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Ford Mustangs

History of the Ford Mustang

Posted at Tue, Dec 13, 2022 12:00 PM

Since the Mustang first rolled off the assembly line in 1964, it has enjoyed iconic status as an American sports car, eventually morphing into a true muscle car. Ford's Mustang has gone through six generations over its 57-year history, each uniquely its own, each unmistakably a Mustang. The Mustang's distinctive style, combined with the throaty growl of its powerful engine, has thrilled muscle car enthusiasts everywhere.

If you wish to purchase a Mustang, the problem lies with which year, make, and model to choose. Let's examine the different Mustang generations and some of the more renowned models to emerge from those years.

First Generation 1964-1973

Perhaps the original 1964-1/4 Ford Mustang 289 should be our favorite. After all, this was the car that launched the Mustang into stardom. The roar of the V-8 engine combined with the relatively small, chiseled body gave this Mustang agility to go with its power that thrilled drivers. Finding this original car for sale will be difficult and costly. Only 300,000 were made, and historically, cars from that generation rarely made it past 20 years before succumbing to age. Ford projected 100,000 in sales, so based on the tripled projections, this model should be on the list.

A 1967 Mustang GT500 Super Snake sold for over $2.2 million, which set the record for the most expensive Mustang. The 1968 Mustang GT Fastback appeared in Steve McQueen's iconic movie Bullitt, propelling the Mustang into the world's consciousness. Another limited edition to appear in 1968 was the California Special, also known as the Mustang GT/CS. Made exclusively for the California market, the California Special blended style points from the traditional Mustang and the Shelby versions.

In 1969, the Mustang offered several notable models like the Boss 302, Boss 351, Boss 429, Shelby GT350, and GT500 trims. The Boss 302 cranked out 290 horsepower, and Ford stripped off the body cladding and added a front lip and rear spoiler to enhance performance. This car performed like a race car on the road. The Boss 351 came with a four-speed manual transmission and is still considered one of the fastest Mustangs. Its limited production makes it a unique find. The Boss 429 used a big block V-8 monster that pumped 375 horsepower.

The Shelby GT500 improved upon the GT350 with exterior and mechanical upgrades that elevated its appearance while delivering a faster, smoother ride. The GT500 used that 428 cubic-inch big blocks, but if that wasn't enough power for you, you could opt for the GT500/KR (King of the Road) that came with a 428 cubic-inch Cobra Jet V-8 engine that pumped out 370 horsepower.

From our standpoint, this generation's best model goes to the Steve McQueen Mustang GT Fastback. It may not have the most powerful engine, but its notoriety led to one of the two cars in the movie selling for $3.74 million recently. You probably can't afford one of the movie Mustangs, but any GT Fastback from 1968 should suffice. It rolled off the assembly line selling for $2,955 retail. Today, you can expect to pay around $45,000 for a mint condition 1968 GT Fastback.

Second Generation 1974-1978

Motor Trend magazine voted the 1974 Mustang II its car of the year. We aren't sure why. This second generation of Mustangs falls way short of expectations, particularly through the historical lens that shows us the complete history. In Ford's defense, the 1970s were marked by rising fuel prices and stricter crash test and emissions standards. The 1976 Mustang II Cobra came with a 5.0-liter V-8 that trickled out 130 horsepower, so you begin to understand how difficult it can be to get behind this generation. Stylistically, the second generation changed very little. This powertrain might have been more appealing for its economy than its actual performance.

Third Generation 1979-1993

This generation was one of the longest-running generations of Mustangs, but during this period, the style morphed from a sexy muscle car to a more boxy sedan. The introduction of turbocharged power made vehicles like the 1984 Mustang SVO attractive vehicle. Still, the Mustang LX from 1987-1993 gets our nod due to the 4.9-liter V-8 engine that was sneaky fast.

Fourth Generation 1994-2004

The fourth generation of Mustangs experienced some highs and lows. In 2000, Ford released the Mustang Spring Feature Edition, a low point for several reasons. The car featured an attractive hood scoop and side vents. Unfortunately, these weren't functional, only aesthetic. The Mustang Bullitt and Mach I models swing the cool needle the other way. Perhaps the coolest of the entire generation was the 2000 Mustang SVT Cobra R model. Its 5.4-liter V-8 engine with a six-speed manual transmission cranked out 385 horsepower. Ford engineered this Mustang to dominate the track, making it a precursor for what was to come.

Fifth Generation 2005-2014

Ford brought the power and the style back in full force for its fifth generation of Mustangs. The 2013 Shelby GT500 pumped out a monstrous 662 horsepower, but the nod for the coolest Mustang of this generation goes to the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 Laguna Seca Edition. Named for the track, it was designed to dominate; Ford added significant upgrades to exterior and mechanical parts to improve performance. The result was a 440-horsepower streetcar that could beat the BMW M3 around the oval.

Sixth Generation 2015-Present

Ford re-introduced the Bullitt for 2019-2020 models, and while it looks super cool and has more horsepower than the GT model, it somehow runs slower in both zero to 60 and quarter-mile times. Although Ford may have failed with the Bullitt, they made up for it with the Shelby GT350 and GT350R models. These powerhouses combined 552 horsepower with racing aerodynamics and carbon fiber materials to create perhaps the best Mustangs.

We love Mustangs, both old and new, at Planet Ford Dallas. There's nothing quite like the roar of a Mustang engine coming to life or the thrill of hitting the corners at speed. That's why we stock such an expansive inventory of Mustang cars. We have EcoBoost and GT models in regular and fastback, and we invite you to browse our inventory online. If you want to create something unique, visit our sales department. One of our friendly, knowledgeable staff will help you build the perfect Shelby GT500 or Mach I Mustang that will blow you and your competition away.

Photo Credit: Image via Flickr by encanto_sunland

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