The Ford Mustang: Everything You Ever Wanted to Know
*Don’t make a joke about crashing at a car meet. Don’t make a joke about crashing at a car meet.
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Few cars elicit immediate visceral reactions upon hearing its name. Corvette, 911, Charger, Quattro, and F40 are all such autos. One name that cannot be excluded from that list is the Mustang. Just reading the name, you’re likely to immediately hear the warbly V8, screeching tires, and see its evocative coupe shape in your mind.
Ford’s Mustang is an icon among enthusiasts and non-enthusiasts alike. A sports car with a history spanning six decades and millions of examples in customer’s hands. All around the world, in far-flung reaches, people know about the Mustang. But do you know the particulars surrounding its birth? Do you know where the name Mustang came from? Or how many variants have been produced by Ford? Well, that’s where we come in.
Though the Mustang remains one of the most well-documented cars of all time, you might not know where to start. To save you the headache, The Drive’s fiendishly fanatical auto-equestrian lovers have put together everything you ever wanted to know about Ford’s Mustang.
Time to dive in.
What Is a Ford Mustang?
This is like asking, “what is the Mona Lisa?” or “who is Big Bird?”, at least to auto enthusiasts. At its core, a Ford Mustang is a 2+2 sports car launched in the 1960s that’s become ingrained in Americana. It’s not one of the O.G. sports cars, but it’s absolutely one of the greats. And it’s a brand that continues to expand to this day.
Who Was Behind the Ford Mustang’s Launch?
The Mustang’s inception is one of great record, but the man in the middle is, and always has been, Lee Iacocca. Iacocca originally had a 2-seater, mid-engine car penned up and put into concept phase with the name Mustang I.
The car was a small, four-cylinder sports car reminiscent of Porsche’s 550 Spyder. Though Iacocca liked the concept, Ford ultimately didn’t go with the design and on the Mustang I’s heels, Iacocca pushed for a new concept to be built, one with the 2+2 layout that would become the Mustang we know today.
When Was the First Ford Mustang Shown?
Ford released the Mustang II concept in 1963, borrowing the original Mustang I name. The name, however, is of much interest as it wasn’t decided by head office. Instead, it was only dubbed after focus grouping the Mustang name along with T-Bird II, Cougar, and Torino.
Now, there are two theories as to where the Mustang name came from. The first, and one backed by Ford, is that the Mustang’s stylist, John Najjar, was a big fan of the P51 Mustang warplane. He titled it and the rest is history. A second theory posits that Robert Eggert, Ford’s market research manager at the time, actually dropped the name into the list when he was focus grouping the name before launch. According to Eggert, Mustang won by a “wide margin.”
The first production Ford Mustang was shown in 1964 at the New York World’s fair. Suffice it to say, Ford expected only about 100,000 Mustangs to be sold in the first production year, 1965. Ford sold more than a million Mustangs in the car’s first 18 months.
How Has the Mustang Changed Through Ford’s History?
Ford’s been through six generations of the Mustang, along with countless revisions, mid-cycle refreshes, and variants during its 56 years in production. The Mustang’s seen high-performance models, models based on the compact Pinto, four-cylinder-to-eight-cylinder engines, supercharged and turbocharged variants, and more recently, lifted crossover EV versions that feature four-doors.
The easiest way we can show you how drastically different each generation of the Mustang is from the others is with the detailed video below. Check it out.
What Special Ford Mustangs Has Ford Built?
The Mustang’s history spans nearly six decades and includes quite a few special editions. We could get into every single special-edition Mustang ever created, but the heat death of the universe would likely fall well before we finished.
So, to keep things tight and organized, we broke down the biggest, baddest, most celebrated Mustangs ever built. Let’s hit it.
Shelby GT350, GT350R, GT350H
You can’t have anything about the history of the Mustang without the name Shelby repeatedly showing up. Ford’s greatest partnership to date starts nearly from the onset of its original pony car.
Carroll Shelby had already been using Ford engines to make his A/C Cobras go faster and faster, so when the brand approached the Texan with the Mustang, he knew what to do. The first of the series was the Shelby GT350, debuting in 1965. These original cars had a 289-cubic-inch V8 and the same general modifications Shelby made for his A/Cs, including racier bits like suspension upgrades, interior weight reductions, etc. They were also given new disc brakes up front and used the Galaxie’s larger rear drums.
