1967 1968 Ford Mustang


Mustang had just left the corral when work on the follow-up '67 model See more pictures of the 1967 and 1968 Ford Mustang.

When it came time for its first significant revamp, the original pony car was no longer the only pony car. It was clear the 1967 Ford Mustang would have to fight for sales.

Designers who would shape the '67 model were in a unique position, however. In the 1960s, a new car took some three years to go from drawing board to showroom. Typically, designers and engineers were working without knowing how the public liked the car they had just finished.

But when work on what would become the 1967 Ford Mustang began in summer 1964, the first edition was already a huge hit. That posed the knotty problem of what to do for an encore. While Ford expected some changes would be needed after '66, it wasn't clear what those ought to be. Moreover, as program head Ross Humphries later told author Gary Witzenburg: "At the time the '67 was planned, we really didn't have any idea that the original was such a winner. Things did look awfully rosy, but we didn't know how long it was going to last." Fad or not, Mustang's instant high success got Ford cracking on a slightly larger, more luxurious pony car by late 1964. It would emerge for '67 as the Mercury Cougar.Meantime, Ford Division was left to ponder how archrival Chevrolet might respond -- if at all. For a time, General Motors design chief Bill Mitchell insisted his company already had a Mustang-fighter in the beautiful second-generation 1965 Corvair. But that was just a smokescreen for the super-secret 1967 Chevrolet Camaro, a true Chevy pony car being readied for launch in late 1966. As Ford engineer Tom Feaheny recalled for Witzenburg: "It was a long ways down the road before we were aware they were coming after us."Beyond that, Feaheny admitted that "[the '67 Mustang] was an opportunity to do a lot of refinement work. Frankly, the amount of engineering in [the first model] was not as great as it could have been...We really wanted to do the job right the second time around." He also noted that product planning chief Hal Sperlich wanted to "one-up the original in every respect: model availability, options, handling, performance, braking, comfort, quietness, even appearance where we could without making a major change." Dovetailing nicely with that goal was the redesigned 1966 Ford Falcon, which grew from cost-conscious compact to a slightly smaller sister of the midsize 1966 Ford Fairlane. This meant Mustang would now have to share front-end components with those cars for cost and manufacturing reasons. And as the Fairlane was planned for big-block V-8s, Mustang's engine bay was bound to get wider too. Moreover, arrival of the 1964 Pontiac's GTO muscle car gave Ford an extra incentive to offer Mustang with a big-inch engine. After all, another "horsepower race" was on, and even a pony car can always use more oats.Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

The 1967 Ford Mustang

All '67 Mustangs got new lower-body sheetmetal designed to suggest stronger performance, but the 2+2 also got a sweeping new full-fastback roofline patterned on that of Ford's LeMans-winning GT40 racer.

Ford Division wanted everything about the 1967 Mustang to be improved. The '67s retained the original Mustang's basic chassis and inner structure but were redesigned or reengineered most everywhere else. Most obvious was fresh styling created by the Ford Division studio under Gale Halderman. Given the tricky task of changing an instant icon without really changing it, designers explored various combinations of crisp lines and soft, rounded forms through the usual plethora of sketches and clay models. They also toyed with Mustang's trademark mouthy grille, bodyside sculpting, and trim tail.

Even so, some proposals strayed fairly far afield, ranging from bulky and square to lithe-looking, almost European. But the car that ultimately emerged was a nicely logical evolution of 1965-66. "We really took a number of cracks at it," Halderman told Witzenburg. "For '67 the theme revolved around more performance, so we made it a little stronger in appearance all over. The side scallop got deeper, for instance, and the grille and rear panel were enlarged. But we were very adamant about not changing...that rear hop-up look."

Though Don Frey took the reins at Ford Division as the '67 took shape, Lee Iacocca, promoted to corporate management, couldn't stay away. "Back in those days, Iacocca appeared [in our studio] daily," Halderman recalled. "The Mustang was his baby, and he watched it very carefully. We really didn't do anything on that car that he wasn't fully aware of and part of."

Except for the 2+2, styling of the 1967 Mustang amounted to new outer sheet-metal from the beltline down. Wheelbase was held at 108 inches, but overall width swelled by 2.7 inches. A half-inch height increase improved headroom. Overall length tacked on two inches, most of it via a tidier nose with a more aggressive grille bereft of flanking "gills." Halderman's comment notwithstanding, designers did exaggerate the rear hop-up a little. They also made the tail panel concave, as well as larger, and finally won approval for the more-expensive individual taillamps they'd long desired.

