1968 Ford Mustang California Special - A Look Back
The Uniquely Styled '68 California Special Is The Regional Edition To End All Regional Editions With Its Shelby-Esque Appointments And West Coast Go-Go Allure.
There was a time when state and regional dealer organizations would use their influence to create special models for customers. "Send us 400 Mustangs and Torinos painted bright pink with Cobra Jet V-8s," the dealers would command, and Ford Motor Company would ask, "With or without floormats?"
Throughout much of the '60s and into the early '70s, promotions such as the hypothetical one we pose above were successful marketing tools for slow-moving models or depressed sales seasons. Many of the packages appealed to local or regional pride. For example, is there a Texan worth his spurs who didn't secretly yearn to park a '67 Lone Star Limited in the driveway so neighbors could get a good view of the Bluebonnet Blue paint (named for the state flower), Texas-shaped fender badge, and standard Sports Sprint equipment? "Only 175 for the whole state-get yours today!"
The popularity of each edition depended on the resourcefulness and creativity of the area dealers and how much pull they had with Ford. Most specials, such as the '67 Indy Pace-setter, boasted nothing more than a tape stripe, but in some cases, Ford was convinced to build distinctive models with many nonstock features to reward successful sales districts.
The uniquely styled '68 California Special (also known as the GT/CS) is the regional edition to end all regional editions with its Shelby-esque appointments and West Coast go-go allure. The GT/CS story, some historians will argue, begins not in the Golden State, but in the Rockies, where one of the first-if not the first-regional Mustang limited editions was created in 1966.
Despite a strong national case of Mustang fever, sales slowdowns were occurring in certain markets during the line's second full year of production. Whether the drop was due to oversaturation or a slowing economy wasn't important to Thurlo Newell of the Denver-area district office, who took delivery in July of 333 High Country Specials from the San Jose Ford plant. The HCS cars, distributed through 100 Denver dealers, were available with any '66 powertrain and body style in one of three special colors: Aspen Gold, Columbine Blue, or Timberline Green. Receiving dealers installed shield-shaped brass plaques to the HCS front fenders (with sheetmetal screws-yikes!) that featured a horse galloping across high mountain tops. Because there were no exact specifications for placement of the badge, restorers have documented cars where the plaque sits above and ahead of the Tri-bar running horse. On some, the plaque rests above the "Mustang" lettering.
The uniqueness of the promotion must have created strong sales because in 1967, Denver dealers raised the order to 400 units. Similar to the year before, the High Country Special could be ordered with any Mustang powertrain and body style. Aspen Gold, Columbine Blue, and Timberline Green were the only available colors, although records indicate the green was a slightly different mix than before.
In 1968, Denver's success with the High Country Specials inspired Ford to design and produce 4,118 copies of a limited edition coupe for its West Coast dealers. Based on Carroll Shelby's "Little Red" '67 show car hardtop, the GT/CS was an attractive combination of Mustang GT and GT350/500 parts. Its development was spearheaded by Southern California District Sales Manager Lee Grey.