As with everything back in the day, a racing version was built and homologated with a set of 34 GT350Rs. A GT350H was later created after rental car company Hertz approached Ford to build them a set of 1,000 Shelby models specifically for the company to rent out. They struck a deal that once Hertz was done with them, Ford would get them back and could sell them as GT350Hs.
That original first-generation production run continued until 1970 when the model was discontinued.
A Ford-backed Shelby GT350 wouldn’t be seen again until 2015, though many other “Shelbys” were created independently in the interim by Shelby American. Ford’s offering, however, was a whole package, with new suspension, new interior pieces, new chassis reinforcements, and much, much more. One of the principal changes was the introduction of a brand new engine dubbed, “Voodoo.”
The Voodoo was based around Ford’s modular Coyote V8, except that instead of the standard crank and displacement, the Voodoo used a flat-plane design and a larger, 5.2-liter displacement. The result was a V8 that redlined at 8,250 RPM and made 526 horsepower and 429 lb-ft of torque. Ford also released a GT350R, which was an even more hardcore track-oriented model with stickier tires and racier specs.
Shelby GT500, GT500 KR, Super Snake
While the GT350 was the lighter, more agile Shelby, the first GT500s were bare-knuckle bruisers with a big-ole engine up front and not much else. Instead of the 289 in the GT350, the GT500 had a 428-cubic-inch engine under the hood with two four-barrel Holley carbs and a mid-rise aluminum intake manifold.
And though the GT500 still bore Shelby’s name, the Texan and his company were winding down their direct involvement with Ford. But that’s not before Shelby envisioned a GT500 with the same 427 cubic-inch V8 out of the GT40 racecar. Due to limited interest, however, the “Super Snake” GT500 would never reach production and only a single car was ever built.
Later in the GT500’s life, Ford offered a different variant of the 428 known as the GT500KR, with KR standing for “King of the Road.” It was a specific Cobra Jet engine that Ford had been developing for drag racing and reportedly produced 335 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque. Ford’s Cobra Jet engine actually produced 435 horsepower and 440 lb-ft of torque.
Ford shelved the GT500 name until 2007 when it returned to the Mustang lineup with a supercharged 5.4-liter V8. The car made 500 horsepower and 480 lb-ft of torque, and model-specific suspension, brakes, exterior and interior styling, and a 6-speed Tremec manual transmission. It was later modified to produce 540 horsepower and 510 lb-ft of torque.
Just a few years later in 2019, Ford dropped a new 5.8-liter supercharged V8 into the GT500’s chassis. That engine, along with a host of other go-faster parts, gave the GT500 662 horsepower and 631 lb-ft of torque. This was the first proper Mustang with a top speed of over 200 mph.
In 2020, Ford reintroduced the GT500 name with the sixth-generation Mustang. Using the GT350 as its chassis base, along with several updates that occurred within the development of the GT500, the new car is powered by a 5.2-liter V8 engine dubbed the “Predator.” The supercharged V8 makes 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque and is sent through the Mustang’s first dual-clutch transmission.
Cobra, Cobra II, King Cobra, SVT Cobra, SVT Cobra R
The Cobra’s name comes from Shelby’s previously mentioned A/C series cars. When Ford brought Shelby in to tune the Mustang, Shelby brought the iconography that adorned his sports cars with it. The Cobra name became synonymous with go-fast Mustangs as a result. The first Cobras were the GT350 and GT500s detailed above.
Ford brought the Cobra brand back for the Mustang II. Well, when we say Ford brought it back, the company brought it back as an appearance package only. There were no performance additions to the Cobra II. A King Cobra was later given a V8, but it’s best not to mention this car ever again.
The Cobra name returned when Ford slapped the name onto the “Fox Body” Third-Generation Mustang. Ford’s new performance arm, SVT or Special Vehicle Team, took the at-the-time already outdated 302 cubic-inch V8, lightly modified it, and dropped it into the chassis. It also got new sway bars, new suspension tuning, light chassis reinforcements, and unidirectional wheels.
A hardcore Cobra R variant was also produced during this time, which removed the car’s air conditioning, radio, fog lights, sound deadening, rear seat and seat belts, along with a bunch of other things. SVT also threw all the race bits it could find, including better brakes, suspension, radiators, oil coolers, and new wheels.
