Mustang MonthlyNews & Views
The Iconic Ford Mustang - 40 Greatest
These Are The Things That Made The Mustang An American Icon
Forty years. Next spring, the Mustang will reach that milestone, making it one of only a handful of automotive nameplates that have survived long enough to celebrate a 40th anniversary. Since April 17, 1964, there have been Mustangs in Ford dealer showrooms without interruption. Through fuel crises, emission restraints, safety concerns, union labor disputes, and economy slowdowns, the Mustang has been there to take us onto the highway and away from our troubles.
With the 40th approaching, we thought we'd take a look at 40 things that have established the Mustang as an American icon. By all means, the list is not complete. There are many other things, people, options, models, and components that have contributed to the Mustang's everlasting success and image. Our list incorporates 40 items that are Mustang-specific, not necessarily in order of significance, although somewhat organized from top to bottom in ranking.
All these people and things deserve recognition for the role they played in the Mustang's history-and in its future.
"Mustang Sally" (the song)The original working title was "Mustang Mama," until singer Aretha Franklin told writer Mack Rice it would sound better as "Mustang Sally." He made the switch and the original recording, but it was Wilson Pickett's version-the one we still hear today-that received the most air play. There are plenty of cars that would like to have a hit song written about them. Ride, Sally, ride.
Mustang Clubs Ford recognized the power of the enthusiast when it created the short-lived National Council of Mustang Clubs in 1964. But it wasn't until the mid-'70s, right after the end of the first-generation Mustangs, that enthusiasts themselves began organizing clubs. Both the Mustang Club of America and Shelby American Automobile Club were founded in 1976, and from them sprang regional groups and chapters around the U.S. and the world. Many other clubs not affiliated with a national organization have also formed over the years. Surprisingly, the huge majority of Mustang owners do not belong to a club, yet Mustang club members worldwide are the vocal minority when it comes to promoting fun with Mustangs, both vintage and new.
Team Mustang Team Mustang got its start as skunkworks operation in 1989 to develop a new Mustang to replace the aging Fox-body platform. Basically, after Ford's plans to switch to front-wheel drive were met with cries of protests from Mustang fans, the skunkworks group, led by John Coletti, was put in place to save the Mustang. The result was the '94 SN-95 Mustang, along with a structured Team Mustang division to focus solely on the development and well-being of one of Ford's most treasured nameplates. From 1998 to 2002, Team Mustang was led by energetic Chief Engineer Art Hyde, who, along with Customization Engineer Scott Hoag, spearheaded special models like the '01 Bullitt GT and '03 Mach 1.
Best Features: Independent Rear SuspensionFor years, Mustang aficionados screamed for an independent rear suspension in place of the harsh-riding, ill-handling live axle. They finally got it in 1999, when IRS was made standard equipment in the top-of-the-line Cobra. And it was worth the wait. With each rear wheel acting independently, the new Cobras handled like world-class sports cars and rolled over bumps, potholes, and other road irregularities without the thumping and bumping of a live axle. The IRS is still found in '03 Cobras.
Flowmaster SoundIt became the sound heard around the world, or at least around every American neighborhood. Flowmaster was one of the first companies to market an after-cat performance exhaust system for the 5.0 Mustang, and as a result, its chambered mufflers and larger tailpipes became a staple of late-model Mustang performance. Even today, a Flowmaster system is one of the first modifications made by owners of new 4.6 Mustangs.
Mustang MagazinesIn 1978, Larry Dobbs mortgaged his home to start a little magazine called the Mustang Exchange Letter, a name that was quickly changed to Mustang Monthly. Little did Dobbs know he was creating a new automotive magazine segment for specific vehicles. Within a few years, there were at least seven Mustang titles on the newsstand. Today, that number has dwindled, but Mustang Monthly, Mustang & Fords, 5.0 Mustang & Super Fords, and Muscle Mustangs & Fast Fords are still promoting the Mustang tradition to thousands of Mustang owners and enthusiasts around the world.
Running Horse LogoEvery product should have a logo that is instantly recognized. Called the galloping pony or running horse, the logo has adorned nearly every Mustang since 196411/42. Originally penned by Phil Clark, a young Ford designer who reportedly sketched the horse running to the left because it was more natural for him as a right-hander, the running horse logo quickly became one of the world's most recognizable symbols. Except during Ford's "corporate" period of 1983 to 1989, when the Ford oval replaced standard nameplates, the Mustang running horse has appeared somewhere on every Mustang built.
