Muscle Memories: 15 Ford Cars That Defined a Generation

1973 Ford Falcon XB GT

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1973 Ford Falcon XB GT
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It's the end of an era at Ford Motor Co. The American carmaker that helped change history announced recently that it will no longer include passenger cars in its North American offerings, with the exception of one legendary model — the Mustang. The iconic sports car survived the cutbacks (cue a collective sigh of relief from muscle-car lovers far and wide). With Ford ending its run as a manufacturer of passenger vehicles, here's a look at some of the most unforgettable and iconic muscle cars ever produced by the company, including its many legendary Mustangs from over the years.

1955 Ford Thunderbird Convertible (6 of 10)
1955 Ford Thunderbird Convertible (6 of 10) by Randy von Liski (CC BY-NC-ND)


Incredibly powerful for its era, the 1955 Thunderbird is one of the most unforgettable muscle cars produced by Ford. Equipped with a Holley four-barrel carburetor and dual exhausts, it had 193 horsepower at 4,400 rpm. The Thunderbird also had a significant glam factor, suitable for A-list celebrities. The first two-seater from Ford since 1938, the 1955 model included fender skirts and a removable fiberglass top, though a fabric convertible top was a commonly requested option. The car went on sale in October 1954, and within 10 days 3,500 orders were placed. Ford apparently hadn't expected such instant success; the company had only planned to make 10,000, but by year's end sold 16,155.

1965 Ford Galaxie 500 XL
1965 Ford Galaxie 500 XL by Chad Horwedel (CC BY-NC-ND)


A race car known for its stellar suspension and shocks (which later became standard on race cars), the 1965 Ford Galaxie was also memorable thanks to its stunning lines, solid motor, and handling. In 1964, the Galaxie featured an entirely new design that included stacked dual headlights, a new instrument panel, and a two-way key system for valet-parking purposes. The 1965 model has become a hot commodity among collectors, making having one something of a status symbol.

F1 Lotus 49 (early version)
F1 Lotus 49 (early version) by Deep silence (CC BY-SA)


A Formula One racing car created by Colin Chapman and Maurice Philippe for the 1967 F1 season, the Lotus 49 Ford-Cosworth was a stunning vehicle with a powerful motor and low-to-the-ground build. It became one of the top ranked Ford muscle cars and was one of the first F1 cars to use a stressed-member drivetrain, which reduced weight, an approach that became widely copied.

1969 Ford Capri
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The 1969 Ford Capri was a fastback coupe designed by Philip T. Clark, who was also part of the Mustang design team. Though the car was made with mechanical components from the Mk2 Ford Cortina, it was conceived to be the European equivalent of the Ford Mustang. Adding to the Capri's unique factor, it was incredibly simple to modify, making it a muscle-car hobbyist's dream come true.

1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet
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A Mustang with a 428 cubic-inch V8 capable of 335 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque, the 1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet is one of the (if not the) most powerful early Mustang. The 1969 Cobra Jet is said to have matched even the 1970 Boss 302 Trans Am, which was built for the track, in its quickness. Both vehicles could go from zero to 60 in a mere 5.5 seconds. The 1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet reached a top speed of 121 mph and included numerous visual enhancements such a matte-black hood treatment with hood pins, hood scoop, chrome pop-open gas cap, and chrome exhaust tips.

1969 Ford Talladega
1969 Ford Talladega by Michel Curi (CC BY)


A muscle car produced by Ford during the first few weeks of 1969, the Talladega was named for the Talladega Superspeedway, which opened in 1969. A more aerodynamic take on the Torino and Fairlane Cobra, the Talladega was created for NASCAR racing with the goal of making Ford more competitive. However, a small number of the cars were sold to the public as well. To make the Talladega more aerodynamic, it had a sleeker front section. The production vehicles also included power steering, power brakes, color-keyed racing mirrors and argent styled steel wheels.

1970 Ford Torino Cobra
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The 1970 Ford Torino Cobra is a vehicle that had style and attitude. The standard engine was a 429 4V that delivered a 360 horsepower rating. For $164 more buyers could add 11.3:1 compression, more cam, and a bigger carb, which resulted in 370 horsepower. And for those who paid $229, a shaker hood scoop was thrown in. Ford made just 7,675 of the Torino Cobras during its debut year. But the model returned in 1971 with minor trim changes.

