Donald Farr
Former Editor, Mustang Monthly
January 27, 2014

By August 2004, we had seen plenty of ’05 Mustang photos thanks to Ford’s early promotion of its next-generation ponycar. As I stood in the early morning mist with a group of other journalists during Ford’s Ann Arbor, Michigan, press preview, I realized that we were putting the beloved Fox-body Mustang behind us and moving into a new era of S197 Mustangs. I didn’t know at the time that this new S197 would spawn future models like the Shelby GT 500, 420hp GT with a Coyote 5.0-liter, revived Boss 302, and a V-6 that sported 305 hp and 31 mpg. S197 was a good generation for Mustang.

Now we’re about to wave goodbye to the S197, unbelievably already 10 years old, as we prepare for only the sixth generation (counting the much-improved ’95-’04 Fox-4 separately from the ’79-’93 models) of Mustang over the past 50 years. With the possible exception of the ’74-’78 Mustang II, which admittedly helped the Mustang survive a difficult time in American automotive history, each generation has moved the Mustang forward as it maintained its original purpose: a sporty car that could be many different things—performance, luxury, economy, and more—to many different people. We expect the ’15 Mustang, code-named S550, to carry on the tradition when it debuts in the near future and goes on sale later next year.

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To build the ’05 Mustang, Ford moved production to the new AutoAlliance plant in Flat Rock, just south of Dearborn. The Dearborn Assembly Plant, which had built Mustangs since 1964, was updated for building F-Series trucks.

When the ’05 Mustang hit showrooms in the fall of 2004 as a hardtop only (the convertible was delayed until February 2005), it continued the vintage Mustang design cues that had been a big part of the popular ’94-’04 “Fox-4” Mustang—in particular, the traditional faux-scoop side sculpturing, tri-bar taillights, and mouthy front grille opening. But underneath, the S197 was a totally new car, built on the much stiffer and modern DEW98 platform, as borrowed from the Lincoln LS. It was changed so much for the Mustang that it earned its own S197 code name.

There were plenty of other updates as well, starting with an updated three-valve version of the 4.6-liter V-8 that generated 300 horsepower, up 40 from the ’04 GT’s two-valve 4.6. Electronic throttle control (or “drive-by-wire,” as some called it) debuted on the ’05, along with side glass that automatically slid down an inch or so when the door was opened, then back up when closed, for improved window sealing to reduce wind noise. The mufflers also moved behind the rear axle. MyColor instrument panel lighting and a five-speed automatic became available for the first time.

Shortly after joining Shelby Automobiles (renamed Shelby American in 2010) as its new president, Amy Boylan worked a deal with Ford and Hertz to create a modern reincarnation of the original ’66 Hertz Shelby. Suddenly, Shelby was building Mustangs at its facility in Las Vegas. The theme continued for ’07 and ’08 with the Shelby GT.

The S197’s combination of vintage styling (some compared the looks to the ’67 Mustang) and improved chassis set the stage for retro-themed special editions. Shelby Automobiles pulled off the biggest surprise with the first Shelby Mustang since 1970, the ’06 Shelby GT-H rental car for Hertz, each one painted black and gold to recall the ’66 Shelby GT 350H. One year later, Carroll Shelby confirmed he was back in the Mustang business for real when SVT announced the ’07 Shelby GT 500, a supercharged, 500hp replacement for SVT’s Cobra. At the same time, the Shelby Automobiles facility in Las Vegas began converting Mustang GTs into ’07 Shelby GTs and offering a special “Super Snake” package with up to 720 horsepower for new GT 500s.

Carroll Shelby was back in the Ford spotlight with the announcement that the ’07 Mustang from SVT would be called the Shelby GT 500. With 500 horsepower from a supercharged 5.4-liter V-8, it was the most powerful production Mustang to date.

Ford also revived a few names from the past for the S197, including a modern rendition of the ’68 California Special as the GT/CS, a GT 500KR for ’09, and an updated Bullitt GT for ’08-’09 to refresh the special ’01 model that commemorated Steve McQueen’s Highland Green fastback from the 1968 movie Bullitt.