15 Best Mustangs of All Time

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Classic Ford Mustang
Photo credit: Best Mustangs of All Time by Chad Horwedel (CC BY-NC-ND)

From it growling engine to its unmistakable body, the Mustang is arguably the most iconic car in American history. Six generations of Mustangs have rolled off the line in almost as many decades since the first pony car entered America's imagination in 1964. Over the years, the brand has had its icons and failures, but one thing has never changed: the Mustang is America's muscle car. And now it seems the Mustang will be the last remaining passenger car produced by Ford for North America, according to the American automaker. Here's a roundup of the best of the brand.
Original 1964 Ford Mustang
Photo credit: J2R/istockphoto

In 1964, the automotive world underwent a revolution that would change the history of American automobiles for the next half a century and beyond. That year, the Ford Motor Co. introduced the original Mustang pony car. The run of the original Mustang lasted less than five months, but its impact would endure through the ages. Legendary Ford executive Lee Iacocca imagined the vehicle — a small and accessible performance car for the everyman — in the wake of the Edsel disaster. On April 16, 1964, the night before the World's Fair, the company bombarded the airwaves with publicity for Iacocca's creation. Ford sold 22,000 Mustangs the very first day at a cost of $2,368 each.
Shelby GT350
Photo credit: Sicnag/wikipedia.org

Pioneering automotive designer and engineer Carroll Shelby made his mark on the Mustang brand years before he would perfect the Shelby model with the GT500. The year was 1965 when the Mustang earned the status of legend in the world of performance automobiles. That year, Shelby designed a Mustang that was a road car built for racing. A variant of the Mustang Fastback, the Shelby GT350 would become one of Ford's most successful cars under the Mustang brand.
Shelby GT500
Photo credit: Alan_Lagadu/istockphoto

In terms of both style and performance, the Shelby came of age in 1967. That's the year that the GT500 debuted, and Carroll Shelby himself would later reflect on the car as one of his greatest prides. Based on the same engine that the Shelby racing team used to sweep the top three spots at Le Mans, it was the first of its kind to come with a roll bar.
California Special
Photo credit: Wiki righter/wikipedia.org

One of the earliest limited edition Mustangs, the California Special was Michigan born but 100 percent West Coast in spirit. First produced in 1968, this beauty was the brainchild of a Southern California sales manager who headed a group of Golden State Mustang dealers who wanted a car to call their own. The prototype for this classic was given the green light by legendary automan Lee Iacocca himself.
The Bullitt
Photo credit: The Bullitt by Brendan Rankin (CC BY-NC-ND)

The 1968 police thriller "Bullitt" featured Steve McQueen as the lead actor — but the real star of the show was the Mustang he made famous. There were actually two Mustang Fastback models with modified engines featured in the film, but one was so heavily damaged it was beyond repair. The other would forever be known as the Bullitt, one of the most iconic Mustangs in history, and Mustang would give it several reboots decades after the movie dazzled audiences.
Boss 302
Photo credit: Bull-Doser/wikipedia.org

In the history of American muscle cars, few names ring out louder than Boss 302. The genesis of the vaunted Mustang Boss 302 is legendary. In order to race a car with its new 302-cubic-inch engine in the Trans-Am series, Mustang had to offer a production version of that car. Mustang's new competitor, the Chevy Camaro, had done just that and won the Trans-Am series in 1968. Not to be outdone, Mustang responded in kind with the roaring Boss 302.
Mach 1
Photo credit: Snap2Art_RF/istockphoto

When the world met the 1969 Mustang Mach 1, it instantly fell in love. The grill-heavy beast stayed in production for nearly a decade. Although it offered more performance options than its predecessors, it came standard with a V8 that was capable of generating 250 horsepower. The arrival of the Mach 1 spelled the beginning of the end of the GTs that came before, and it remained nearly unchanged through 1978.
Boss 429
Photo credit: CJ DUB/wikipedia.org

Like the Boss 302, the Boss 429 was born out of necessity as it pertains to race series entry rules. In order to compete in NASCAR, Mustang had to build 500 examples of the car it planned to race. Although it never actually competed in NASCAR, the Mustang with the 429-cubic-inch engine, which could crank out 325 horsepower, did go down in history as one of the greatest street cars ever built.
Cobra II
Photo credit: Bull-Doser/wikipedia.org

One of the biggest factors in the decline of the Mach 1 was the arrival of the uber-popular Cobra II in 1976. The model reflected changing times in the automotive world. The original Mustang pony cars had been phased out in 1973, which contributed to the decline of the Mustang brand during the rise of Mustang's second-generation line. In order to stoke a resurgence, and in reaction to energy insecurity in the era of the oil embargo, Ford unleashed the Cobra II, which not only was reminiscent of the early GTs, but also guzzled less gas than its predecessors.
1979 Pace Car
Photo credit: Nick Ares/wikipedia.org

In 1979, the Mustang was honored as the official pace car for the 63rd Indianapolis 500. Ford debuted a special car just for the occasion, and soon after, the company made a nearly exact replica of its Indy Pace Car available to the public at a base price of $9,012. A long-time favorite among drivers and collectors alike, it remains a cult classic in Mustang world.
SVO
Photo credit: Jim Ramsey/wikipedia.org

The original prototypes for the 1984 Ford Mustang SVO were built in 1982 under the direction of a collection of gurus from the racing world known as Special Vehicles Operation (SVO). Since Ford was interested in launching Mustangs as competition vehicles once again, the SVO was built with a focus on handling, thanks to big wheels, big brakes and advanced struts and shocks.
SVT Cobra
Photo credit: Gaschwald/istockphoto

The Cobra is a survivor, and different models of snakes slithered their way through the 1970s, '80s and into the '90s. But it wasn't until 1993 that the Cobra re-emerged as a pony car. Built under the direction of Ford's Special Vehicle Team, the division that bears the '93 Cobra's acronym, the SVT Cobra was powerful and limited, built in small quantities that were consumed mostly by racers and collectors.
The Terminator
Photo credit: TJKula/wikipedia.org

The true name of the Mustang known as the Terminator is the 2003 SVT Cobra. It earned its nickname and its place in history from its raw power and impressive muscle. Its 390-horsepower engine actually tested at 425. The Terminator's engine is among the most powerful in Mustang history and one of the toughest ever to appear in a mainstream car.
2013 Boss 302
Photo credit: 2013 Boss 302 by Sicnag (CC BY)

Mustang is known for breathing new life into old favorites, and that's exactly what happened in 2013 when Ford introduced a new, and some would argue improved, Boss 302. There was actually a 2012 model that incorporated the same engine, but the 2013 model featured a host of amazing cosmetic upgrades, not the least of which were reflective racing stripes and a new paint finish.
2013 Shelby GT500
Photo credit: tomeng/istockphoto

2013 was a banner year for Mustang fans, who witnessed the rebirth of another classic favorite: the Shelby GT500. Thanks to the arrival of giant Hellcat engines, the 2013 model is not the biggest, meanest muscle car on the block — but it's close. The beast puts out an impressive 662 horsepower.

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