50 Years of Ford Mustang GTs
50th Anniversary of the GT: The GT option package has offered Mustang owners more since its introduction
It’s no secret that the peppy inline-six Mustang was responsible for the lion’s share of Mustang sales in the first-generation Mustang. It was quiet, reliable, and available with a manual or automatic transmissions, plus popular options like power steering, power brakes, and air conditioning. The lower cost of the inline-six meant more people could afford to put a Mustang in their driveway when the car launched on April 17, 1964. The reason everyone carries on about Cobra Jet this and Hi-Po that is simply because of the limited numbers in which those cars were built. If every Mustang rolled off the assembly line with a 428 Cobra Jet, a Top Loader four-speed, and a 3.91-geared 9-inch, those cars wouldn’t have the desirability (and matching value) that they enjoy to this day.
It doesn’t take a crystal ball to see that even back in the ’60s, Ford realized not everyone could afford such a Mustang with all of the high-performance goodies we just mentioned. However, putting together an affordable performance package available on the stronger V-8 optioned engines would not only help sales (not that the Mustang needed help that first year!), but further strengthen the Mustang’s performance image and help pull it away from the early reviews/comments of the Mustang being nothing more than a “re-skinned Falcon.” True, the Mustang was initially marketed as a household’s second car and therefore designed to appeal to a wide range of buyers, including women, with a huge option list to make the Mustang into a luxury, sporty, or economy car. To really give the Mustang some muscle Ford put together the GT Equipment Group and launched it on the Mustang’s first anniversary in April 1965. Ford would also launch the Interior Décor Group at the same time.
The GT Equipment Group was advertised as a combination performance and appearance group. The performance parts were already existing Mustang options (dual exhaust, foglights, and so on) grouped together under one option, whereas the appearance aspects of the GT Equipment Group were all new to the Mustang. GT fender badges, GT identification on the gas cap, and more were only available through the GT Equipment Group option—initially. Later on in 1965 Ford offered the GT Equipment Group parts separately through Ford dealers as an accessory item. This meant that buyers could have their Mustang converted to a GT at the time of purchase, bring their Mustang to the dealer for a GT conversion, or buy the parts over the counter and convert their Mustangs themselves. Factory-built Mustang GTs are often more desirable and worth more, but these dealer- and owner-built GTs are out there. A real factory-built GT will take some due diligence to ensure the car is in fact genuine. Things like production dates, and other not-easily changed or added parts will determine a true factory GT for the 1965-1966 model years.
The GT Equipment Group was a factory option (and again, most, if not all of the parts were available through the dealer) from 1965 to 1969 and available on all three body styles—hardtop, convertible, and fastback/SportsRoof. With dwindling GT sales and Ford wanting to put its muscle into such “packaged” cars as the Mach 1, Boss 302, and Boss 429, the GT Equipment Group offering bowed out at the end of the 1969 model year. Today, the Mustang GT is a much sought after model, offering crisp performance, distinctive looks, and a nod to Ford’s GT racing heritage from the ’60s. Let’s take a look at what comprises each year’s GT package and styling.
The first year GT was available on only two engine options—the A-code and K-code 289 four-barrels. The A-code is of course the 225hp hydraulic cam small-block with the K-code being the now-famous “Hi-Po” 289 with a solid lifter cam. When optioned as such, the A-code could be backed by a three- or four-speed manual or even the C4 automatic, whereas the Hi-Po 289 was optioned with a four-speed only. The rest of the GT-specific parts are easy to spot on the outside; foglights with horizontal chrome grille spears, hood lip bright molding, dual exhaust with special bright tips extending through the rear valance (now affectionately called trumpet exhaust), rear bumper guards deleted, GT fender badges with rocker stripes, deleted lower rocker trim, deleted quarter-panel trim, front disc brakes with “disc brakes” lettering molded into the brake pedal pad, and a five-gauge instrument panel versus the Falcon-type long sweep speedometer flanked by just two gauges. What you can’t easily spot is the revised steering gear box ratio, larger front antisway bar, different front and rear spring rates, and more that make up the handling package included in the GT Equipment Group.
