April 1, 2004

Seems strange to think the Mustang is 40 years old. In "car years," the Mustang has been around quite a long time. Most models die a slow and painful death in a short five-to-ten-year life span. But not the car that created the slang term "Pony Car." its legacy is a long one that has seen the car grow, shrink, lose power, and, finally in the last several years, regain the dominance of its market. So much so, the Camaro and Firebird-last of the competitors for the Mustang-have bid an adieu. Even as the lone player in its field, the Mustang has finally come into its own as a wild performance ride.

The Mustang didn't start out as a knuckle-dragging behemoth. It was intended as a sporty car to capture the youth market, with little attention paid to the powerful. The hot performance stuff came later. In fact, when introduced, there wasn't even a true powerhouse in the line up. Even so, as time went on the Mustang increasingly began to carry the performance banner for Ford.

March 1964-1966
271hp 289 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.70

It was a heady time at FoMoCo, the new little filly was a runaway sales success, and the horizon was bright. The car was selling faster than Ford could build them, and they wanted to amp up the initial engine lineup from its sleepy core, which consisted of a 170 six, 260 2V V-8, and 289 2V V-8. In June 1964, Ford changed all that with the addition of the 289 HiPo and its 271 horsepower. And so it began.

The Hipo was not, however, the startling beast that some of us remember. The best time we found for the mighty small-block was a 15.70 at 89 mph knocked down by Motor Trend's gearheads-not exactly earth shattering. But when compared to the Plymouth Barracuda, the only other car near its size and weight, it was nearly 2 seconds faster. So now Ford had set the banner and was about to embark on a journey into the wilds of performance selling.

271hp 289 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.90
320hp 390 HiPo:Best e.t. 15.60
428 Cobra Jet:Best e.t. 13.50

Without a doubt the Mustang started to come around to performance buff in this body series. Back in the day, there was no substitute for cubic inches, and Ford initially felt the 390 was enough. Sadly, it was only two-tenths faster than the 289 HiPo. Its major advantage was that it was cheaper, but performance wise it really wasn't. With the advent of the Camaro's 396 and a new 'Cuda with a 383, both faster by a second, Ford had a problem. they solved it in 1968 via more cubes.

Though the 390 FE is dismissed by many as a lack-luster performer, it was not really that bad back then-unless you compare it to the 428 Ford unleashed in April 1968, or the aforementioned 'Cuda and Camaro. Then the 390 takes on boat anchor connotations.

With the help of Tasca Ford and Hot Rod magazine, Ford took off-the-shelf parts and built a legend. In our Ford world, and, indeed, in the whole performance world, the 428 Cobra Jet is the mac daddy of the early Mustang line. It was prolific, it was fast, and it was sturdy-all the things a legend is built upon.

351 4V Windsor ('69):Best e.t. 15.36 @ 92.88 ('69 only)
351 4V Cleveland ('70):Best e.t. 15.20 @ 96 (First available in '70)
320hp 390 HiPo:Best e.t. N/A ('69 only)
428 Cobra Jet:Best e.t. 14.30 @ 100
Boss 302:Best e.t. 14.57 @ 97.57
Boss 429:Best e.t. 14.09 @ 102.85

If you were looking for small displacement power in 1969 and 1970, you were out of luck, outside of the new Boss line. The expensive-to-produce 289 HiPo had been kicked to the curb at the end of 1967 and replaced by a 230 horse 302 4V for one year. After that, you got your 4V small-block power via a 351 or not at all. Of course, the 351 was a capable engine that boasted 290 horses at the flywheel, but, even so, it was not a 428-or a Boss 302. Though the 428 was slightly slower than its previous iteration, when you compare car magazine articles the chassis was slightly heavier; so power to weight ratios were not on its side.

The Boss cars were the new darlings of the performance set, with the Boss 429 at the top of the pile. But when the chips were down, the 428 Cobra Jet was actually almost as fast-and cheaper. On slicks, the Boss '9 came to life as a drag platform with Motor Trend taking the mammoth motored car to a best of 12.30 at 112. But it was not enough to overcome some bad press and high prices. Sales on the big boy were slow.

