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Special Breeds

  • 1968 Shelby GT500 KR - 0
  • 1969 Boss 429 - 1
  • 1970 Boss 302 - 2
  • 1971 Boss 351 - 3
  • California Highway Patrol Special Service Package - 4
  • 1984 SVO - 5
  • 1994 SVT Cobra - 6
  •  - 7
  • 1999 SVT Cobra - 8
  • 2001 Bullitt - 9
  • 2008 Bullitt - 10
  • 2003 Mach 1 - 11
  • 2006 Shelby GT-H - 12
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by Huw Evans  More from Author

The Herd Just Keeps Getting Better

Photos Courtesy of Ford and Huw Evans


Given Carroll Shelby’s involvement with Ford in the mid ’60s, it wasn’t surprising that he would produce a limited run of hopped-up Mustangs. The first debuting for 1965 were little more than street legal track cars, but by 1966 things were becoming more civilized. The 306 hp GT350 fastback, now available with an optional Paxton supercharger was turned into the GT350 H (signifying Hertz), which offered these gold striped cars for $17 per day and 17 cents per mile. Many of these cars were raced and the practice wasn’t repeated. For 1967, Shelby introduced a more plush, Grand Touring oriented GT350 which was joined by a larger-engined counterpart, the 427 (later 428-engined GT500). Featuring a pronounced front-end fiberglass beak and Thunderbird taillights these were distinctive looking machines and the last cars built at Shelby’s Los Angeles facility before Ford moved production in-house. The 1968 models sported mild styling updates (the GT350 got a 302 ci engine in place of the 289) and a convertible debuted, as did the GT500 KR (standing for King of the Road). Powered by the 428 Cobra Jet engine, it was a stump puller, capable of 14-second quarter-mile times at the dragstrip but rare and expensive. The Shelby Mustangs would return with new bodies for 1969, as the GT350 and GT500, in a choice of SportsRoof or convertible body styles. The smaller-engined car now had a 351 Windsor V8 with four-barrel carburetor, rated at 290 hp. By this stage, with so much competition within Ford’s own performance ranks, the days of the Shelby Mustangs were numbered – the last of the line were leftover ’69s, re-serialed as 1970 models fitted with chin spoilers and hood stripes.


Ford’s “Total Performance” campaign reached its zenith in 1969 and helping further the cause was newly appointed President Semon E. “Bunkie” Knudsen. A big fan of racing, Knudsen instigated a plan to bring to market some very special Mustangs. The Boss 429 was conceived to homolgate Ford’s new exotic, semi-hemi big-block V8 for NASCAR duty, where it would be used in the fastback Torinos. Sidestepping the rules, Bunkie decided to install the street version of this engine in the smaller Mustang. In order to make that happen, Kar Kraft, based in Brighton, Michigan, was shipped a bunch of Mustang fastbacks. The engines were removed and Kar Kraft modified the front bays by widening the shock towers, since the Boss 429 motor was physically huge and otherwise would not fit. This resulted in a wider track and surprisingly good handling for such a front-heavy car. Massive Goodyear F60-15 tires and Magnum 500 wheels required special fenders to provide adequate tire clearance. The Boss 429 was rated at 375 hp in street trim and came exclusively with a four-speed gearbox and Hurst shifter, but as a revver, it wasn’t suited to fast street use and a stock 428 Mach 1 was quicker. Outside, Boss 429s were very discreet, featuring small lettering on the front fenders and a large hoodscoop to cover a circular cutout for the air cleaner. Just 858 were built for 1969 and 499 for 1970.

The second Boss model was the 302, developed for Trans Am racing. The project was started before Knudsen and designer Larry Shinoda arrived at Ford, but they were the ones that created the final product. Shinoda was fond of aerodynamic aids, so the Boss 302 employed functional front and rear spoilers. It also featured a set of cool looking lift-up rear window louvers, C-type side stripes and a hood center section finished in low gloss black. Available in a variety of high impact colors, including Grabber Orange, Yellow, Green, and later Grabber Gold. It was powered by a high winding 302 that used Cleveland heads and a massive 780 cfm four-barrel carburetor. Rated at 290 hp and equipped with a four-speed gearbox and 3.501:1 final drive (391:1 and 4.30:1 were optional), it was fairly quick, but where it really shone was in the corners, helped in part by a beefy front sway bar, quick ratio steering, firmer springs and dampers with staggered rear shocks and massive F60-15 tires. Brakes were big for the time 11.3-inch front discs and 10-inch rear drums. Just 1,629 were built for 1969 and 7,013 for 1970 – the second year models getting revised graphics, a 302 engine with smaller intake valves and a rev limiter to improve tractability, a Hurst handle for the four-speed shifter, even bigger front rollbar and optional “Shaker” hoodscoop.