Lee IacoccaWithout Lee Iacocca, we might very well be driving, restoring, and showing '64 Falcon Sprints today. It was Iacocca who recognized the growing baby-boomer market in the early-'60s and directed the rebirth of the Falcon as a practical, affordable, yet sporty Mustang with a long hood, short-deck profile. His success with the Mustang led to his promotion to president of Ford Motor Company in 1970 and a subsequent firing, due to "personality conflicts," by Henry Ford II in 1978. Iacocca then moved to Chrysler, where he hit another home run with the mini-van. Although often called the Father of the Mustang, Iacocca continues to shun any recognition for his involvement with the car.
Mustang GT Originally, it stood for Grand Touring, but today it represents affordable performance. Introduced in the spring of 1965 as the GT Equipment Group, the GT option added fog lamps, exhaust trumpets, side stripes, and more to the basic '65-'66 Mustang package. After giving way to the more popular Mach 1 after 1969, the GT Mustang went on hiatus until 1982, when it returned with a 5.0-liter HO V-8 and a "Boss is Back!" advertising campaign. During 1986-'95, with the venerable EFI 5.0 as its only available powerplant, the GT became one of the most popular Mustangs ever. From 1996 to today, with 4.6 power, the GT Mustang continues to offer sporty performance at an affordable price.
Carroll ShelbyThe man is a legend, and so are the Mustangs he created from 1965 to 1970. After success with his two-seater Cobras, Ford asked Shelby to bolster the Mustang's performance and racing image by building Shelby-modified fastbacks. The result was the GT350, in both street and race (R-model) versions. Jerry Titus drove one of the R-Models to the SCCA B/Production National Championship, securing the Shelby Mustang's reputation as a winner. Over the next five years, Shelby was involved in the creation of limited-production, high-performance Shelby Mustangs that added much to the Mustang's legacy with cars like the Hertz rental GT350Hs, big-block GT500s, and Cobra Jet-powered GT500KRs.
Best Engine (early): 289No other engine is as closely associated with the early Mustangs than the 289. Although phased out after the '68 model year in favor of the 302, the 289 had already established its mark in Mustang history, a storied past that included the 289 High Performance and Shelby's 289 Cobra version. Racers loved the high-winding small-block, while consumers reveled in the engine's ability to deliver excellent performance for 200,000 miles or more.
Best Engine (late-model): 5.0-liter HOFrom 1974 to 1981, the Mustang wallowed in low performance. Then, in 1982, the "Boss is Back!" ad campaign heralded the arrival of a new 5.0-liter V-8 for a new Mustang GT. The combination would start a modern performance revolution for the Mustang, spawning a new performance aftermarket, drag racing series, and even magazines. By 1987, the 5.0 HO boasted 225 hp and high 13-second quarter-mile e.t.'s right off the showroom floor. In the LX model, a 5.0 could be acquired for around $13,000, making it one of the best "bang for the buck" cars ever.
John ColettiWe probably wouldn't be writing this today if it weren't for Ford's John Coletti, who spearheaded the "skunkworks" operation in the early-'90s that resulted in the SN-95 platform in 1994, just a few years after Ford considered moving the Mustang to the front-wheel-drive vehicle that eventually became the Probe. Unlike many Ford engineers, Coletti had "oil in his blood" and put himself front and center, attending shows and bringing along concept and show cars. Today, Coletti is still shaking up the Mustang world as director of the Special Vehicle Team, where he continues to bring us fabulous SVT Mustangs like the supercharged '03 Cobra.
Shelby MustangsWe mentioned Carroll Shelby earlier, but it was his Mustangs that caused such a stir on the street and the racetrack. From the first '65 GT350s, with their hoodscoops and blue side stripes, to the '67-'70 GT350s and GT500s, with their fiberglass noses and tails, the Shelbys always stood out from the regular production Mustangs. Even though the LeMans stripes over the hood, roof, and deck were optional from 1965-'67, they became a Shelby trademark-one that is often added to both new and old Mustangs today. Thanks to performance and style, the Shelby Mustangs have provided their own mystique to the Mustang heritage.
Best Features: Shaker HoodscoopLooking back, a hoodscoop mounted to the engine and sticking up through a hole in the hood was a pretty radical thing in late-'68. Yet, for 1969, Ford added the functional Shaker to the Mustang option list, highlighting it in the CJ-powered Mach 1s. Watching the Shaker "shake" or torque over with the engine was a cool thing to do during 1969-'70 and in 2003 with Team Mustang's new Mach 1, complete with a retro Shaker.