The Boss 302 was the real power car surprise for 1969. The best time from the car magazines of the day set it squarely in big-block territory. By the next year, the magazines had a production-line car to test, and times were closer to 15 seconds, but still respectable. Sales reflected this; the Boss 302 in 1970 went over 7,000 units. Quite a hefty number when compared to the Boss '9 and its 500.

1965-1970 Shelby
'65 GT350:Best e.t. 14.70 @ 90
'66 GT350:Best e.t. 15.60 @ 94
'67 GT350:Best e.t. 15.30 @ 91
'67 GT500:Best e.t. 14.50 @ 101
'68 GT350:Best e.t 14.90 @ 94
'68 GT500:Best e.t. 14.75 @ 98
'68 GT500KR:Best e.t. 14.04 @ 102
'69-'70 GT350:Best e.t. 14.90 @ 94
'69-'70 GT500:Best e.t. 14.00 @ 102

Without a doubt, the performance wars of the '60s would not have been complete without the Shelby legend. From the rough-and-ready '65 model, with its raucous exhaust and bad boy 'tude, to the '69-'70 Shelby, that pointed directly to the coming '71 Mustang, Shelby has made an indelible imprint on the performance battleground.

Though most think of performance in terms of quarter-mile e.t., others, Shelby especially, attacked the problem from another angle at first. Shelby's angle was road racing, something he understood with great clarity. Thus, the early Shelby offerings in the Mustang world were centered more around great handling and less on ground-pounding, pavement-splitting performance.

That changed in 1967 with the advent of the GT500, suddenly the Shelbys were contenders in the quarter-mile street wars of the '60s. legends were built on the GT500 and KR, and, so, along with the road-racing heritage of the GT350s, the Shelby has become the collector car that so many lust after.

300hp 351 4V Cleveland (’71):Best e.t. 14.91 @ 96.80
351 4V Cleveland (’71-’73):Best e.t. 15.00 @ 94
351 4V Cleveland HO (’72):Best e.t. 15.36 @ 92.88
429 Cobra Jet:Best e.t. 13.40 @ 105
429 Super Cobra Jet:Best e.t. 14.30 @ 100
Boss 351:Best e.t. 13.80 @ 102.85

If there was a high-water mark for the performance Mustangs in the early days (prior to '74), it had to be the '71. The one-year-old Cleveland was now in its element, with a 351 4V that was faster by three-tenths than its previous year model-all this in a heavier car. Then there were the new 385 series 429 Cobra Jet and Super Cobra Jet engines. These new short-skirt-block engines were way ahead of the FE in design and power, but overshadowed by something Ford could not control-insurance companies, the feds, and gas prices.

One wonders what would have happened had the 429s been allowed to proliferate past the '71 model year. Well, the best e.t. recorded for a Cobra Jet is shown above. That e.t. is not from a Super Cobra Jet with its mechanical valvetrain and Holley carb, but from a hydraulic cammed car with a C6 automatic. Leaving the question open-what would a 429 SCJ do? Our test last year revealed, more than anything, we here at Mustang & Fords may be great writers, but not great drag racers.

In the Boss camp, things were whittled down to one car-the Boss 351. Ford decided to combine the Boss cars in 1971 and created one car that seemed to cover what everyone was into-drag racing. Besides, Ford had pulled the plug on many of its racing efforts, and the Trans Am road-race series had bumped its displacement limit up to 5.7 liters or 351 cubes. The Boss 351 is undoubtedly the king of the strip in the Boss ranks and can hold its own in a brawl with the other vintage rides. In many respects we have to look at the Boss 351 as the culmination of the early days of Ford performance.

Sadly, the end of the performance era was near, and Ford was about to change the Mustang-in some minds for the better, and in some minds for the worse.

