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Best Mustangs of 1965-1973: Gen One
The Mustang legacy started with the original ’65-’73 models
Cobra Jet Plus Shaker Equals Speed of Sound
Mustang joined the late 1960s musclecar wars in earnest with the introduction of the 428 Cobra Jet engine in the mid-’68 Mustang GT. However, Ford took full advantage of the CJ’s capabilities with the ’69-’70 Mach 1, a new model that added unique trim, a special interior, and a “Shaker” option that poked a functional scoop through the hood. It was image marketing at its best, something the Mustang had lacked during the mid-1960s.
Few, or perhaps no other, car can boast such enthusiast ownership as the Mustang. Today, there are hundreds of Mustang clubs worldwide. However, in the 1960s, Ford promoted the Mustang through dealership-sponsored organizations that were part of the National Council of Mustang Clubs, which grew to over 200,000 members by 1970.
Big Bad Boss
Thanks to NASCAR’s homologation rules that required manufacturers to sell what it raced, we had cars like the Plymouth SuperBird with its pointy nose and tall rear wing. Ford also had the Torino Talledega, but to homologate the hemi-headed Boss 429 engine, Ford president Bunkie Knudsen wanted to create the baddest Mustang of all. Thus, Ford contractor Kar Kraft was enlisted to widen the shock towers of ’69-’70 SportsRoofs to make room for the massive Boss 429 engine, which was installed on Kar Kraft’s final assembly line.
Like the Boss 429 for NASCAR, Ford also needed to homologate a special Cleveland-headed small-block for the SCCA Trans-Am. In addition to creating the stripes and spoilers, designer Larry Shinoda also came up with the name–Boss 302. “It was something the kids could relate to,” Shinoda said.
By the 1990s, at least six newsstand magazines were devoted to the Mustang. However, in 1970, Coronado Publishing issued Fabulous Mustang, a one-shot publication that covered all things Mustang, from the Grande to street racers and Trans-Am. Try finding a copy today!
You gotta love this Ford photograph that highlighted the use of fiberglass on the ’69 Shelby. We’ve never seen it used in any Ford advertising to determine if they planned to airbrush out the wires.
Could Have Been a Contender
In late 1970, Ford was considering a new performance Mustang that combined attributes of both Shelby and Boss. The idea was shelved when Ford dropped out of racing, but the two prototypes became known as the Quarter Horses because they were part Mustang, part Shelby (front end), part Boss (Boss 429 engine), and part Cougar (interior). Had the project survived, the Quarter Horse Mustang could have become one of the best Mustangs of all time.
Best of the Bosses?
When Ford dropped all forms of racing in the face of rising insurance costs, the Boss 302 became “the last rose of summer,” as racing chief Jacque Passino put it. With no need for a small displacement, race-oriented engine, Ford raised the bar with the ’71 Boss 351, a 330-horsepower Mustang better equipped to compete with the 350-powered Camaro Z/28. The increased displacement in combination with the 4-barrel Cleveland heads created what is arguably the best of the Boss Mustangs, a performance car that boasted 13-second quarter-miles plus excellent street drivability.
Car Crash King
Because the Mustang was one of the last of the musclecars, southern California producer H.B. “Toby” Halicki chose a ’71 SportsRoof named “Eleanor” as the star of his 1974 car-chase classic, “Gone in 60 Seconds.” A skilled stunt driver himself, Halicki performed much of the driving duties, climaxing the movie’s 40-minute chase scene with a 128-foot jump that further crumpled Eleanor’s sheetmetal. As an independent film-maker, Halicki promoted “Gone in 60 Seconds” by displaying the actual movie car in front of theatres. Halicki died in a freak movie accident in 1989; his widow, Denice Halicki, still owns the wrecked and crumpled Mustang.
Ringbrothers Do It Right
Over the years, first generation Mustangs have served as canvases for thousands of modified and personalized versions, from the first street machines through the Pro Street movement of the 1980s and right into today’s restomods that combine restoration with modification. In 2004, brothers Mike and Jim Ring burst onto the scene with their GT-R convertible, a wild but tastefully modified Mustang that led to a string of future award-winning creations. At the 2013 SEMA Show, the Ringbrothers debuted their latest Mustang, “Blizzard,” a ’65 fastback powered by a NASCAR engine.
As early Mustang values have risen over the past decades, we’ve seen some amazing prices paid at the popular auctions. The trend climbed to a new peak last year when a ’67 “Eleanor,” one of the actual cars used in the 2000 remake of “Gone in 60 Seconds,” sold for a cool $1 million at Mecum Auction’s Spring Classic in Indianapolis.
Rat Rod Shelby
While the Ringbrothers and others built immaculately detailed Mustang restomods, Florida’s Tim Suddard took the popular “Rat Rod” path with his survivor ’67 Shelby GT 350. Choosing to leave the exterior in its well-worn patina, Suddard upgraded the drivetrain and suspension to modern specs, and then drove his “Terlingua Terror” on the high-speed Texas 1000 vintage rally.
Proving its everlasting popularity for restorations, the early Mustang is one of the few vintage cars that can boast the availability of a brand-new reproduction body shell to replace rusted and wrecked originals. Dynacorn International currently offers Ford-licensed body shells for the ’67-’68 fastbacks, ’69-’70 SportsRoofs, and ’65-’66 convertibles.
Stamp of Approval
The Mustang was officially inducted into America’s popular culture when it was selected for a U.S. Post Office stamp as part of the “Celebrate the Century” series in 1999. The USPS recruited Dave Williams’ red ’64½ convertible as the model for the 15-cent stamp, which was introduced by Ford Division president Jim O’Connor (right).
Lee Iacocca’s vision for the Mustang stretched beyond a secretary’s car or college student transportation. He also envisioned the Mustang as a sports car competing in SCCA competition and asked Carroll Shelby, who was campaigning Cobras and Ford GTs for Ford, to transform the Mustang fastback into a race car. With SCCA rules requiring that 100 be built for homologation, Shelby found himself in the Mustang business with the GT 350, a two-seater Mustang with more power and improved handling. The first hand-built cars were assembled at Shelby’s small shop in Venice, California (pictured), but production soon moved to a larger facility near the Los Angeles airport. Shelby built 562 GT 350s for ’65, plus another 36 in competition trim, known today as “R-Models.”