Carroll Shelby flashes the usual Texas-size big grin in posing with two of "his" Mustangs for 1969. Actually, the cars were conceived and built entirely by Ford.

1969 and 1970 Shelby Mustang

If enthusiast-magazine journalists judged the 1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302 a superior overall road car than the 1969 Shelby Mustang, that's probably because the '69 GT-350 and GT-500 were Ford's work, not Carroll's.

Basically, the Shelby Mustangs were reduced to just a custom styling job carried out on stock fastbacks and convertibles at Ford's Southfield, Michigan, plant. The main distinction was a new fiberglass nose with a big loop bumper/grille that added three inches to overall length. Shelbys had only two headlamps but bristled with air intakes -- five on the hood alone. Wide reflective tape stripes ran midway along the flanks. Said C/D's Brock Yates: "I personally can't think of an automobile that makes a [better] statement about performance.... "

But the sad fact was that the '69s were the tamest Shelbys yet, hobbled by more weight and less power. The GT-500 was no longer "King of the Road," but retained that '68 model's CJ 428. Horsepower remained at 335 advertised but actually was down 25 by most estimates. The GT-350 graduated to the new 351 Windsor but claimed no more horses than before -- or the more affordable new Mach 1 -- leading Yates to call it "a garter snake in Cobra skin." Adding insult to these injuries were record prices ranging from $4434 for the GT-350 fastback to just over five-grand for a GT-500 ragtop.

The '69 Shelby Mustangs, like this GT-500, were the tamest yet, just regular Mustangs with a specific big-mouth fiberglass front, scoops and scallops all over, and more wide taillamps.

With the Mach 1, the dynamic Boss duo, and four Shelbys in the '69 stable, some wondered whether Ford had too many hot Mustangs. The Bosses cost as much to build as the Shelbys, yet struck Yates as "a curious duplication of effort…. The heritage of the GT-350 is performance," he asserted, "and it is difficult to understand why the Ford marketing experts failed to exploit its reputation." Regardless, Shelby model-year production fell by fully 25 percent to 3150 units.

A Thoroughbred Fades Away

After seeing his cars win only one Trans-Am race in 1969, Carroll Shelby decided to leave the car business (though he would return) and asked Ford to put the Shelby Mustang out to pasture. Ford agreed but not before exploring an interesting in-house proposal to salvage part of the '69 car. This envisioned a "1970 1/2" replacement for both the Shelby Mustangs and the Boss 429. Dubbed "Composite Mustang" by those involved, it was basically the big-engine Boss with a Mercury Cougar interior and a '69 Shelby front end with the scoops filled in.

The 1969 Shelby Mustangs were reduced to just a custom styling job carried out on stock fastbacks and convertibles at Ford's Southfield, Michigan, plant.

The intended result would be quicker than a CJ Mach 1, cheaper to build than a GT-500, and more distinctive than the existing Boss 429. Kar Kraft ran up two prototypes, but what came to be called the "Quarter Horse" was left at the gate. One likely reason was the unsold '69 Shelbys piling up around Southfield -- some 600 in all. To move 'em out, Ford made them "1970" models by applying new serial numbers, Boss 302 front spoilers, and black hood stripes -- a real "distress sale" tactic.

  • Saddle up for the complete story of America's best-loved sporty car. How the Ford Mustang Works chronicles the legend from its inception in the early 1960s to today's all-new Mustang.
  • In 1967, the original pony car was up for its first major revamp. Learn how Ford retooled and updated the 1967-1968 Ford Mustang to meet public expectations and to keep pace with the competition.
  • With sales down and criticism abounding, the Mustang struggled in the early '70s. Learn what went wrong (and what went right) for the 1971-1973 Ford Mustang.
  • The 1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1 428 Cobra Jet was the muscle car Mustang fans had waited for. Gallop into its profile, photos, and specifications.