Few, if any, cars have as a loyal a fan base as the Ford Mustang. Many automotive experts liken the fans of Mustangs to a cult because of their unbridled passion for the muscle car. Each new version of the Mustang sends fans of the car into overdrive. They start scoping out the specs, analyzing the strength of the engine, and fussing over new features.
Of course, the only thing Mustang fans love more than a new version of the car are vintage Mustangs from the 1960s and 70s. Endless debates rage about which is the best Mustang of all-time. Is it the King Cobra? The Boss 429? The Mach 1? We have our own opinions, of course, and offer the following list of the 10 best Mustangs of all-time.
10. 2008 Mustang Bullitt
The 2008 Mustang unleashed by Ford was meant as a tribute to the classic 1968 movie Bullitt on its 40th anniversary. In the movie, actor Steve McQueen drives a Ford Mustang GT Fastback in what is arguably the best car chase in cinematic history. Ford sought to honor the movie and its legacy in 2008 by issuing a signature Mustang, complete with the same dark green paint and black wheels as the one featured in the movie. The gas cover on the 2008 Mustang is even inscribed with the word “Bullitt” on it.
The retro styling of the 2008 edition, as well as a powerful V8 engine and oversized wheels make this car a true collector’s item. It’s truly a worthy edition to the Mustang canon. Steve McQueen himself would have been proud to get behind the wheel of this car.
9. 1984 Mustang SVO
The 1980s were not a great decade for the Mustang — or Ford for that matter. Many of the Mustangs produced in the 80s lacked the style and appeal of the classic 60s and 70s models. Critics went so far as to claim that Ford had stopped making Mustangs that looked like Mustangs. It’s hard to argue with that statement.
However, one Mustang worth mentioning is the 1984 Mustang SVO. Admittedly, this is not the coolest looking Mustang on this list, but deserves a nod because of its innovative engine, notably the forced induction system. The lighter engine in the SVO provided better handling and a superior powertrain.
The ’84 SVO was also the first time a Mustang was built under Ford’s new “Special Vehicle Operations” unit, an initiative started in 1981 to design and develop performance parts and accessories for the company’s racing division. The forced induction system paved the way for a turbocharged EcoBoost four-cylinder engine in future Mustangs. Purely for its innovations, the 1984 Mustang SVO makes the list.
8. 2000 Cobra R
Mustangs built since the turn of the Millennium have been criticized for being soft around the corners and lacking the muscular look of vintage models from the past. That criticism could certainly be leveled at the 2000 Cobra R that Ford used to usher in the 2000s. However, the softer exterior of the Cobra R masks a big, powerful engine underneath the hood — an engine that produces major power, torque, and is driven by superior racing technology.
Unsurprisingly, the Cobra R Mustang has become a favorite vehicle of street racers and is even featured in the Fast & Furious films. Add in a super high spoiler and aggressive body kit, and you’ve got the makings for a true monster racer. Other cool features of the Cobra R include no rear seats, special shocks and springs, Recaro racing seats, and clamp down brakes. Don’t let people tell you this car is “soft,” because it’s actually a beast.
7. 1968 California Special
The California Special is a Mustang for diehard collectors. In 1968, auto dealers in the Golden State convinced Ford to create a special version of the Mustang specifically for their sun-drenched state. Called the GT California Special, the car borrowed heavily from elements of the earlier Shelby Mustangs. The California Special looked sportier and drove faster than previous Mustangs. Many reviewers refer to the California Special as a hybrid between a regular Mustang and a Shelby.
Today, the California Special Mustang is in high demand as so few of these cars were produced. They are highly sought after by collectors and sell at auction for prices in excess of $500,000. In 2007, Ford began selling the GT California Special as an exterior upgrade package on the Mustangs it produced. Since then, many different iterations of the California Special have been offered, but it is the original 1968 version that every Mustang lover wants to get their hands on.
6. 1978 King Cobra
The 1978 Mustang King Cobra is a car that many people feel epitomizes the 1970s. People who prefer this model of Mustang like everything about the car – from the then-innovative hood decal to the metal-spoked wheels and dash inserts. Available only in a T-top and with a V8 engine under the hood, this car has style and power in equal measure.
