The Ford Mustang may be the most iconic American car in history. It bleeds red, white and blue and is built out of liberty, pride and freedom. With a snarling V8 and sexy good looks, the Mustang has enjoyed decades of success, creating a following more loyal than Charles Manson’s minions.
The Mustang has only been available in a limited number of countries, but people around the world not only know what a Mustang is, but also wish they could own one.
Part of the reason for its legendary status has to do with the various special edition models Ford has created over the years. Designed for the street, drag strip or track, these low-volume, high performance specials have set people’s souls on fire.
Here are 10 of the best Mustang specials to ever roll off the showroom floor:
10. Ford Mustang II King Cobra
The poor Mustang II is regarded by pretty much everyone as the worst Mustang generation ever created. But it’s not the car’s fault. The Mustang II was a byproduct of its era, one that saw gas prices skyrocket and big beefy performance cars fall out of favor.
Even if the outright performance was gone, Ford did make a few second-generation Mustangs that did their best to pretend they were just like the muscle cars from a decade earlier. King amongst these was the King Cobra that had a V8 soundtrack and all the right exterior upgrades to look like a proper muscle car. Just ignore the fact it only had 139 hp and took around 10 seconds to reach 60 mph.
9. Ford Mustang California Special
In 1968, California auto dealers convinced Ford to create a special version of the Mustang for their state only. Called the GT/CS (California Special), the car borrowed a lot of styling elements from the Shelby Mustangs to look sportier and faster. Although performance was unchanged, the car has a unique look that splits the difference between a regular ‘Stang and a Shelby.
Since so few of these cars were produced, the original California Specials are in high demand today with collectors. In 2007, Ford began selling the GT/CS as an exterior upgrade package on the Mustang once again. Since then, many different iterations of the GT/CS have been offered and for 2016, the GT/CS will return once again.
Turbocharged four-cylinder engines in a Mustang aren’t anything new and even when the Mustang SVO showed up, Ford had been doing it for years. Although early turbo-four Mustangs were a bit anemic, when the SVO was introduced in 1984, power was up to 175 hp. By the end of the SVO’s run, power had been bumped up to 200 hp and even 205 hp for a few lucky customers.
But the Mustang SVO was about more than just its engine. The brakes, steering, transmission and suspension were all upgraded as well. The rear end came standard with a limited slip differential and the car wore distinct aerodynamic body work.
The first Bullitt Mustang wasn’t actually called a Bullitt, but earned that nickname due to its iconic role starring alongside Steve McQueen in a movie called, you guessed it, Bullitt. A dark green 1968 Mustang Fastback with a 390 engine, the car looked unsuspecting but packed plenty of punch.
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In 2001, Ford released an official Bullitt Mustang to commemorate the legendary 1968 car. With upgraded mechanics, including a bump in engine power, the new Bullitt wore retro-inspired wheels and could, of course, come in dark green. For the 2008-2009 model years, Ford once again introduced a special edition Bullitt Mustang that stripped off unnecessary exterior dressing to better resemble Steve McQueen’s 1968 Mustang. Again, mechanics were upgraded and it included a bump in engine power.
6. Original 1964 ¼ Ford Mustang 289
OK, so this isn’t an official model, but the original Ford Mustang is what started it all. Specifically, it was Mustangs equipped with the 289 V8 that really captured the imagination of the public. With V8 power and sound in a relatively small body, the Mustang was fast, agile and, of course, gorgeous.
The car would kick off the so-called Pony Car craze that is still alive and well to this day.
No, this Mustang couldn’t actually reach speeds of Mach 1, but like the ambitious name alludes, these are some very fast ‘Stangs. First introduced in the 1969, the Mach 1 was a performance version of the Mustang. It could be had with a trio of beefy V8s, including the ridiculous 428 cubic inch Cobra Jet.
1971 would see the introduction of the second Mach 1 that once again could be had with a trio of V8 engines. The Mach 1 trim level would continue through the entire run of the Mustang II and sadly came with a V6 engine in 1975 (which ironically was its best sales year).
After a long hiatus, Ford brought the Mach 1 trim level back in 2003, complete with a high output V8 that produced 305 hp. The new Mach 1 was given a full exterior makeover to mimic the original Machs from the 1960s.
