But the Mustang story is far from over.
The problem with coming up with a list of the greatest Ford Mustangs is that you could quickly end up with a book's worth. Instead, we've got around 1,200 words to highlight the highlights. We'll assume the 1965 Ford Mustang as a given as it changed the face of the automotive industry while inventing a whole new car segment. Over the decades, the Mustang has endured with both casual drivers and hardcore enthusiasts alike and generated some incredible performance versions. It's also one of the most modified cars on the road, whether for drag racing, track days, or autocross, and it routinely records the best sales globally of any sports car. Not bad for a small vehicle Ford used to market as a "secretary's car" and Carroll Shelby swore couldn't be turned into a race car.
The K-Code Hi-Po 289 fastback model was the first Mustang to hit the market with real muscle. It still wasn't hitting the spot with male enthusiasts, though. It was 1965, so advertising to women as if they were the lesser sex was still a thing. But it was a man with a girl's name that changed the game, and that was Carroll Shelby. He took a batch of 1965 K-code fastbacks and modified them to dominate the Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) B Production class. He built 36 1965 GT350R cars for competition and 504 almost identical street 1965 GT350 units. The Mustang was already a success in sales, but the GT350 models were essential in turning the car into a legend. It went from having mass appeal to having mass appeal and racing credibility.
Shelby reworked the Mustang in just about every way to make it a race car, and in 1965, 306 horsepower was a lot. To deal with that and be so competitive, the car needed to be stiff, ride on Koni shocks, have upgraded brakes, faster steering with better geometry, and a one-inch anti-roll bar controlling the front suspension.
Not every Mustang, or every generation of Mustang, is a great one. In 1967, the Mustang was being whipped by Mopars and Chevys at traffic lights all over the US. Tasca Ford in Providence, Rhode Island, stepped up to the plate and solved the S-Code 390 model's power issues. They took out the 390 V8 and replaced it with a modified 428 Police Interceptor engine using, amongst other spare parts, 427-style heads and a 390 GT cam. Ford took notice and used the recipe, and its own parts bin, to build the Cobra Jet and added a few extra items like its first ram air system. It was a street-legal racer, and Ford, reportedly at the time, deliberately under-rated the engine as a bit of gamesmanship with the National Hot Rod Association's drag racing classes as well as insurance companies. With a few choice additions, like slick tires and a traction bar, the Cobra Jet was capable of running 11.49-second quarter-miles. Ford advertised the 1968 Cobra Jet (we'll have none of that "and a half" business here) as having 335 hp, but in reality, tuners were measuring it at around 410 hp stock.
Some bad decisions hurt the Mustang, and successive oil crises hurt muscle cars in general. It took the technology a long time to catch up with emissions regulations and make good power with relative ease again. The 1982 Mustang GT 5.0L HO brought the horsepower wars back and resurrected the GT badge that's still with us today. On a longer list, we would be talking about that more and how the Fox-body platform turned the Mustang into a tuner car with few equals. The 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra R ended the Foxbody era by being one of the most desirable factory Mustangs out there. Ford's Special Vehicle Team (SVT) went nuts to create a road-legal racer by deleting anything that made the Mustang comfortable, including the rear seat, stiffening the chassis, and putting massive brakes on each corner. In fact, the brakes were snuck past the bean counters to be installed at the cost of $2,100 per vehicle. The 5.0-liter V8 was gently warmed to make 235 hp at 4,600 rpm and 280 lb-ft of torque. A total of 107 were made to sell to racers. However, many were snagged by collectors.
The SN95 generation picked up where the Fox body platform left off, and its 2003 swan song was a stunning piece of kit. The Mustang still had solid axle suspension, so for the SVT Cobra Terminator, the team designed a bolt-on compact modular independent rear suspension, but we're burying the lead here. Forced induction was still a rarity on factory cars at the turn of the century, but Ford SVT foreshadowed the craziness on offer today by strapping an Eaton supercharger to the 32-valve 4.6-liter V8 engine. A total of 390 horsepower and 390 lb-ft of torque make the 19,140 Terminator Cobras one of the most sought-after RAD-era cars in the US.
History repeating itself until we learn from it usually has negative connotations - for example, the rise of fascist leaders, invading the Middle East, economic bubbles, and the fashion for high-waisted pants. However, the 2015-2020 Ford Shelby GT350/GT350R shows that history repeating isn't always a bad thing. Ford and Shelby America resurrected the Mustang GT350 and 350R in 2015 with sophisticated brakes and suspension and a Ferrari-esque 526-hp flat-plane crank V8 with a screaming 8000 rpm redline. The road-going version went on sale for $50,000, which was a steal. Because the new generation already had independent rear suspension, it rode properly, and to this day is one of the finest driver's cars we've piloted.
We look forward to comments from the Luddites below, but the Mach-E crossover is a warm-up for the Mustang coupe going electric, and the GT Performance's 480 hp and 634 lb-ft of torque is no joke. It'll zip to 60 mph in 3.5 seconds, keeping up with a modern Shelby GT500 all the way. The power is instant and addictive, and the Mach-E GT Performance is no slouch in the corners, either. It's a fun car to hammer around, and for added enjoyment, it's a great troll-mobile for traffic-light racing with tuners. Love it, hate it, or shrug your shoulders at it; this is the most important Mustang in years. It's preparing us for the massive oncoming shift in drivetrain technology.
The most powerful Mustang to hit the streets so far is the Ford Mustang Shelby GT500. Its supercharged 5.2-liter Predator V8 generated 760 horsepower and 625 lb-ft of torque through a seven-speed Tremec dual-clutch automatic transmission. That might annoy the purists, but the sub-3.5-second 0-60 mph renders all discussion moot. And that's before you get to its real purpose. It's all about going fast and, in a straight line, the GT500 is an animal. But when you pound it into a corner, it becomes a beast. The grip is relentless, the handling is sour-lemon sharp, and it's everything a Shelby Mustang should be - but comfortable to drive around town.