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The Ten Best Ford Mustangs Of All Time

by Ryan ZumMallen on

We may be only weeks away from seeing the new 2015 Ford Mustang, the latest iteration of the vehicle that fifty years ago launched the pony car segment and established a new pedigree for American sports cars. Since then, the Mustang has been reborn several times, and countless special models have hit U.S. streets in an effort to appeal to all tastes. With that in mind, autoMedia.com has gone back in time to highlight the ten best Mustang models ever in celebration of the iconic coupe.

1965 Mustang: An instant success, the 1965 Ford Mustang debuted at the New York World’s Fair and sold 22,000 examples on opening weekend. The Mustang looked great, offered four engine choices with up to 271 horsepower and came in coupe or convertible. It offered the aura of a sports car for a paltry $2,368 – cheap, even at that time – which quickly encouraged buyers to juice them up in every way imaginable, a theme that would become bread and butter for the Mustang. The success of the Mustang over the past 50 years was never a surprise, not after the unbridled enthusiasm that surrounded the car way back in 1964.
   
1965 Shelby GT350: The original Mustang was essentially a blank slate, ready for whatever level of performance you were willing to put into it. That made it perfect for none other than Carroll Shelby, who unleashed a monster on the world in the GT350 that brought the Mustang to life and backed up the car’s sporty promise. Muscle bumped up to 306 horsepower from the 289 V8 engine thanks to a high-riser intake manifold and welded-tube headers, mated to a four-speed manual transmission and limited slip differential. Most impressive, though, was how it handled itself in the twisties. Shelby essentially created a Mustang race car for the street, with a front anti-roll bar and adjustable shock absorbers that partnered with low-pro Goodyear tires to make the GT350 corner like mad.
   
1969 Mustang Boss 429: A new body style got an injection of attitude with the Mustang Mach 1, Boss 302 and Boss 429 models. The Mach 1 was a beast with the introduction of the 335 horsepower Cobra Jet engine, and the Boss 302 specialized in handling just as the GT350 before it. But the really baddie was the Boss 429, which used a monstrous 375 horsepower V8 engine. This is one of the early Mustangs that drove home its muscle car identity and took the pony car wars to a new level. Ford made just over 1,350 examples of the Boss 429 in 1969 and 1970, and well-preserved cars today can easily fetch over $200,000 at auction.
   
1978 Mustang King Cobra: As the country plunged into a recession and fuel frenzy, the Mustang plunged along with it. The 1974 Mustang II was a shell of the now famous model, smaller and constricted by a weak engine. Still, Ford decided that if they couldn't build a muscle car, they would build a car that looked like it had muscle. Basically, a poser. The 1978 Mustang King Cobra looked goofy, especially with its loud double stripe, and only sported 139 horsepower from the 302 cubic-inch V8 engine. But! The good news is that the handling and suspension were excellent for the time, making the King Cobra a capable performer. It may not be perfect, or even very good, but the 1978 King Cobra saved the Mustang while other pony cars flared out.
   
1986 Mustang SVO: With the Mustang once again facing the death sentence from executives, engineers set out to build an advanced performance pony car with the latest technology. Instead of the famous 5.0L V8, they used the turbocharged 2.3L four-cylinder with multi-port fuel injection and an intercooler – both firsts for the Mustang. That helped keep weight down, and assisted the improved live axle, Kony shocks and anti-roll bar that made the Mustang SVO a capable handler. It debuted in 1984, but the 1986 Mustang SVO looked better and finally began selling. Ford still wanted to kill the Mustang, but the 1986 SVO took steps in a new direction that began to re-spark consumer interest and ultimately kept the pony car alive.
   
1993 Mustang SVT Cobra: Freed from the suffocating restrictions of the Malaise Era, and armed with new technology proven in the SVO, Ford moved ahead with plans for an exclamation point model before they designed a new Mustang. To head the project, they created the Special Vehicles Team, which today is responsible for all kinds of Ford projects. The 1993 SVT Cobra took the 5.0L V8 in the Mustang GT and added all sorts of lightweight parts, plus bigger fuel injectors and different design to boost horsepower up to 235. This was not the track star that the GT350 and SVO before it were, with a softer suspension built for cruising instead of corners. But the 1993 SVT Cobra, like the original Mustang, became a template for owners to customize as they wished and essentially launched the modern aftermarket culture with an almost infinite amount of parts and upgrades to choose from. It helped bring Mustang culture back to new heights in the process.
   
2000 Cobra R: Finally, Ford went all out on the performance capability of the Mustang. What resulted was a racecar that could be driven on the street, if you insisted, and made no other concessions at all. No radio, no air conditioning, no backseats. The 2000 Cobra R was 3,580 lbs. of muscle and anti-roll bars that made it a rocket around a track, armed with 385 raucous horsepower and 385 lb.-ft of torque from the 5.4L V8 engine. It came in striking red paint and a body kit that, while eccentric enough to be distasteful if it wasn’t so fast, looked appropriate considering what you could do with the 2000 Cobra R. Ford only built 300, but they each made a clear statement that the Mustang was not only back for good – it was capable of unbelievable performance.
   
2001 Mustang Bullitt: With interest in the Mustang at an all-time high, Ford decided to pay homage to a piece of pop culture that launched the car into immortality way back when. The move was called Bullitt, of course, starring Steve McQueen as the cop who doesn't like rules and does burnouts in the coolest Mustang ever while out-running bad guys. It took Ford 33 years to say thanks, but they did it in style with the 2001 Ford Mustang Bullitt. The car looked cool enough with its classic green paint and powdered black 17-inch alloy wheels, but it also got better under the skin. Thicker rear sway bars and SVT Cobra brakes made it capably quick, while the 4.6L V8 got an aluminum intake manifold to reach 265 horsepower and 305 lb.-ft of torque readily available at your toes. The 2008 Bullitt is probably the better car, but the 2001 Bullitt made it possible and gave an American icon and Mustang lover his proper due.
   
2012 Mustang Boss 302: Like its older brother 42 years earlier, the 2012 Mustang Boss 302 intended to prove the capability of the pony car when all the latest research and technology were poured inside. This one, however, excelled as both a powerful dragster and a corner carver, with 444 horsepower from the V8 engine and 0-60mph runs in just 4.3 seconds. What’s more, it somehow took the outdated live rear axle to new heights thanks to stiffer springs and adjustable shock absorbers on 19-inch Pirelli P Zero tires. Steering is fantastic, brakes are 14-inch vented Brembos. Somehow, it’s agile as a fox and is available with a limited-slip diff and Recaro seats for less than $2,000 extra. Best Mustang ever? Maybe. At worst, it proves that muscle cars can be just as nimble as their Euro counterparts for much less cost.
   
2013 Shelby GT500: Muscle cars are about more than just power, but sometimes, it’s worth wondering what it would be like if they weren’t. Ford answered that question with the 2013 Shelby GT500, which packs an incredible 662 horsepower into its supercharged 5.8L V8 engine and runs from 0-60mph in just 3.5 seconds – when it can manage to avoid smoking the tires, that is. At the heart of the project was, you guessed it, SVT, which bored out the cylinders to 93.5mm and boosted the supercharged to 14.0psi. The look is extreme and the performance is even more stunning, a true homage to what the Mustang always represented: A no compromises sports car. The original 1965 Mustang may have promised more than it delivered, but the point was never to deliver everything with that car. The point was to make anything seem possible. The 2013 Shelby GT500 made it so, and has our mouths watering in anticipation for the 2015 Mustang. Fifty years, ten cars, and a whole lot more where that came from.

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