Brad Bowling
October 1, 2007

Lee was impressed with Little Red. The notchback featured a supercharged 427, automatic transmission, and black vinyl top. In short, it was a super Mustang with understated appointments. He later borrowed Little Red from Shelby and convinced Lee Iacocca to green light a California-only spin-off of the sporty coupe for '68. After a command viewing of Little Red by Henry Ford II, Shelby Automotive received approval to begin development of the California Special. Seven prototypes were shown to dealers in February 1968, and more than 1,000 were ordered a few weeks later at the official unveiling. GT/CS production began at the San Jose plant on February 17, and the first customer car was sold March 1. Production ended July 30.

In production form, the GT/CS wore a fiberglass decklid with an integrated spoiler (a Shelby convertible piece), fiberglass rear-quarter extensions, sequential '65 Thunderbird taillights (identical to the '68 Shelby units), a blacked-out grille (minus Mustang identification), a pop-off gas cap, fiberglass sidescoops, Marchal or Lucas foglamps (depending on supply), hood locks, unique body striping, and chrome "California Special" script on the rear quarters.

California Specials could be ordered in any color and engine combination as other Mustangs. Wheel covers were the same ones used on '68 GTs, but they only featured the "GT" letters if that dress-up package was specified. Sales fell short of the 5,500 Ford had estimated, but the faux Shelby styling has made the GT/CS a popular collector car in the 21st century.

The folks who first proved there was appeal for a regional Mustang package-the Denver-area Ford dealers-received a High Country Special for '68 that was identical to the California Special. Featuring all GT/CS equipment and available in any powertrain and color combination, only 251 High Country Specials were sold.

Quicklook
Model: '68 California Special GT/CS
Engine: Any Mustang powerplant
Production: 4,118

California Red
Joel Franckowiak enjoys driving this desirable 302-powered GT/CS through the hills of Pennsylvania and winning trophies at AACA and Mustang club events. It was well equipped when new with factory air conditioning and the GT Equipment Group.

California made it happen-again:
Unique regional models faded from the scene more as a result of the auto industry's system of mass production than from any lack of interest on the part of dealer networks. The '65 Mustang's list of optional powertrains, equipment, and accessories boggled the mind: It was possible to build millions of cars without producing identical twins. That figure doesn't include the special-order color combinations the factory provided to individual customers for a fee.

The trend in Detroit since that heyday of personalization has been to eliminate options, to package related items, and to work as many features into the standard equipment list as possible. By 2001, Ford reduced the entire Mustang line (not counting SVT's Cobra or Saleen's models) to approximately 50 possible order combinations based on engine choice (V-6 or V-8), transmission (five-speed manual or four-speed automatic), trim level (standard, deluxe, or premium), and color (10 to choose from; no special orders accepted). This effort to economize kept the Mustang's price tag at an acceptable level for buyers, but it ended any chance to own a modern factory-built custom or interesting state/regional special edition, which has sparked the explosion of growth in the aftermarket industry.