For a new Exterior Decor Group option they applied thin bars to the back panel and conjured a special hood with wide, longitudinal recesses suggesting scoops. A nifty gimmick were turn-signal repeater lights nestled at the scoops' forward ends, easily visible to the driver. The 2+2 was the most radically changed '67 Mustang, gaining a sweeping full-fastback roofline inspired by that of Ford's GT40 racer, then making its mark at LeMans and other international endurance events. The new fastback retained flow-through ventilation but with air ducted through a dozen rear-quarter roof louvers instead of five vertical slots.

©2007 Publications International, Ltd. Despite greater visual bulk, Mustang's '67 styling kept the original car's lithe, ready-for-action look.

New Interior, New Features

Changes inside were no less numerous. Though the cabin remained a close-coupled affair with standard front bucket seats, the available console now swept up to meet a new "twin-cowl" instrument panel unique to Mustang. Drivers faced a pair of large, circular dials below three smaller gauges; ordering the optional tachometer eliminated the ammeter and oil pressure displays in the main starboard hole. Besides looking cool, the bulkier dash allowed for integrated air conditioning, though a hang-on unit was still available from dealers. Newly optional for all models was the useful Tilt-Away steering wheel recently pioneered by the posh Thunderbird, as well as AM radio with 8-track tape player and a "Convenience Control Panel" above the radio -- reminder lights for door ajar, parking brake, low fuel, and seatbelts.

Interiors also added a number of "passive safety" features for '67, most per new federal decrees. Included were padded armrests, windshield pillars, sunvisors, and dashtop; double-laminate windshield; lane-change positions on the turn-signal lever; breakaway day/night mirror; standard seatbelts with pushbutton buckle releases and reminder light; built-in anchors for dealer-installed shoulder belts; four-way emergency flashers; and door locks that could not be accidentally released from the inside door handles. Serving "active safety" were a new dual-circuit brake system with trouble warning light; corrosion-resistant brake lines; safety-rim wheels; and standard backup lamps. Revised steering with a faster ratio and tighter turning circle served both active safety and driving ease.

The '67 Mustang's jazzy new "twin cowl" dashboard allowed for integrated air-conditioning and was unique to Mustang, part of Ford's effort to give the  pony car a more upscale persona.

Hardly anything was overlooked. Among other new features were Ford's handy reversible keys, manual keyless door locking, standard windshield washers (operated by foot-pedal), tighter door and window seals, and lower-effort window winders. A unique new ragtop option was a glass rear window with a middle crease that allowed more-compact top folding. It was naturally more durable than the traditional plastic affair, immune to "clouding up" with age and weathering.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car.

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

Mustang Gets a Big V-8

This 1967 Mustang convertible wears optional "spider-web" styled-steel wheels, one of the few items continued from 1965-66.

For performance fans, the big event for the '67 Mustang was availability of the planned big-block V-8, the familiar 390-cubic-inch "Thunderbird Special" with four-barrel carburetor and a rousing 320 horses. Also listed for many Fairlanes and full-size Fords (and standard in the T-Bird), it cost $264 as a Mustang option vs. $434 for the "Hi-Po" small-block. Dealers usually recommended teaming it with Ford's new "SelectShift" Cruise-O-Matic, which cost $233. SelectShift referred to a manual-override feature that allowed this automatic to be held in any of its three forward gears to engine redline for maximum acceleration, as well as manual downshifts from third to second.

The 390 raised powerteam choices to 13. The sturdy 200-cid six remained base power, while the "starter V-8" was now a two-barrel "Challenger" 289 with 200 horsepower ($106). The four-barrel 225-horsepower version returned as the "Challenger Special" ($158), as did the 271-horsepower 289, now called "Cobra" (and priced at a stiff $434). All engines offered standard three-speed manual, a new close-ratio four-speed option, and the SelectShift automatic.

A More Nimble Pony

A 2.6-inch wider front track helped make room for the burly big-block but benefited the handling of any Mustang. So did front springs moved from below the top crossmember to above it a la Falcon/Fairlane. Dearborn engineers exchanged ideas with Carroll Shelby's crew, and though no GT-350 hardware showed up in regular Mustangs, the '67s did have similarly lowered upper A-arm pivots and a raised roll center. The effect was to decrease understeer by holding the outside front wheel more perpendicular to the road. As this didn't require higher spring rates, ride didn't suffer. Engineers also reduced noise, vibration, and harshness (NVH) with new rubber bushings at suspension attachment points.

