since the roofline went all the way to the taillight panel.

The engine compartment still housed the familiar 200 ci six-cylinder and 289 ci V-8, but there was also room for the Mustang’s first big-block engine. That engine was the 390 cubic inch Thunderbird Special that was rated at 320 horsepower. The 390 had cast iron intake and exhaust manifolds. The carb was a 600 cfm Holley four-barrel. Dual exhaust was standard.

With the big-block 390 the Mustang took on more of a musclecar demeanor and it became more competitive with the many big-block musclecars on the road. The 700 pound 390 affected the car’s front-to-rear weight ratio, so 390 Mustangs aren’t the sporty handling cars that small-block Mustangs are. The 390 was available in all three body styles and proved quite popular finding its way into 28,800 ’67 Mustangs.







As always, the Shelby Mustangs took what the standard Mustangs had and made it even better. That was definitely the case with the first big-block Shelby—the 1967 GT 500. Instead of the 320 hp 390 V-8 the GT 500 came with a modified version of the 428 cubic inch “Police Interceptor” big-block. The 428 used dual quads (Holley 600 cfm) to help produce 355 horsepower and a prodigious 420 lb-ft of pavement shredding torque. The biggest challenge with these cars was getting all that power to hook up. The GT 500 had a 57/43-front/rear-weight distribution.

The 1967 GT 500 was the first big-block Shelby and the only Shelby factory-equipped with dual four-barrel carburetors. A total of 2,048 GT 500s were produced in 1967.

Besides the available big-block (the GT 350 still used the 306 hp 289) 1967 marked the year that Shelby Mustangs distanced themselves visually from standard ’67 Mustangs. The unique front-end styling was created with a 3-inch longer fiberglass nose and a handsome fiberglass hood. Dual side scoops were used. The distinctive side-to-side taillights are ’67 Cougar units without their chrome trim. Inertia reel shoulder harnesses were mounted to the factory-installed roll bar.




1968 marked the start of limited edition, regional Mustangs. The GT/CS or California Special was a marketing tool by Southern California Ford dealers to perk up somewhat sluggish sales. The car that inspired the California Special was a ’67 Shelby Prototype coupe. The coupe-only GT/CS relied heavily on Shelby styling cues—a fact that has caused uniformed viewers to brand them as Shelby coupes. The California Special is by far the best known first generation special edition or regional edition Mustang.

The 1968 GT/CS California Special equipment included the Shelby deck lid and spoiler extensions, sequential taillights, side scoops, GT/CS side and deck stripes, fender emblems, blacked out grille with fog lamps, hood pins, and styled steel GT wheels without the GT emblems. The GT/CS could be had with any ’68 Mustang engine including the 200 inch six, 289 V-8, 302 V-8, 390 V-8 and 428 V-8. Obviously, the big-block California Specials are the most desirable.

An odd fact about the California Special Mustangs is that approximately 1100 of the 4325 total were sold outside California. They were sold in District Sales Offices from Texas and Kansas to the west coast. They were sold as far north as Vancouver and Calgary British Columbia.        



8. 1968 1/2 COBRA JET

On April 1, 1968, Ford introduced the Cobra Jet Mustang and it was anything but a joke when turned loose on dragstrips. The ’68 ½ Cobra Jet package was available on fastbacks and coupes. The heart of the package was the 428 Cobra Jet Ram Air engine that was conservatively rated at 335 horsepower. A more accurate estimate was 400 hp. The R-code engine employed low riser 427 cylinder heads with enlarged ports. The carb was a 735 cfm Holley.

The Cobra Jet marked the largest engine to be placed in a regular production Mustang (non-Shelby). The Cobra Jet was ideal for drag racing. Fifty lightweight factory drag cars were produced. These cars did very well in NHRA competition.

The street Cobra Jet was a formidable car as well. The cars came with the GT Equipment Group, power disc brakes, an 8,000 rpm tach in 4-speed cars, lower shock tower bracing, a functional ram air hood scoop, and staggered rear shock absorbers to help control traction. A total of 2,253 fastbacks and 564 coupes were produced with the Cobra Jet package.



9. 1969 MACH I

1969 marked the introduction of the Mustang Mach I model. It took the place of the Mustang GT (although the GT was still available in all three body styles) as the most popular performance Mustang. It was the start of many, many desirable Mach I Mustangs. The Mustang lineup was restyled for the third time in 1969 and the Mach I was the model that best showcased the updated styling. All Mach Is were fastbacks, which were now corporately known as SportsRoof Mustangs. People still called them fastbacks.