Ford’s SVT kept the 302 V8 for the Fourth-Generation Cobra, though the Cobra R received a 5.8-liter V8 that produced 300 horsepower from the modified Windsor engine. This Cobra R, however, required a racing license to purchase and only 232 were ever sold to the public.
SVT finally replaced the 302 for the new modular 4.6-liter V8s in the fifth-generation Cobra and a 5.4-liter V8 for the Cobra R. The standard Cobras would be continually upgraded throughout their lifetimes, ending with producing 320 horsepower. As for the Cobra R, following the same recipe as the previous Cobra R, the fifth-generation version removed much of the interior creature comforts and increased its sporting credentials with bigger and better brakes, Eibach suspension, a locking differential, and a 385 horsepower V8. Ford only produced 300 Cobra Rs.
The last SVT-backed Cobra came in the form of the Terminator Cobras, which used supercharged 4.6-liter V8s from 2003 to 2004. The car produced 390 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque.
Boss 302, 429, and Laguna Seca
The Boss was Ford’s first true salvo at Chevrolet’s performance wing, which had both high-performance small and big-block V8s for its own Camaro. Like all great cars between the ‘60s to ‘90s, the Boss 302 was birthed out of racing necessity. Needing to homologate its racers, Ford dropped a new “Hi-Po” 302 cubic-inch V8 designed for SCCA Trans-Am racing into the Mustang’s chassis, and a hero was born.
Later, when going up against Dodge’s Hemi’s at the track, Ford would develop a 429 cubic-inch V8 for competition and street use.
The Boss’ most recent outing came in 2012-2013 when Ford reintroduced the nameplate on the fifth-generation Mustang. There, it used a modified version of the Coyote V8 engine architecture internally dubbed the “Road Runner.” The new Boss 302 came with a host of track-specific modifications and had a special version called the Laguna Seca for the famous California racetrack.
The Mach 1 Mustang was first introduced in 1968 as a 1969 model and was really based on marketing hype. Ford saw the opportunity to build out a greater performance lineup compared to Chevrolet and its Camaro, so the Blue Oval dropped a new name and offered the Mach 1 with five different engines across its first generation.
Ford slapped the Mach 1 nameplate on the very much unloved Mustang II, as well. We don’t need to talk about it other than it featured a 2.8-liter V6 that made 105 horsepower and a 4.9-liter V8 that made 140 horsepower.
The company let the nameplate sit until the 1990s when it reintroduced the Mach 1 on the fourth-generation, or SN95, Mustang platform. It featured new suspension components, new Brembo brakes, and a 265 horsepower 4.6-liter V8.
After another hiatus, Ford reintroduced the Mach 1 nameplate for the sixth-generation Mustang. It borrowed the 5.0-liter V8 from the sixth-generation “Bullitt” nameplate, along with a lot of the suspension and cooling parts from the Shelby Mustangs.
Ford’s Bullitt Mustangs share an interesting history. Based on the 1968 Fastback GT390 from the Steve McQueen movie of the same name, the original Bullitt-branded Mustang was the result of Ford looking to cash in on nostalgia with the fourth-generation Mustang. It was a very lightly modified GT that wore the Dark Highland Green paint color that was depicted in the movie.
Ford followed this up with a fifth-generation car with a more modified GT platform. It featured a new interior, new exterior styling with 18-inch Torq-Thrust wheels, and a 315-horsepower V8.
A sixth-generation Bullitt Mustang showed up in 2018 with the third generation of Ford’s Coyote V8 and 480 horsepower. It also had a handful of exterior and interior design changes compared to the standard GT, as well as performance improvements throughout. The sixth-generation Bullitt also had an electronically controlled exhaust system that was tuned to produce a sound similar to what McQueen’s original Fastback GT390 made.
What Are The Current Ford Mustang Models?
To borrow a phrase from the best baseball movie ever, The Sandlot, “Heroes get remembered, but legends never die.” The Mustang is one of those legends and it continues to this day with numerous iterations. Check ’em out.
Ford’s EcoBoost Mustang is the company’s budget-friendly pony. Though it lacks the Mustang GT’s rambunctious V8 warble, it’s no slouch, nor rental-spec of V6 Mustangs of yesteryear.
