The greatest Mustangs from six generations of the legendary pony car.
The Ford Mustang holds a special place in automotive history. Not only is it one of, or perhaps the most, storied of all muscle cars, it transcends that narrow label to rank among the most iconic American cars of all time. Though there have certainly been low points for the Mustang, we’re looking at you Mustang II, the highs have far outnumbered them. Our run down of the top ten Mustangs of all time collects the fastest and the coolest from across six generations.
The very first Mustang certainly wasn’t the fastest, but boy did it have the looks. Commonly known as the 64 ½ model, the Mustang released prior to the beginning of the model year change over in 1964. The car was an unexpected hit for Ford, who’d projected around 100,000 units to be sold in the first year. The final number crested 300,000. The base engine was a meager 101 horsepower inline-six, but two V8s, a 260 CID V8 (164 hp) and a 289 CID V8 (210hp), were also available options.
The following year was when the Mustang got fast and, in the process, shed some of its Ford Falcon roots. Ford and Lee Iacocca asked Carroll Shelby to tune up their new car for the SCCA (Sports Car Club of America). The result was the racing-focused Shelby GT350 R, which took the 289 CID V8 and tuned it up to 306 horsepower while also reconfiguring the suspension and other components to allow this Mustang to comfortably maintain up to 130mph.
Not content to rest on their laurels, Ford and Shelby took another crack at the Mustang in 1967 with the new Shelby GT500. This Mustang was graced with a 428 CID big block V8. Less track focused than the prior GT350, the GT500 added creature comforts to appeal to a wider car buying audience. You’ll remember this Mustang as “Elenor” from the Nic Cage remake of Gone in 60 Seconds.
The Boss 429 is today a highly regraded and sought after collector’s car owning to its rarity and historical significance. Back in 1969, Ford wanted to homologate a new V8 for NASCAR. The Boss 429 would carry a four-barrel 429 CID V8 thundering out a full 375 horsepower. So large was the 429 engine, that Ford called in the custom engineers at Kar Kraft to figure out how get it to fit, ultimately accomplished by moving the battery to the trunk and altering the front shock towers to accommodate the big block V8. These fast backed Mustangs were also given a distinctive look with a new front splitter, rear fender vents, and prominent hood scoop. Just 859 Boss 429s were built in 1969.
Though the Mach 1 debuted in 1969, it’s the ’71 model year that’s best remembered thanks to the thoroughgoing revamp it received that year. The new look include a new more rectilinear look with squared-off headlight housings and a new honeycomb grille. A sportier suspension was complimented by the 429 Cobra Jet V8, one of four V8 options. This car played “Elenor” in the original 1974 version of Gone in 60 Seconds.
Skipping the Mustang II doldrums, we leap forward to the Fox-body Mustang, and specifically the SVO form 1984. This was the first project for the then new Special Vehicles Operation group. Under the hood was a 2.3L turbocharged four-cylinder making 175 horsepower (shades of today’s EcoBoost Mustang). That number would be revised up to 205 horsepower the following year, not too shabby for the malaise era. The SVO carried funky dual rear wings, upgrades to the suspension and steering, and a computer to regulate ignition and fuel.
Coming at the tail end of the Fox-body era, the SVT Cobra R was an early project for Ford’s SVT (Special Vehicle Team). The car sported a 5.0L V8 making 235 horsepower. The R versions (R for racing) of the SVT Cobra went to considerable lengths to save weight, including deleting the AC, rear seats, power windows, radio and speakers, and even the fog lamps.
Midway through the fourth generation came a new SVT Cobra R, this time with a naturally aspirated 5.4L V8 pumping out 385 horsepower. Performance add-ons included Brembo brakes, Bilstein shocks, and a hydromechanical differential. The car looked the part of a track monster with its accentuated fenders and massive rear wing.
The original Bullitt Mustang, a 1968 fastback 309 GT painted in Highland Green, was made famous by Steve McQueen’s police thriller of the same name. The signature car chase through the streets of San Francisco is among the greatest ever put to film and made an instant classic of the green fastback Mustang. In 2008, Ford released a new Bullitt Mustang, first with a 4.6L V8 which was followed by an even more robust 5.0L Coyote V8 in 2011. The modern version was basically a Mustang GT in Highland Green (or black for who knows why) with its badges deleted. Even so, the car looked like a movie star.
This last entry ended up a tie spanning two generations because we simply couldn’t decide which modern Shelby we loved more. In the fifth generation Mustang, Ford returned to the Shelby name with the new Shelby GT500. The car brought the Mustang to new heights with its 5.4L Trinity V8 boasting 622 horsepower and a Tremec six-speed manual channeling power to an all-carbon fiber driveshaft. The 2013 Shelby GT500 could make the sprint from zero to sixty in just 3.5 seconds. For the sixth generation, the Shelby Cobra got a new engine, a 5.2L V8 with a mind bending 760 horsepower and a top speed of 180 mph.
Boss 302 is much more iconic than the 429. Specifically set up to race trans am against Camaro, Cuda, challenger and the American motors Rebel/AMX. This car was set up specifically for this race series