Some people knock this version of the Mustang for being based on the much maligned “Mustang II” that came out in 1976, but the King Cobra dramatically improved on that model. Drivers love the open T-top and claim it provides a definitive 70s look. The King Cobra remains one of the top selling Mustangs of all-time, and a favorite of Mustang purists everywhere.
5. 1964 Mustang 289
This is the original Mustang, and the car that started the craze back in 1964. The convertible version of the 1964 Mustang 289 was an immediate hit with the public. In fact, it helped revolutionize the automotive industry in the mid-1960s. Buyers loved the 289’s V8 engine. The style of the car perfectly captured the spirit of the open road and American independence.
When engineers at Ford announced plans to put a powerful V8 engine into the relatively small body of a pony car, people thought they were nuts. But there is no denying the results. The 1964 Mustang 289 was fast, agile, and sexy. In other words, it was everything people love about cars. This original Mustang kicked off the pony car craze that continues to this day, and it gave Ford a signature car unlike any other on the market.
4. 1971 Mustang Mach 1
The 1971 Mustang Mach 1 is the car featured in the original 1974 movie Gone In 60 Seconds and is a classic Mustang that is highly coveted by collectors worldwide. The Mach 1 offers a powerful V8 engine and a four-speed manual transmission that makes this car super fun to drive. Considered a more luxurious model of Mustang when it debuted in 1971, the Mach 1 quickly developed a rabid fan base and the cult surrounding this car has only grown with time. This two door car is sleek and powerful looking at the same time, and boasts superior controls and handling. The perfect car to peel out on or, as was the case in Gone In 60 Seconds, run from the law in. The Mach 1 truly encompasses the classic look and feel of the Ford Mustang.
3. Ford Shelby Mustang GT 500
In 1967, Ford and Shelby decided to add another Mustang variant alongside the company popular GT 350. Called the GT 500, the new Shelby Mustang featured a 428-cubic inch V8 engine and multiple upgrades to the exterior, as well as a few mechanical enhancements. These changes made the Ford Shelby Mustang GT 500 one of the most popular cars in automotive history.
If the regular GT 500 was not powerful enough for people, there was also the “King of the Road” version that came with a higher performance 428 Cobra Jet V8 engine under the hood. In 2007, Ford revived the Shelby GT 500 trim level by dropping a 500 horsepower, 5.4-liter supercharged V8 engine into it. In 2013, an all-new Shelby Mustang GT 500 was introduced, this time with a 662 horsepower, 5.8-liter supercharged V8 engine. For people who like power in their Mustang, it is hard to beat the GT 500 model – either today or back in 1967.
2. 1969 Boss 429
In 1969, Ford introduced the Boss version of the Mustang. Ford actually manufactured two cars under the Boss moniker – the 302 and 429 editions. For our money, the Boss 429 is the superior car. As the name suggests, the engine shoehorned into this car was a 429-cubic inch big block V8. That bad boy was capable of producing 375 horsepower and torque to spare.
The Boss 302, which came out at the same time, was equipped with a smaller engine and the exterior removed any unneeded body cladding and added a front lip spoiler. While some people initially preferred the Boss 302, history has pushed the 429 to the top of the heap. Today, the Mustang Boss 429 is prized by automotive collectors and historians. Many collectors consider this car to be the ultimate Mustang, praising its style, power, and performance. However, there is one other model that arguably outpaces it…
1. 1965 Shelby GT 350
The top prize for best Mustang ever goes to the 1965 Shelby GT 350. This beautiful machine is widely viewed as the very best ‘Stang ever produced. Manufactured only a year after the very first Mustang rolled off the assembly line in Detroit, Carroll Shelby and Ford combined forces to create a raw, performance-based version of the car. Using the Mustang’s 289-cubic inch V8 engine, the engineers tweaked the power plant to produce a then mind-melting 306 horsepower. The 1965 Shelby also removed the pesky rear seats — a move that was considered revolutionary at the time.
A GT 350R variant was also introduced for racing and track events. Various versions of the GT 350 would continue to be produced until 1970. However, none would be as awesome as the original 1965 model. In 2016, Ford brought back the GT 350 and GT 350R nameplates. The current models aim to live up to the legend with 5.2-liter V8 engines producing 526 horsepower. Still, it’s the original 1965 version that goes down in the history books as the top Mustang to date. It is a legendary car that has set itself apart from the competition.