302-2V:Best e.t. N/A

As dark as the last year in the '70s was, the first two in the '80s were worse. The powerful cars were gone, but sales jumped with the new design. The new Mustang introduced in 1979 sold nearly 100,000 more units than the previous year. With that being the case, why bother with performance? On top of that, gas became an issue again, so the performance side of the Mustang equation was shoved even further back into the dark catacombs of Ford. It could be one reason you see so few of these cars at the shows. Like we have said before-performance sells.

One bright spot in the whole smoking mess that was the Ford performance line was the Indy Pace Cars. Though the engine offered marginally more power than the earlier cars (140 versus 135 net horses), it did have enough spit to get out of its own way-something that most of the line did not possess. But brighter things were coming in 1982, and it was about time.

302 2V:Best e.t. 17.70 @ 78.2

And then came the big sleep. We know there are Mustang II faithful out there that want to see the II do well-it won't. Though the design had cutting-edge features that made it a good selling car, it didn't have performance to match the previous years. The best it could muster was the Cobra II and King Cobra-both mostly about tape stripes and flashy looks. This is OK we guess, it was, after all, the '70s, and performance (outside of the Pontiac Trans Am) was not a real priority at any of the big three. In all fairness, the Cobra and King Cobra were about where they needed to be in the mid '70s. Pollution standards and gas mileage were the hot topics at Ford and the other manufacturers, causing the powers-that-be to shy away from the ground-pounding hot rods of yore.

We have wondered before what would have been if the Cobra had been fitted with a more powerful engine than the 135 net horsepower 302. We know the present market is about performance. And we bet the Cobra, with its flash-and-dash looks, would be hot seller-had it only been a stand out in the power department. Oh, for a 5.0

302 2V:Best e.t. 16.26 @ 83.70

We should all grovel before Donald Petersen. If it weren't for his influx of energy into the Mustang line, it is doubtful Ford would have kept the Mustang alive. in Petersen, Ford had a performance nut. It started to show up in the Mustang line with the advent of the 5.0L GT-the first GT Mustang since 1969. With this car, Ford announced the Boss was back, and we all chuckled. Its times weren't earth shattering, but it was a breath of fresh performance air, at a time when us octane-oriented people were choking on the low pro vehicles being shoveled on us.

302 4V ('85):Best e.t. 14.90 @ 91
302 sefi ('86):Best e.t. 14.70 @ 92

By 1984, those of us of a performance mind were humming a happy tune. The four-barrel engine had returned to its proper place under the hood of a Mustang, and e.t.'s were slipping back down to where they needed to be-and had been prior to the gas crunch. It was also the beginning of the surge in performance we are still enjoying today. This surge brought on a raft of magazines, retailers, and parts, the likes of which had not been seen before.

There was also a new thing under the hood in 1986-sequential electronic fuel injection that seemed at first blush to help the 5.0 breath and perform. But we soon learned the speed density system had limitations and needed to be booted over for mass air. But that is where we move over to the next generation.

302 sefi ('87):Best e.t. 14.60 @ 96
302 sefi ('88-'93 mass air):Best e.t. 14.63 @ 96
302 sefi ('93 Cobra):Best e.t. 14.00
302 sefi ('93 Cobra R):Best e.t. 14.24 @ 98.48

The Fox chassis was, as of 1987, now eight years old and showed no signs of being relieved. On the performance front, Ford stuck to its 5.0 guns, while GM tried the more cubic-inch routine.

Fortunately for Ford, the magazines liked the 5.0 liter for its ease of modification and its dirt-cheap price. One magazine even touted it as the '55 Chevy of the '90s. With the speed density system kicked to the curb in 1988, it opened up a whole new ability for the Fords to make power. Though the times don't reflect it, the mass air was better suited for what we like to do-tinker. Soon there were folks out there making the 5.0 go faster than it ever had. And because of that, people lined up to buy them. Still, by the end of 1992 it was obvious Ford needed to relieve the aging Fox body.