Things to look for:
-Steering gearbox tag code of HCC-AX (manual) or HCC-AW (power)
-13/16-inch front antisway bar
-Reinforcing plates for muffler hangers under the rear seat cushion
-Foglight wiring holes in core support
-Rear framerail reinforcements for exhaust hangers (can feel through framerail alignment hole)
-large brake proportioning valve on driver’s rear inner fender
-large disc brake master cylinder with clip-retained lid
-On factory GT cars the foglight switch will also activate the taillights
-GT cars use five-gauge instrument panels in black wrinkle or woodgrain (Interior Décor Group)
The GT Equipment Group option for 1966 didn’t see much in the way of change. The package continued along with the same V-8 engine requirements (an A-code or K-code 289 mandatory) and featured the same mechanical upgrades like manual disc brakes, larger front antisway bar, handling springs and shocks, dual exhaust with bright extensions, and more. New for 1966, the K-code Hi-Po 289 could be backed by the C4 automatic, so yes, you could see a Hi-Po/automatic GT in 1966. The 1966 version of the grille and foglights on the GT differed slightly from the 1965 model. The 1966 GT used the same grille as the base car, but the extruded aluminum egg crate grille was completely blacked out (the base car had horizontal bright edges). The foglights still used 1965-style horizontal crossbars emanating from the horse and corral but gone were the vertical corral supports. New for the 1966 GT Equipment Group package was the GT identifying gas cap at the rear.
For 1967 the Mustang received its first major redesign, giving the Mustang a longer and wider look. Along with that look was a freshening of the grille area, taillight area, and other exterior trim pieces. The GT Equipment Group soldiered on into 1967, embracing these changes. For the first time the GT Equipment Group could be ordered with the base two-barrel 289 engine (C-code) instead of mandating the A- or K-code four-barrel 289s. New for 1967 was the Mustang’s first big-block, the FE-based 390, which could also be optioned with the GT Equipment Group. The base two-barrel 289 was the only engine package to use single exhaust with the GT Equipment Group. All other V-8 engines were outfitted with typical dual exhaust and new for 1967 quad exhaust tips. The 289 Hi-Po K-code option automatically added the GT Equipment Group package, so any 1967 with a factory installed Hi-Po is automatically a GT car as well, of which only 489 were built! Starting in 1967, Ford changed its record keeping procedures and today it is easy to verify a true 1967-’69 GT by acquiring a Mart Report from Marti Auto Works www.martiauto.com.
Similar to the 1965-’66 GT stripes, the 1967 GT rocker stripes used only a GT or GTA badge, with no Mustang lettering. The GT badge was used on three- and four-speed manual-equipped GTs and the GTA badge, exclusive to the 1967 model year, denoted a GT with an automatic transmission. Once again the rocker molding was deleted on GT cars too. The GT Equipment Group’s 4-inch foglights, disc brakes (now power assisted), handling package with specific springs and shocks and larger antisway bar, and GT-labeled gas cap all carried over with 1967-specific parts. Also new to the package for 1967 were F70x14 tires. An optional Competition Handling Package with 15-inch wheels, Traction-Lok differential, and firmer suspension was available only when the GT Equipment Group package was ordered. Unlike the 1965-’66 models, 1967 GTs did not receive any special interior changes.
The Mustang for 1968 carried over much of its 1967 freshening, and that included the GT Equipment Group as well. The foglights, stripes, emblems, and so forth were all still part of the package, but everything was changed for the 1968 version of the package. The 4-inch foglights were fitted directly to the grille with special brackets behind the grille, eliminating the horizontal support bars for a cleaner look. The GT fender emblem now became a rectangular black box with the bright GT lettering embedded within versus the 1967’s individual GT lettering. Gone also was the one-year-only GTA automatic identifying emblem.
The GT stripes moved from the rocker panel, where they had been since the launch of the GT Equipment Group, to a new C-stripe that started at the tip of the front fender, wrapped around the new for 1968 quarter ornament, and ended mid-door. The GT gas cap for 1968 was updated to the pop-open style first seen on the 1967 with Exterior Décor Group (that option was canceled for 1968) but the vertical GT lettering is red for 1968. For the first time a specific wheel package is called out in the GT Equipment Group option. The 1968 used a chrome 14-inch Styled Steel wheel with trim ring and brushed center cap with vertical GT lettering, also in red, wrapped in F70x14 rubber. The heavy-duty suspension parts were still included, but the power disc brakes were moved to a separate option listing, though mandatory with the 390 FE in the GT.