Larry ShinodaAlthough designer Larry Shinoda worked at Ford for barely 18 months, his impact has lasted over 30 years. Hired in May 1968 by Bunkie Knudsen, his former boss at GM, Shinoda immediately applied his talents and love of performance to the '69 Boss 302, creating the stripes, spoilers, and rear window slats. He also proposed the Boss name, which replaced Ford's SR-2 moniker for the Trans Am Mustang. The Boss name was also applied to the '69-'70 Boss 429 and the '71 Boss 351. In later years, before his death in 1997, Shinoda created a Boss Shinoda appearance package for late-model Mustangs. It's still available today as part of a Boss Shinoda package.
Best Engine (big-block): 428 Cobra JetFuming over the fact that Ford's best performance engine was little more than a passenger car 390, Ford dealer Bob Tasca took matters into his own hands by creating a KR-8 Mustang with a 390 bolstered by performance pieces right off the Ford parts shelves. Ford took the hint and released the engine as the 428 Cobra Jet in '6811/42 Mustang GTs. From 1968 to 1970, the CJ was Ford's workhorse performance engine, loaded with torque and potential, as the '6811/42 Mustangs proved themselves by dominating the Super Stock class at the '68 NHRA Winternationals. Cobra Jet-powered street Mustangs won their share of red-light contests as well.
Bullitt (the movie)Although the chase scene in the '68 movie Bullitt, starring Steve McQueen, lasted only 12 minutes, most people remember the duel between the '68 Mustang fastback and a Dodge Charger over the hills of San Francisco; yet they can't recall the movie's plot. Fact is we don't know anyone who has watched much beyond the chase scene, at least without falling asleep. But the chase scene-loaded with jumps, smoking tires, and wonderful exhaust sounds-is deeply embedded into Mustang lore. The movie car, a Highland Green '68 fastback with Torq-Thrust wheels, even inspired a new Bullitt model in 2001.
Bullitt (the car)Capitalizing on the image of the '68 fastback in the movie Bullitt, Ford's Team Mustang produced a special edition Bullitt GT during the '01 model year. By combining styling cues from the 1960s with enhanced performance, the Bullitt GT quickly became a cult favorite among Mustang and all-around performance enthusiasts alike. Only 5,582 were produced in three colors-black, blue, and Highland Green (like the movie car). Team Mustang recognized the car's collectibility factor, so each Bullitt Mustang has a hologram ID sticker mounted on the driver-side strut tower.
1,000,000 Built On February 23, 1966, less than two years after the first '6411/42 Mustangs were built, the one-millionth Mustang rolled off the Dearborn assembly line. It was an accomplishment worthy of Lee Iacocca's presence at the end of the line-for photos, of course-and a great indication of the Mustang's impact on the American roads.
Best Graphics: '70 Boss 302With stripes that start at the front of the hood and end at the rear quarter-panels, the '70 Boss 302 graphics looked fast even while the car was sitting still. Created by designer Larry Shinoda during his short tenure at Ford, the package also included a blacked-out rear panel and trunk deck, black center hood stripe, and front spoiler. The stripes swept down the side of the car, with the "Boss 302" lettering at the top of the fenders. When equipped with the optional rear spoiler and sport slats over the rear window, the '70 Boss 302 was one of the wildest-looking production musclecars on the road.
Wildest (vintage): Boss 429From the outside, the '69-'70 Boss 429 Mustang looked more like a six-cylinder fastback with a hoodscoop and Magnum 500 wheels. But with the hood open, the hemi-headed Boss 429 powerplant filled the engine compartment to capacity. To make it fit, the shock towers were reworked to widen the engine compartment. Built to homologate the Boss 429 engine for NASCAR, the Boss 429's engine and other special components were installed at Kar Kraft, a contract shop that handled special projects for Ford. Detuned for street use, the Boss 429 never quite lived up to its performance reputation, one that was enhanced by just one jaw-dropping look under the hood.
Late-Model Drag RacingAt first, the '86 fuel-injected 5.0 engine was greeted with concern. Then, enthusiasts learned that minor modifications, like removing the air intake silencer and bumping the timing, could make a dramatic improvement in the car's quarter-mile times. Soon after, the aftermarket, led by Ford SVO, produced equipment to make the cars even quicker. And then it was on, with Mustangers racing Mustangers for bragging rights at tracks around the country. Today, both Fun Ford Weekend and the National Mustang Racers Association cater to heads-up late-model Mustang drag racing, with Pro 5.0 drivers like John Gullet running under six seconds at over 200 mph.