Powered by a 2.3-liter turbocharged four-cylinder engine, the EcoBoost Mustang comes in two performance flavors: a standard EcoBoost with 310 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque or the EcoBoost with the High Performance Package (HPP), which nets 330 horsepower and 350 lb-ft of torque.
The GT is the Mustang’s longest-running variant. It denotes the start of the V8 power and is one of the best performance values you can get in any sports car. The current GT is powered by a 5.0-liter V8 internally dubbed “Coyote.” The engine has since made its way into the aftermarket community as a factory crate engine.
The Mustang GT is available with 460 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque.
Mustang Mach 1
The Mach 1 is the latest reentry of the Mach 1 nameplate into the Mustang lineup. Debuting for the 2021 model year, the Mach 1 uses a lot of the technical know-how Ford acquired through the GT350 and GT500’s development and applies it to the GT chassis and engine.
It uses chassis and suspension setups similar to the GT350 and GT500, and the Coyote V8 produces 480 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque,
Shelby Mustang GT500
Ford dubbed the new Shelby Mustang GT500 as the baddest Mustang the company’s ever built, and it’s hard to argue. With a 5.2-liter Voodoo-based V8 engine and a massive supercharger atop it, the GT500 drops 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque in nuclear fashion. But it’s not only a straight-line hero, as it uses the suspension and chassis geometry learned from the GT350 as the basis of its on-track performance, too.
There may not be another wilder Mustang produced. But who can say for certain?
The most controversial Mustang since the second generation, the MachE is a new avenue for the Mustang nameplate. Why? Because it’s an SUV. And all-electric. And not a coupe. It’s essentially the antithesis of what we’ve come to know as the Mustang.
S why did Ford slap a Mustang name on an all-electric SUV with four doors? Easy, because of the name recognition. Ford’s marketing department isn’t stupid and understands that launching a new car, let alone the company’s first full EV, has to have the makings for success. As such, they decided that the Mustang is not just a car, but a brand that has a history all to its own. Thus, making the jump to what many wouldn’t call a Mustang actually makes perfect sense!
The Mustang Mach-E can be had in RWD or AWD and can produce between 266 horsepower and 480 horsepower in the top-spec Mac-E GT Performance Edition. Ford claims that the Mach E is good for between 211 and 305 miles of range, and because of those electrons, it’s also the quickest Mustang to 60 mph Ford’s ever built!
What’s the Mustang’s Racing History?
Sit down and strap in! Let’s get into the Mustang’s racing history.
Drag racing is where the Mustang first saw trial-by-combat. After debuting in 1964, Ford contracted Holman & Moody to “prepare 10 427-cubic-inch V8” Mustangs for use in the NHRA’s Factory/Experimental class for the 1965 season. To Ford’s delight, one of those cars won the class.
The Mustang would later see even more drag racing with the introduction of the Cobra Jet, a factory-prepared drag racer that featured a lot of the same engineering and tech that many proper drag-racers drilled into their cars.
Though drag racing was where the Mustang’s racing history began, circuit racing is where the car shined. Beginning with the GT350Rs of the ‘60s and continuing to this day, the Mustang has one of the most impressive racing histories around.
In the GT350R’s first year with SCCA, 1965, it won five out of its six divisions. It also won in 1966 and 1967. Using the Mustang, Ford won the inaugural manufacturer’s championship in 1966 and again in 1970.
In the 1980s, the Mustang entered IMSA racing and won a handful of races in 1984 and 1985, with one Mustang winning the GTO class in 1988. Ford won the championship in 1988 as well. Lyn St. James used a Mustang to win three races the same year, the first woman to do so. A Trans-Am title was secured by the nameplate in 1989, the first since the late 1970s.
One of Ford’s brightest stars, Tommy Kendall, used a Roush-prepared Mustang to win 11 consecutive races in the 1997 Trans-Am series, as well as the Driver’s Championship.
Mustangs have continued to be fielded in SCCA, Continental SportsCar Challenge, and IMSA to this day. Numerous customer-fielded entries use Ford’s turn-key Mustang racecars, as well.
Ford’s Mustang nameplate has been used on NASCAR and stockcar racecars since the 1970s, though no Mustang parts are actually used.