The 1968 GT Equipment Group option could once again be ordered with only a four-barrel V-8 engine. The 289 two-barrel would not be eligible for 1968. The new 302 four-barrel small-block and the 390 FE big-block were it with dual exhaust and quad exhaust tips once again. That is of course until April 1, 1968, when Ford introduced the ’68½ 428ci R-code Cobra Jet with mandatory GT Equipment Group that is! Sales of the Mustang GT were in decline, even with these changes for 1968. The writing was on the wall that the Mustang GT would soon be history.
By the time 1969 rolled around GT sales had dropped significantly. Couple the drop in sales with Ford’s effort to sell “packaged content” vehicles like Mach 1, Boss 302, and so forth—especially with the Mach 1 package offering more content than the GT Equipment Group offered, including a nicer interior—and it is easy to see why the GT Equipment Group disappeared after a dismal 1969 model year run of just 6,694 units across all three body styles.
Carried over for the final year, the GT Equipment Group still featured such mainstays as stripes, emblems, heavy-duty suspension, and dual exhaust with bright tips. However, the 1969 model GT would be the first, and only, GT model to not have GT emblems anywhere on the body. Sure, it had the GT center caps on the Styled Steel Wheels and pop-open gas cap like the 1968 (the 1969 gas cap was slightly restyled), and the thin-thick-thin rocker stripe returned for its final year, but there wasn’t a hint of GT lettering anywhere on the front fenders as in years past. Gone too were the GT’s foglights. New to the package was a non-functional hood scoop with turn signal indicators at the rear (except for Ram Air Cobra Jets, which had a functional Shaker scoop of course) and hood pins with lanyards.
For 1969 the GT Equipment Group was available with five V-8 engines, starting with two 351 Windsors (two- and four-barrel) that were new engines to the Mustang line for 1969. Returning for its third year in the Mustang was the 390 four-barrel carried over from 1967-’68, and finally there were two 428 big-blocks. The 428 offerings included a non-ram air and a Cobra Jet version with ram air Shaker scoop through the hood. A three-speed manual was standard on the 351s, whereas the big-blocks all required the four-speed manual option. Automatics were available as an option behind all five of the GT Equipment Group eligible engines.
Common GT Myths
There are many common misconceptions about the GT Equipment Group package and what is included. We’ve heard many stories over the years, some from well-intentioned Mustang owners and others who just plain didn’t have a clue. For your reading pleasure we offer the following tidbits.
-1965-’67 GT Mustangs all came with Styled Steel wheels. This is not true. While a popular option, the GT Equipment Group did not include a specific wheel until 1968.
-All GT Mustangs had deluxe interiors. Again, not true. The Interior Décor Group could be added to any Mustang model and the Deluxe steering wheel was also a separate option.
-All 1965 Mustang GTs were manual transmission only. This bit of misnomer actually stems from the K-code engine option enthusiasts. True, a K-code Mustang had to have a manual trans in 1965 (in 1966 you could back it with the C4 automatic), but 1965 GTs were not all built with the K-code engine. Most were built with the A-code four-barrel 289.
-Mustang GTs were outfitted with open-element air filters and Cobra-lettered valve covers. Well, only partially true. A GT would have the chrome open-element air filter from 1965-’67 if it was a K-code Hi-Po optioned GT. Otherwise the standard enclosed air filter housing was used. The valve covers were stock stamped steel except for the 1968 big-block GTs, which received chrome valve covers. The Cobra-lettered covers were over-the-counter add-on items, though popular back in the day.
-The 1965-’66 Mustang GT came with the Rally-Pac. Again, a popular option and dealer add-on, but the Rally-Pac mounted to the steering column in no way denotes a 1965-’66 with the GT Equipment Group option.
-The louvered “turn signal” hood in 1967-’68 was part of the GT Equipment Group and should have matte black stripes. Once again, many people mean well but are confusing their option packages. The louvered hood was part of the Exterior Décor Group package in 1967 and a separate option in 1968. Only the 1968 would have the matte hood stripes and only when the separate Two-Tone Paint option was added.
-The in-dash tachometer for 1967-’68 was standard with the GT Equipment Group. Sadly, no, it was a separate option.
-Export braces and Monte Carlo bars on 1965-’66 Mustangs indicate it is a GT. Here, people are confusing Shelby add-ons with the Mustang GT. A Shelby G.T. 350 would have these, and many owners added them over the years to their 1965-’66 Mustangs, but these two engine bay additions were not part of the GT Equipment Group offerings.