Even with the new Cobra and its 235hp 5.0, the sales market was not doing well. In some ways, it might be proof that performance doesn't sell-but it sure can't hurt. The biggest problem was the basic look had been around for over 13 years and was wearing thin with the public. It was time for a new look.

302 sefi:Best e.t. 15.10
302 sefi (Cobra):Best e.t. 15.30
351 sefi ('95 Cobra R):Best e.t. 13.55 @ 103.70

The new look was a hit; the sales jumped by nearly 60,000 units for 1994. But there was trouble in the trenches where performance was concerned. With the new look came a shorter hood height and a bit more weight. Added weight meant higher numbers in the quarter. The hood height meant a shorter intake and slightly lower power numbers for the GT at 215 hp. The Cobra was up by five to 240. People groaned and whined.

What stunned most of us was the introduction of the limited-production 300 horse '95 Cobra R. This car was fast, even by the standards of the 428 Cobra Jet and 429 SCJ, with e.t.'s in the same realm as the Boss 351. Ford only released the car to race teams (in theory, some did make it into private hands), and not many were seen outside of a humidity-controlled barn or a racecourse. But the awesome power was there.

4.6 sefi two-valve (GT):Best e.t. 14.00 @ 100
4.6 sefi four-valve (Cobra):Best e.t. 13.95 @ 102

Things really got sideways in 1996, when Ford dumped the venerable small-block in favor of the new modular 4.6 V-8. In the ranks, there was fear the new engine, displacing 281 cubes, was not going to be as tunable as the 289/302. In some respects they were right; in other ways wrong. The high-winding 4.6 is very happy with a huffer and a set of good steep gears.

As the GT was running around causing trouble, the folks at SVT took the modular and did it one better via a set of mammoth four-valve-per-cylinder heads and better cams. Thus, the new age of Cobra was born.

Our first impression of the new SVT was that it was much like a Cleveland 4V-all top end and no bottom. Seems the more things change, the more they stay the same.

4.6 sefi two-valve:Best e.t. 14.00 @ 100
4.6 sefi two-valve (Bullitt):Best e.t. 14.07 @ 97.9
5.4 sefi four-valve (Cobra R):Best e.t. 12.51 @ 111.94
4.6 sefi four-Valve (Cobra '99-'02):Best e.t. 13.66 @ 104.97
4.6 sefi four-valve ('03-'04 Mach 1):Best e.t. 13.54 @ 103.14
4.6 sefi four-valve (Cobra '03):Best e.t. 12.74 @ 109

The GT was unchanged under the hood. It bore no difference from its original power and performance numbers in 1996. What did change were the models. From the GT sprang the 35th anniversary Mustang and the Bullitt. The Bullitt, so named for the '68 fastback used in the '68 film of the same name, had ten more ponies than its GT cousin. Older guys bought the car because of the movie; young guns bought it for the 10 extra ponies.

In 2000, Ford did a crazy thing-they introduced another Cobra R. This one packing a 5.4 liter modular V-8 and some serious go. The problem was the guys that they directed the sub 13-second monster to, the road racers, were shy about trying something as radical as a 5.4 engine that most had never dealt with. Many of the cars ended up in private collections, under tarps in climate-controlled garages.

Ford brought back the Mach 1 in 2003, and we'll have to say, what was old is now new again-only better. Basically, a 300-horse Cobra engine rests under the shaker hood and powers the car into big-block territory with ease.

For the first year of the '99-'04 series, the Cobra suffered a lack of power that sent the SVT boys scrambling. Owners were contacted and a fix offered, but that situation negated the '00. The '01 and '02 were essentially the same cars as the '99, but with the pesky power problem fixed.

One thing we've said in perpetuity about the Cobra was that it needed a supercharger. Now it has one, and a car that was awesome has become truly awe-inspiring.

2005 And Beyond Don't expect Ford to jazz the engine line too much in 2005. The GT will have the three-valve to be sure, but that will probably be just enough to keep quarter-mile times right where they are. If we get any upgrades, it will be when the sales start to dip.

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