Mustangs have been present in America’s Formula Drift series almost from its outset. They’ve been driven by multiple drivers and have had Ford’s backing for a good portion of their fielding. The Mustang’s engine options, along with the host of aftermarket parts, have made it extremely competitive.
Ken Block used the visage of a 1965 Ford Mustang notchback as the basis of his Hoonicorn, a Roush-Yates NASCAR-engine-powered all-wheel-drive racecar. It’s not exactly a car meant for competition, but come on! It has two-turbos, runs on Meth, and slays all four tires simultaneously. How could we not include it?
Learn How To Drive Your Mustang With Skip Barber Racing School
Learning your car’s behavior, quirks and personality can be done on your own, but you’re not exactly doing so in a vacuum. A missed braking point or target fixating on that tree over there could mean a bent bumper or some serious medical bills. Why take the chance when you can learn safely how to drive your Mustang from the professionals at Skip Barber Race Car Driving School?
The Drive has partnered with Skip Barber, the legendary racing school, to ensure that when you first prime your Mustang’s ignition, you won’t fly off into a ditch.
FAQs About The Ford Mustang
You’ve got questions, The Drive has answers!
Q. Ok, How Much Does a Mustang Cost?
A. The current-generation Ford Mustang starts at $27,155 and can top out with the Shelby GT500 at $73,995. However, collectible, rare, and sought-after Mustangs mentioned above can go for quite a bit more. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of dollars, with a few auctioned off for charity in the million-dollar range.
Q. So Do Mustangs Have a Lot of Problems?
A. They certainly can, but it really depends on how you treat them or how the previous owner treated the car. You, yes you, are the principal variable in vehicle longevity. Never forget that.
Q. Weird Question, But What’s the Least Popular Mustang Color?
A. Well, it used to be black. Wild right? It was so unpopular that Ford eliminated the color option between 1972-1974. It was later brought back but remained highly unpopular until the 1990s when it broke into the top colors.
Q. Why Is Everyone Talking About Fox Bodies? Are They Rare?
A. Ha, no. They’re just the cool kid on the block right now, as everyone who grew up in the 1980s and now has cash to afford one wants one.
Q. Is Ford American?
A. Like apple pie and political fights on Thanksgiving with your drunk uncle. They do, however, outsource certain manufacturing and production lines.
Q. Yeah, But Is the Mustang Going to Get Canceled?
A. With all the talk of the V8 engine dying, you’d think so, wouldn’t you? But Ford’s smart and knows that the Mustang is the historical glue that holds the company together. That’s why it’s strategically testing the EV waters with the Mustang Mach-E. Slow-boil the public on the idea of an all-electric Mustang. So no, we don’t think the Mustang will ever die.
Ford Mustang Fun Facts
You know you want more Ford Mustang facts!
- Ford’s original marketing was so good that it sold 22,000 Mustangs on the very first day.
- First Mustang ever sold? A convertible model to a pilot. BY ACCIDENT. The original car was meant for a marketing tour, but the dealership where it was housed sold it. Ford later reacquired the car after the pilot traded it back in. It had 10,000 miles on the odometer.
- Shelby American worked on the original moon buggy for NASA, in the same shop as its go-faster Mustang models. However, according to the shop foreman, the security on the opposite side of the compound was tight. Shelby American actually never learned whether or not their moon buggy was the one that made it to the moon!
- The first Mustang with a turbo wasn’t one with EcoBoost power, but rather developed in conjunction with Garrett Turbos in 1979! The model used a 2.3-liter four-cylinder engine and turbocharger that produced 132 horsepower. Neat.
- Just a few years before the first turbocharged Mustang, Ford established another important milestone, the least powerful Mustang. In 1975, in Mustang II-guise, its four-cylinder engine produced just 87 horsepower. That’s 8.73563218391 times less than the current GT500’s 760 horsepower rating.
- Ford actually built two mid-engine Mustang concepts. The first came in 1962 and was called the Mustang 1. The second came in 1968 and was called the Mustang Mach II. Neither, as you can guess, ever made production. Though we do wonder what the pony car would look like with a mid-engine setup…
- Lastly, the Mustang was accidentally leaked way before anyone was supposed to know about it. The story goes that Henry Ford II’s nephew took the prototype convertible Mustang out for a drive through Detroit. He then left it in a parking garage where an intrepid photographer snapped the first few pictures of the car. It later was printed in the city’s newspapers.
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