One more Boss was released with the larger ’71 Mustang lineup, the Boss 351. Bigger and heavier, it was powered by a 330 hp version of the 351 Cleveland V8 and came exclusively with the four-speed gearbox and 3.91:1 Traction Lok differential. It was the quickest and most tractable of all the Boss cars in factory trim, capable of running 13.7 seconds in the quarter-mile, but since Ford was no longer actively involved in racing, and both Knudsen and Shinoda long gone, it was pulled mid year, after just 1,806 had been built.


By 1982, the California Highway Patrol wanted to replace its fleet of Camaro pursuit cars, which were proving rather unreliable. Ford stepped up to the plate and put together a Severe Service Package based on the Mustang L coupe, with the new 302 V8 driveline and suspension. The car proved favorable and the CHP ordered the first batch a few months later. The name was changed to Special Service Package in 1983 and by mid decade an increasing number of law-enforcement agencies and government departments across North America were using these cars. To cope with rigors of severe use, the cars featured reinforced floorpans, higher capacity 130 (later 135 amp alternators), silicone hoses, an engine oil cooler, transmission cooler (on automatic cars) lightweight bucket seats, full-size spare tire, non operable interior dome light, relocated trunk release, certified 140 (later 160 mph) speedometer, 2.73:1 final drive and from 1985 onwards 15x7-inch wheels (initially steel – aluminum from 1987). The last SSP Mustangs were built in 1993 and although many were turned into drag cars, today, the survivors are highly prized and are increasingly being restored. Some are even still used for law enforcement work.


In 1980, signifying the return of performance, Ford created a new skunkwords dubbed SVO (Special Vehicle Operations). Headed up by Michael Kranefuss, its job was to get the division back into racing on a larger scale and build limited edition performance cars. Its first and only street vehicle was the Mustang SVO, introduced as a 1984 model. It was in essence a very special version of the Turbo GT hatchback, utilizing a hot rodded version of the 2.3-liter, turbocharged four, with an air-to-air intercooler and Garrett T-3 turbo with boost set at a maximum 14 psi, delivering 175 hp. A special console mounted switch allowed the driver to switch between regular and performance fuel calibrations. SVOs also came with a five-speed gearbox with Hurst shifter, special handling suspension that comprised premium adjustable Koni shocks, four-wheel disc brakes and massive 16x7–inch aluminum wheels on which were mounted state-of-the-art Goodyear NCT radials (later switched to Eagle GTs). Outwardly the SVO stood apart from other Mustangs with a unique nose that housed single recessed headlights; flanked by Euro style marker and signal lenses, an offset hoodscoop for the intercooler, spats ahead of the rear wheels, a unique bi-level rear spoiler and slightly different taillight lenses. Inside the SVO featured a leather wrapped steering wheel and shifter boot, turbo boost gauge and pedals set up for heel and toe shifting. Although a promising performer that got glowing reviews among the motoring press, it was expensive (over $16,000) and its market appeal limited. Ford added flush headlights midway through 1985 and tweaked the engine to 205 hp, as well as offering a Comp Prep version aimed directly at weekend racers, but it proved to no avail. The car lasted just one more season, the only changes being a slight drop in power to 200 hp, the addition of a third brake light and optional GT/LX rear spoiler. In total just 9,844 SVOs were built and while the car never reached its sales potential it was a superb driver’s machine and is highly collectible today.


After disappointing sales of the SVO and with the Mustang granted a stay of execution in the early ’90s, Ford formed two new outfits, tasked with building and marketing specialty enthusiast cars. Dubbed SVE (for Special Vehicle Engineering) and SVT (Special Vehicle Team), the former was initially headed by Janine Bay, the latter by John Plant. The first vehicles to emerge were a hot-rodded F-150 dubbed Lightning and a reborn Mustang Cobra. The latter was based on the GT hatchback but featured cleaner exterior styling without the scoops, SVO taillights and unique rear deck spoiler. Under hood was a worked 302 with a GT40 lower intake assembly, unique cast upper and special GT40 cylinder heads with bigger valves and different valvetrain pieces. Advertised output was 235 hp and coupled exclusively with the five-speed manual gearbox it was quicker than a GT. It also rode and handled better, thanks to suspension changes that included softer rear springs, smaller front sway bar, specific shock valving and monster 245 section tires mounted on unique 17x7.5-inch aluminum wheels. Thanks to standard four-wheel disc brakes it also stopped better. Just 4,993 ’93 Cobras were built, in a choice of Bright Red, Black or Teal exterior colors. All were sold on the U.S. market only.