The standard Mach I engine was the new 351 cubic inch V-8. Any of the five larger V-8 engines were available in the Mach I, from the 2 barrel 351 to the 428 Ram Air Cobra Jet. Mach I interiors used many of the Deluxe Décor Group items. New high back bucket seats were part of the Mach I package. The exterior featured a low-gloss blacked-out hood and a distinctive hood scoop. The standard scoop was non-functional except on all 428 Cobra Jet engines, which got the new “Shaker” scoop. The Shaker scoop was optional on 351 and 390-equipped cars. Reflective side and trunk stripes were part of the Mach I visual package as were chrome Styled Steel wheels. The body-colored racing mirrors were an industry first and the start of a popular trend.

Mach I production for 1969 was 72,458 units.


10. 1969 BOSS 429

The 1969 Boss 429 Mustang represents the most radical engine installed in a first generation Mustang. The Boss 429 is something of an anomaly since its main purpose was to homologate the 429 engine for use in NASCAR Torinos, not Mustangs. Ford wanted to be competitive with the famed Chrysler Hemi engines, so they developed their version of the Hemi, the Boss 429.

 The 375 hp engine has also been called the Shotgun motor and the Twisted Hemi. Its unique aluminum cylinder heads were mated to cast iron 429 blocks. The extra wide cylinder heads necessitated narrowing the spring towers and relocating the front suspension mounting points.

Ford needed to produce 500 Boss 429 equipped cars and sell them to the general public in order to qualify them for NASCAR use. A total of 859 Boss 429s were built in 1969. That number dropped to 499 units in 1970. All Boss 429s were equipped with close-ratio four-speed transmissions.

As radical as the Boss 429 was, it wasn’t the most tractable car. The carburetor was too small and the camshaft was too conservative. The Boss 429 engine didn’t achieve the NASCAR success that Ford had hoped for, but it did provide the basis for one of the most desirable high performance Mustangs of all time.



 11. 1970 BOSS 302

The Boss 302 debuted in 1969 after the Boss 429. The purpose of the Boss 302 was to build a car that could challenge and beat the Camaro Z/28s that were dominating SCCA Trans-Am racing. This popular series was drawing lots of positive attention to the various manufacturers pony cars. One thousand street cars were required to qualify for Trans-Am racing. The Boss 302 engine represented the epitome of the small-block 289 V-8 development. The engine used Cleveland style cylinder heads with very large intake and exhaust ports.

The 1969/1970 Boss 302 was designed to handle like a Trans-Am car should. It was much more than a high performance engine. The Boss 302 represented the high point of early Mustang handling and acceleration all wrapped up in one very handsome package. The front fenders were flared to better accommodate the F60x15 tires. The sole transmission was a 4-speed manual. The Competition Suspension with staggered rear shock absorbers was part of the package.

The Boss 302 did very well in its first year of competition finishing second to the Camaro Z/28 in the Trans-Am series. It took the series in 1970. Sales amounted to 1,628 units in 1969 and 7,013 Boss 302s in 1970.



12. 1971 COBRA JET 429

In 1971 Ford introduced the fourth version of the first generation Mustang. Many people consider this iteration the ‘big” Mustang. The bodies were longer, wider, and lower and sat on a one-inch longer wheelbase. The wider body made it easier to accommodate the 429 cubic inch big-block.

The growth of the Mustang body was gradual and evolutionary unless you parked a ’65 2+2 next to a ’71 Mach I. Then the differences became more apparent. The growth trend went along with the bigger is better, more power and more luxury marketing themes. Unfortunately, that trend would soon be reversed due to fuel economy concerns. The 1971 big-block Mustangs were the last hurrah for Mustang performance until the 5.0 Mustangs and the present day rockets.

The big daddy of big-block ’71 Mustangs was the Cobra Jet 429. It was a de-stroked version of the Lincoln 460 ci V-8. There were three versions of the Cobra Jet 429: the 429CJ, 429CJ-R (ram air) and 429SCJ-R (Super Cobra Jet Ram Air). The 429CJ and 429CJ-R were rated at 370 hp. The 429SCJ-R was rated at 375 hp. The Cobra Jet became a Super Cobra Jet when the Drag Pack option was specified. The 429CJ engines used a 700 cfm Rochester carb while the SCJ engines had a 789 cfm Holley carburetor. The Ram Air option made the handsome twin-scoop hood functional.

1971 was the only year for the 429 Cobra Jet Mustangs. A mere 1,255 429CJ and 429CJ-R cars were produced. The 429SCJ-R total was 610 units, which makes these Mustangs very rare and highly desirable. 


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