4. Ford Mustang Boss 302/351/429
In 1969, two very special Mustangs came into production using the Boss moniker. Equipped with the smaller engine of the two, the Boss 302 was a near race car for the street, as it was designed to meet SCCA Trans Am regulations in 1969. The exterior removed any unneeded body cladding and added a front lip spoiler as well as one on the rear deck lid. Suspension and brakes were upgraded over lesser Mustangs and the 302 cubic inch engine was claimed to make 290 hp, but probably made much more.
The other Boss introduced in 1969 was the Boss 429. As the name would suggest, the engine shoehorned into this Mustang was a 429-cubic-inch big-block V8 with 375 hp and an Olympic-sized pool of torque.
In 2012, Ford revived the Boss 302 name and attached it to a more track-focused version of the Mustang that, once again, was using a 5.0-liter V8 engine. If the great performing Boss 302 wasn’t enough, there was also a Laguna Seca edition that upped the performance ante even further.
Edit – As per readers comments, the limited production 1971 Boss 351 was perhaps the most special of the entire range and regrettably over looked on my part. It must be included when talking about the Boss range of Mustangs.
3. Ford Shelby Mustang GT500
In 1967, Shelby decided to add another Mustang variant alongside the company’s Trans-Am ready GT350. Called the GT500, the new Shelby Mustang featured a 428-cubic-inch V8 and various exterior upgrades as well as a few mechanical enhancements. If more power was needed, there was also the Shelby Mustang GT500KR (King of the Road) that came with the higher performance 428 Cobra Jet V8.
In 2007, Ford revived the Shelby GT500 trim level by dropping a 500 hp, 5.4-liter supercharged V8 into the Mustang. Once again, there was a GT500KR model available that pumped up power to 540 hp. By 2011, all GT500s were making 550 hp.
But Ford wasn’t done there. In 2013, an all-new Shelby Mustang GT500 was introduced, this time with an insane 662 hp, 5.8-liter supercharged V8. Like all modern Shelby GT500s, the 2013 car received significant upgrades to the tires, suspension and brakes, in an effort to control all that power.
2. Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R
From 1993 until 2004, the highest performance Mustangs wore the SVT Cobra badge. With more power, better handling and an enhanced driving experience, the Cobras were a step above regular V8 Mustangs. But if even more performance was needed, there were a few special edition track-ready Cobra R models.
The first Cobra R appeared in 1993. Using the Cobra’s 235 hp 5.0-liter V8, the R received upgraded shocks, larger brakes, bigger wheels and extra cooling. Unneeded items for the track, like the rear seat, air conditioning and the stereo were all removed to save weight.
In 1995, the second Cobra R went on sale. It took things a bit further than the 1993 model by ditching the regular Cobra’s 5.0-liter V8 for a 300 hp 5.8-liter unit. Other track-ready upgrades included a fuel cell, heavy duty springs, thicker stabilizer bars and a front strut tower brace. Weight savings were once again a main focus as the rear seat, power windows, air conditioning and radio were all removed.
The Final Cobra R was introduced in 2000. Sticking to the same formula used in the previous two Cobra R models, the new car included upgraded mechanical components and removed any unnecessary weight. The engine was now a 385 hp 5.4-liter V8 and the body featured race-ready aerodynamics all around, including a massive rear wing.
1. Ford Shelby Mustang GT350
Only a year after the Mustang was introduced, Shelby and Ford created a raw, track-focused version of the car. Using the Mustang’s 289-cubic-inch V8, engineers tweaked the power plant to produce a healthy 306 hp. For 1965, the Shelby only came in white and had the rear seat removed. Destined for Trans Am racing, a few GT350R variants were created to terrorize the track. The GT350 would live on until 1970, but none would be as race ready and raw as the original 1965 model.
For 2016, the GT350 and GT350R nameplates are coming back. Anyone worried that these new cars won’t live up to the legends need not worry. With a 5.2-liter V8 making 526 hp, the new GT350 can scream to over 8,000 rpm. But like the original Shelby GT350, the new car will be about more than just engine power. Expect it to be the best handling factory Mustang ever created.
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