When the 1994 Mustang debuted, a Cobra coupe arrived as a spring introduction. It again featured an enhanced 5.0-liter 302 V8 with GT40 parts (rated at 240 hp), five-speed gearbox, specific 17-inch wheels and tires, plus a unique rear deck spoiler, special front fascia with round driving lights and appropriate snake emblems. As Mustang was selected to pace the Indianapolis 500 this year, another replica was issued – a Cobra Convertible. It was similar to the coupe but featured a Rio Red exterior, standard saddle-tan interior, tan top, wheels with dark painted inserts and Pace Car decals that could be installed at the buyer’s request.

For 1995, both Cobras returned, identified by small spats mounted behind the front wheels. The convertible only came in one exterior color – black, with a black top and tan interior. A one -piece detachable hardtop was offered on the ragtop, but it was both cumbersome and expensive and just 499 were ordered.

The following year, like their GT counterparts, the Cobras got a new engine – a 4.6-liter V8 but with dual overhead cams, rated at 305 hp. It was smooth and liked to rev, but unlike the GT it was a stout performer. Exterior changes ran to new vertical taillights, wheels borrowed from the 1994 Pace Car, new headlights and a redesigned rear spoiler and bumper. A special limited edition Mystic paint finish was offered (this year only) on coupes that changed color depending on the light. For the first time SVT Cobras were now also available in Canada. The 1997 models were virtually carryovers, though for ’98 new Cobra R style wheels and shocking Chrome Yellow paint were offered on the Cobra.

With the Mustang heavily revised for 1999, SVT released its most potent Cobra yet. Highlights were an engine tuned to deliver 316 hp and an independent rear suspension, however, disappointment with the V8’s power output and the car’s performance (Ford originally claimed 320) caused production to be suspended for 2000. This version of the Cobra returned for 2001, with a true 320 horses and better all around performance.

Interestingly it was decided to halt production for 2002 (though a few cars are noted to have slipped out to Australia) and introduce an even wilder Snake as an early 2003 model. This latest Cobra, with meatier looks, boasted a fortified 4.6-engine with an ultra-strong bottom end and Eaton supercharger. The brainchild of SVE chief engineer O.J. “John” Coletti, it was rated at 390 hp and equipped with a beefy six-speed manual gearbox. This latest Cobra was a proverbial rocket and the perfect tool for chasing down Corvettes. Since it was now 10 years since the debut of the Cobra, a limited edition anniversary package was offered, with unique wheels and exterior badging. This fearsome Cobra, dubbed “Terminator” in-house, would return for another season with available Mystichrome color shifting paint on both coupe and convertible. With that the Cobra was done, though its legacy would live on in the next generation Shelby GT500.


With heritage playing an increasing part of the Mustang’s image by the early 21st century, Ford decided to keep the aging warhorse alive via a series of limited edition specials. Two of the most memorable during this era were the Bullitt and Mach 1 editions. The Bullitt, named after the classic film of the same name, in which Steve McQueen drives a Highland Green 1968 Mustang fastback, debuted at the 2000 Los Angeles Auto Show as a concept car. Response was so favorable that it was put into production as a 2001 model. The brainchild of Art Hyde and Scott Hoag, the Bullitt was based on a regular GT, but had specific suspension pieces, designed to improve handling, bigger front brakes, a unique intake manifold, that helped boost power output to 265 hp and unique styling touches, including a brushed aluminum fuel filler door, the absence of driving lights, rear deck spoiler, Bullitt lettering on the rear deck lid and special interior fixtures, including unique upholstery, retro-style gauges and brushed aluminum shift knob. Just 5582 were built, in three different colors, Dark Highland Green, Black, and True Blue.

A second Bullitt, based on the fifth generation Mustang, was introduced for 2008. Like its predecessor it featured unique exterior and interior touches and a special suspension for optimum handling, plus a set of high performance brake pads. Engine output was increased to 325 hp by aid of Ford Racing’s power pack and an exhaust system with massive 3.5-inch tips. Unlike the first edition, it was offered in Dark Highland Green or Black and lasted two seasons.