Best Factory Racer: 1995 Cobra RAlthough produced in three different model years-1993, 1995, and 2000-the '95 Cobra R from Ford SVT was most actively involved in road racing. As a street car built for racing, the '95 Cobra R came with a 351 engine and plenty of suspension modifications. A number of Ford-backed but independently-prepared Cobra Rs competed in the Grand Sport classification in the '95-'97 IMSA Endurance Championship, with the number 20 Cobra R prepared by Steeda Autosports becoming the first Mustang in ten years to win an IMSA endurance race with its two-lap victory at Texas Motor Speedway in 1996.
Wildest (late-model): 2000 Cobra RUnlike the unpretentious Boss 429, the 2000 Cobra R from Ford SVT stood out from the regular muscle crowd with bright red paint, a bulging hood, front splitter, side-exiting exhaust, 18-inch wheels, and a rear wing that stood a couple of feet off the rear deck. And that's just the outside. On the inside, the 2000 Cobra R lived up to its billing with a 385hp 5.4-liter engine, six-speed transmission, brake cooling ducts, radio and rear-seat delete, Recaro seats, Eibach lowering springs, and Bilstein struts and shocks. Just add a rollcage and the Cobra R was ready for competition. Only 300 were built as a starting point for road racers, but most were gobbled up by collectors.
Mach 1With the musclecar craze in full flower-power swing during the late-'60s, the '69 Mach 1 hit the streets just in time to save the Mustang's performance image as it lined up against GTOs, SS Camaros, and Road Runners. With the optional 428 Cobra Jet and Shaker hoodscoop, the '69 Mach 1 ranked among the best of the baddest with streetable torque and plenty of horsepower. The Mach 1 continued through 1973 before becoming an upgraded option package during 1974-'75. For 2003, Team Mustang brought back the Mach 1 name for a limited-edition performance Mustang with the four-valve Cobra-based engine and a Shaker hoodscoop.
Trans Am MustangsBy 1966, the SCCA recognized the growing Pony car market and launched the Trans-American Sedan Championship. It was the perfect racing venue for the Mustang, as it competed against Barracudas, Darts, and eventually Camaros, Challengers, and Firebirds. Mustangs dominated the '66 and '67 seasons, winning the overall season championships. Chevy's Z/28 Camaro took over from 1968-'69, but the Mustang regained its championship form in 1970 with the Boss 302s campaigned by Bud Moore. In 1989, the Mustang returned to Trans-Am dominance with driver and manufacturer championships from Dorsey Schroeder and Roush Racing, followed by championships in 1994-'97.
Pony InteriorOfficially, Ford called it the Interior Decor Group, but Mustang owners quickly labeled the fancy interior with running horses embossed across the seatbacks "the Pony Interior." Introduced on the Mustang's first anniversary along with the GT Equipment Group on April 17, 1965, the Pony Interior remains one of the most coveted options for '65-'66 Mustangs. In fact, many non-Mustangers believe the embossed Ponies were part of every early Mustang's interior.
Steve SaleenWhat Carroll Shelby was to the early Mustangs, Steve Saleen is to late-model Mustangs. In 1985, Saleen was among the first to recognize the potential of the Fox-body 5.0 Mustang, but instead of producing just parts, Saleen created his own car. Beginning in 1984 by adding his Racecraft Suspension, the Saleen Mustang evolved into an all-around performance vehicle with power to match the handling and looks. Available through selected Ford dealers, the Saleen Mustang has been offered in a variety of iterations, from the V-6 Sport, to the supercharged S281, to the S351 with a transplanted, supercharged 351ci engine. Saleens also competed in SCCA Showroom Stock and Trans-Am, plus the World Challenge with the Saleen/Allen RRR Speedlab team in conjunction with actor Tim Allen.
SVT CobrasIn 1991, Ford created the Special Vehicle Team to create and market limited-edition, high-performance vehicles. SVT's first product was the '93 Cobra with unique looks and a more powerful 5.0 engine. For 1994-'95, the Cobra returned on the SN-95 platform, once again with a Cobra 5.0. But in 1996, the Cobra got its own engine-the four-valve 4.6-a powerplant that lives on with a supercharged 390 hp in the '03 Cobra. SVT also produced Cobra R versions, essentially stripped-down race cars, in 1993, 1995, and 2000.
Best Four-Banger: SVOBetween the fuel crunch of the late-'70s and the launch of the EFI musclecar craze in 1987, the Mustang SVO (Special Vehicle Operations) spanned the two extremes with turbocharged 2.3-liter four-cylinder power. First offered in 1984, the SVO boasted 175 hp from its intercooled four-cylinder, along with unique SVO items like a functional hoodscoop, bi-wing rear spoiler, Koni shocks, and many other unique items. In mid-'85, the Mustang SVO received several modifications to up the power to 205. The combination of light weight and performance suspension made the SVO one of the best handling Mustangs of all time.