1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351
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A car with a 351 cubic-inch V8, known for its 330 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque, the 1971 Ford Mustang was a high-performance hit. However, the car's new appearance was not as universally admired. Still, muscle-car fans were able to set that aside when considering the Mustang Boss 351's ability to go from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds, and a quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 100.6 mph. Described by some as being one of the last true muscle cars, just 1,806 Ford Mustang Boss 351s were built in 1971. It was the only year the car was produced.

1973 Ford Falcon XB GT
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The fact that Mad Max drove this vehicle may be lost on younger generations of moviegoers, but its cool factor isn't just tied to its silver screen fame. The Ford Falcon XB GT is legendary for many reasons, its appearance chief among them. The car is a combination of a 1970 Torino Cobra and a 1973 Mustang Fastback. Its new front end and new twin-scoop hood were what made it so desirable, according to muscle car experts. It also had a standard 351 Cleveland, which cranked out 300 horsepower. The XB was the most popular GT model made by Ford with a total of 2,899 sold.

2001 Mustang Bullitt
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Steve McQueen's 1968 film "Bullitt" featured the cooler-than-cool actor speeding around San Francisco in a Highland Green Mustang GT. In recognition of that iconic car, Ford launched the officially named Bullitt version of the Mustang in 2001. Based on the 2001 Mustang GT, the limited-production Bullitt featured a 4.6-liter V-8 tweaked for better airflow and power, including a cast-aluminum intake, twin 57-millimeter bore throttle body, and high-flow mufflers. There were also special exterior enhancements and interior touches meant to capture the spirit of the movie car. Fewer than 6,000 were produced.

2003 Mustang Mach 1
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Following on the heels 2001 Mustang Bullitt's success, Ford created another "Living Legend" specialty Mustang in 2003, reintroducing the Mach 1 model. A modern Mustang, it incorporated many Ford muscle-car style cues that could be traced back to the 1960s. The Mach 1's shaker hood scoop for instance, was modeled after the car's original shaker hood. The 2003 version however, could go from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, and run the quarter-mile in 13.88 seconds at 101.9 mph.

2003 SVT Mustang Cobra
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A car that has been described as an entirely new level of power for the Mustang, the SVT Mustang Cobra was built by Ford's Special Vehicle Team. Designed to be a high-performance version of the Mustang, above the Mustang GT and the Mach 1 models, the SVT Mustang Cobra's 4.6-liter V8 featured 390 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. Though its appearance may not have been as intimidating as some would have liked, it was a serious muscle car capable of 13.1-second quarter mile runs.

2007 Shelby GT500
2007 Shelby GT500 by Chad Horwedel (CC BY-NC-ND)

2007 SHELBY GT500

The first Mustang to be given the Shelby name in four decades, the GT500 featured a 500-horse supercharged 5.4-liter V8 and 480 pound-feet of torque. A car that Ford's Special Vehicle Team had originally engineered to be the all new SVT Mustang Cobra, it instead came to market as the 2007 Ford Shelby GT500. This modern Shelby made a splash in the muscle-car world thanks to its styling, (which mirrored the classic version) and its power, which was previously not available in a factory-built Mustang.

2011 Mustang GT California Special
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Designed to pay homage to the limited-edition Mustang of the same name from 1968, the 2011 version combined classic "Shelby" style and a powerful new DOHC V8 capable of 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque. A car that can go from zero to 60 in 4.3 seconds and race a quarter-mile in 12.8 seconds, some argue the GT California Special will go down in history as one of the fastest Mustangs ever made.

2016 Shelby GT350R
2016 Shelby GT350R by Chad Horwedel (CC BY-NC-ND)

2016 SHELBY GT350R

Also described by muscle-car experts as one of the best Mustangs ever made (no small claim to fame), the 2016 Shelby GT350R is also said to be one of the world's top performance cars. Noteworthy design developments on this iteration of the legendary muscle car include its flat-plane crank V8, and plenty of carbon fiber. The GT350R goes from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds and has recorded top speeds of 119.6 mph, which is thanks to its 472 horsepower.