The Mach 1, introduced as a 2003 model, was another specialty offering and again an idea instigated by Art Hyde and Scott Hoag of Team Mustang. Available in a range of high impact colors, including Torch Red, Azure Blue, Zinc Yellow (2003 only), and later Screaming Yellow and Competition Orange, it featured a special version of the normally aspirated 32-valve, 4.6-liter, V8 tuned to deliver 305 hp. Retro styling cues included a shaker hoodscoop, Magnum style 17-inch wheels, low gloss black hood stripe, chin and rear deck spoiler and traditional style Mach 1 lettering. Inside, retro gauges, cue ball shifter and Comfortweave upholstery were nods to the past. With a suspension set up primarily for straight line thrashing, the Mach 1 was exceedingly quick, pulling like a freight train and able to run 13.30s in the quarter-mile. Offered with a choice of manual or automatic transmissions it lasted two seasons.


It was perhaps only natural that Carroll Shelby and Ford Motor Company would join forces one again. By the late ’90s Shelby was already assembling continuation Cobras and at his new facility in Las Vegas and a few years later his company struck a deal with Dearborn to assemble a new Mustang GT-H, special for Hertz to rent. Outfitted with Ford Racing’s new Power and Handling package, the 325 hp, automatic only, GT-H coupes (approximately 500 of them – all black with gold stripes) were pressed into service at select Hertz rental locations in 2006. Interest prompted Shelby to release a consumer version, the GT for 2007. Convertibles of both rental GT-H and consumer GTs soon followed.

But there was an even wilder project on the horizon. After working on the GT supercar project, Shelby was hired as a consultant on the next generation super Mustang, which started out as the next Cobra but ultimately emerged as a new Shelby GT500. Like past versions it boasted a unique front fascia, wheels, tires (Goodyear Eagle F1 run flats) and unique rear valance. Under the hood, it packed a modified version of the Ford GT Supercar’s 5.4-liter supercharged four-cam V8, rated at an astounding 500 hp and 500 lb-ft of torque. Equipped with an exclusive Tremec six-speed gearbox, it was the most powerful production Mustang ever built to that point. It was launched in June 2006 as a 2007 model and Shelby himself offered a 40th anniversary package on those first year cars, put together at his facilities on the grounds of Las Vegas Speedway.

For 2008, an even more powerful GT500 was released, the KR, with unique suspension, wheels, 14-inch Brembo front brakes with special cooling ducts, a unique lower front splitter and special carbon-fiber hood that paid homage to its namesake, 40 years before. The 5.4-liter supercharged engine was tuned to deliver an incredible 540 hp. These cars started off life as regular GT500s built in Flat Rock and were shipped to Shelby’s Las Vegas facility to be turned into KRs. Production began on January 11, 2008 (Carroll’s 85 birthday). Just 1,000 were built for 2008 and a further 746 for 2009, with 571 of those allocated to the U.S. market. The other ’09s were marketed primarily in Canada and all quickly sold out.

My Experience: 

Mark Storm, 1970 Boss 302

“I’ve always loved the Boss Mustangs. I finally lucked out on this ’70 after a false start. I’d sold my ’69 Mach 1 for a decent sum and went to look at a 351 SportsRoof, but the car was no good. I found my Boss in New York in the Yahoo! Classifieds. It was fairly complete and drove, but needed restoration. I bought it back home and started taking it apart. It was at that time I became good friends with George Huisman at Classic Design Concepts, he helped me out a lot on the project. I finally had the car ready in time for the Ford 100th celebration in Dearborn. It’s just a really cool car, I love the way it sounds and enjoy driving it, but you need to concentrate.” – Mark Storm

Austin Craig, 2001 Bullitt

“The Bullitt was a really neat car, the fact that it existed at all is credit to Art Hyde and Scott Hoag at Ford. They could have just made it a tape and stripe package but it ended up being a whole lot more. I was working at J Walter Thompson at the time and handled promotion for that car. There was no real advertising budget at the time, but we managed to spread the word – demand was so strong that there were still 1,200 unfulfilled orders by the time production ended. The car was a nice driving car and handled brilliantly. I ended up buying number 17 for my wife Barbara and a credit to her – it was the first stick shift she ever owned and the first Ford after years of GM vehicles.” – Austin Craig


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