Best Engine (technology): Supercharged four-valve 4.6With 390 hp and 390 lb-ft of torque, the supercharged four-valve 4.6 in the '03 Cobra is easily the most powerful engine ever offered in a production Mustang. With today's computer technology, the awesome power is achieved while meeting emission and fuel economy standards.
Specialty MustangsGive Steve Saleen credit for being the first to create special performance versions of late-model Mustangs. The Saleen Mustang has been followed by a long list of aftermarket specialty Mustang builders-Steeda, Roush, Kenny Brown, SAAC, U.S. Mustang, Sean Hyland, BBK, and others. Of the group, Saleen, Steeda, Kenny Brown, and Roush Performance continue to offer first-rate performance Mustangs through selected Ford dealers.
EleanorWhen Touchstone Studios released its remake of 1974's Gone in Sixty Seconds, the movie's '73 Mustang star, Eleanor, was recreated as a modernized '67 Shelby GT500 with an aggressive front end, huge hood dome, and side pipes. The silver movie car captured the imagination of movie-goers everywhere, with the car receiving more attention than the star, Nicholas Cage. As a result, '67-'68 fastbacks suddenly became popular for Eleanor conversions with body kits from Total Control Products, while Sanderson Sales began production of an Eleanor look-alike called the Shelby GT500E, endorsed by Carroll Shelby as a continuation Shelby Mustang.
Police PursuitAdding to the 5.0 Mustang's legend was the fact it was offered as a Special Service vehicle, typically as a coupe, for police pursuit. First used by the California Highway Patrol in 1982, the Special Service Mustangs caught on quickly in Florida, Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, and other states. Although rumors on the street claimed the police versions boasted additional horsepower, truth is the police cars had the same power rating as the standard production 5.0s. However, they were equipped or available with special items like silicone hoses, heater-hose inlet restrictor, higher-output alternator, recalibrated cooling-fan clutch, 140- or 160-mph speedometer, and a single-key locking system.
Postage StampLast we heard, the Corvette guys were still trying to get their Corvette postage stamp. Well, we've already got ours, issued in 1999 as part of the U.S. Postal Service's Celebrate the Century commemorative-stamp program. Best of all, the subjects were chosen by the American public, with the Mustang appearing on a sheet with 14 other stamps representing the '60s. The Mustang stamp was available for approximately a year, which is all well and good seeing how the then 33-cent stamp won't even mail a first-class letter these days.
Indianapolis 500 Pace CarFor a manufacturer, few things are more prestigious than having a vehicle chosen as the pace car for the Indianapolis 500. In its 40-year history, the Mustang has paced the race three times-in 1965, 1979, and 1994. In all three cases, special Mustang Pace Cars were produced, not only for actual race duties but also for the general public.
Mach IIIWhen Team Mustang Chief John Coletti heard that Chevrolet was launching its new Camaro at the '93 Detroit Auto Show, he decided to steal their thunder by creating a wild concept car to tease the coming of the '94 Mustang. In just three months, Coletti and Team Mustang engineers and designers conceived, designed, and created the Mach III, a two-seater roadster with a supercharged 4.6 DOHC engine and a muscular body that hinted at the styling cues for the production '94 model. To Chevy's dismay, the Mach III drew rave reviews at the Detroit and Los Angeles Auto Shows before appearing on numerous magazine covers and at many Mustang and automotive events.
Springtime SpecialsFrom 1966 to 1972, Ford sparked spring sales with special-edition Mustangs, starting with the '66 Sprint 200, a "Millionth Mustang Success Celebration Edition" with six-cylinder power, popular options, and a chrome air cleaner. From there, the springtime specials included the '67 Sports Sprint, '68 Sprint (in two versions, either "A" or "B," both with C-stripes), '70 Grabbers, '71 Spring Sports Coupe, and the white with blue and red trimmed '72 Sprint USA models (also available in "A" or "B" packages).
Cobra IIWith Shelby-style striping, spoilers, and hoodscoop, the '76-'78 Cobra II was a bright spot in the otherwise dark days of Mustang performance. A four-cylinder and V-6 were offered, but the Cobra II came alive with the optional 302 V-8/four-speed combination. The Cobra II, along with its King Cobra sibling in 1978, helped keep the performance fires burning between the last of the 351 Mustangs in 1973 and the introduction of the 5.0 HO in 1982.