"Given the more primitive hardware of the day," Tom Feaheny said later, "the '67 Mustang was really a fine-handling car…more than just cornering ability, but a feeling of real security for the driver…" Well, maybe with a small-block, but the 390 made for a front-heavy Mustang -- fully 58 percent of total curb weight -- and it understeered with merry abandon even though the option included F70-14 Firestone Wide-Oval tires. You were well advised to specify the Competition Handling Package, which listed for $62 but required the $205 GT Equipment Group (denoted this year only by "GT/A" fender emblems on cars with automatic). Also available with the Cobra 289, the comp package reprised stiffer springs and front stabilizer bar, 15-inch wheels and quick-ratio steering, while adding premium Koni adjustable shocks and a 3.25:1 limited-slip differential. All this improved handling at the expense of ride, which may explain why orders were relatively few.

What big-block buyers really cared about was blazing straightline acceleration, and the 390 didn't disappoint. Typical figures were 0-60 mph in 7.5 seconds, the standing quarter-mile in 15.5 seconds at 95 mph, and close to 120 mph all out.

This '67 Mustang is equipped with the optional Exterior Decor package, which included a ribbed back panel and a special hood with turn-signal repeater lights in twin "scoops."

With performance like that, it was easy enough to forgive less-than-perfect handling. At least Car and Driver seemed to after testing a well-equipped 390 GT/A fastback. "The Mustang corners willingly, if clumsily," the editors reported. "It doesn't seek the right line instinctively...but once pointed in the proper direction, it clambers eagerly around the corner. True, initial understeer is there, but oversteer can be induced by a flick of the wheel here, a poke at the throttle there. And it's very hard to throw it off balance or make it come unglued."

C/D praised other things beside the potent new engine. "Anyone who likes the old Mustang ought to go nuts for the '67. It's a much better-looking car than the photographs show...[The new interior indicates] Ford has decided the Mustang is going to be around for awhile, so why not invest some money where the occupants can enjoy it? The ride has been improved to the point that it's every bit as good as [on] most [midsize cars]." Other testers echoed many of these opinions, confirming that Ford had achieved what it set out to do.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

The 1967 Shelby Mustang

The Shelby GT-350 returned for 1967 with a Shelby-tuned 289 minus the steel- tube headers and straight-through mufflers, which reduced horsepower even though horsepower was still advertised at 306.

If a 390 Mustang wasn't exciting enough, you could always count on Carroll Shelby, who offered two ways to go-go for '67. Typical of the man, he again one-upped Dearborn by stuffing in a bigger big-block, the 428 "Police Interceptor," for what he called the GT-500. The GT-350 returned with a Shelby-tuned 289 minus the steel-tube headers and straight-through mufflers, which reduced horsepower even though horsepower was still advertised at 306. Though stock '67 Mustangs were little heavier than previous models -- base curb weight rose only 140 pounds -- power steering and brakes were now mandatory Shelby options (you still paid extra, but couldn't get a car without them). This was prompted by comments from existing owners that Shelby Mustangs were tiring to drive.

Customer feedback led to other chassis changes. A 15/16-inch front sway bar and stiffer-than-stock springs continued, but Koni shocks gave way to cheaper Gabriel adjustables, and the rear traction bars and limited-slip differential were eliminated in the interest of ride comfort. Tires were upsized to E70315 Goodyears on steel wheels with wheel covers or, at extra cost, 1537-inch Kelsey-Hayes MagStars or Shelby-made cast-aluminum 10-spokes.

Styling was even more "more Mustang," announced by a shark-like fiberglass nose with larger-than-stock grille and a matching hood with a bigger scoop and racing-style tiedowns. A pair of high-intensity driving lamps mounted either dead-center of the grille or at its outboard ends, depending on local laws. Functional scoops adorned the sides (for rear brake cooling) and the roof (for interior air extraction). A special trunklid (also fiberglass) sported a molded-in "lip" spoiler, and wide taillight clusters were borrowed from the Mercury Cougar. In all, it was a busy but arresting package. Inside was a new racing-style padded roll bar with integral inertia-reel shoulder harnesses, plus Shelby-brand wood-rimmed steering wheel, 8000-rpm tachometer, 140-mph speedometer, and Stewart-Warner oil and amp gauges. Tellingly, factory air conditioning arrived as first-time option.

Big Inches, Big Performance

Less muscle inevitably made the GT-350 a bit slower for '67, but the GT-500 more than made up for it. Shelby's big-block employed a cast-aluminum "427" medium-riser intake manifold and two high-flow Holley four-barrel carbs, plus a unique oval-finned, open-element aluminum air cleaner and cast-aluminum valve covers. Like the GT-350, the 500 was available with a "Top Loader" four-speed manual or SelectShift Cruise-O-Matic and axle ratios ranging from 3.50:1 to 4.11:1.

Carmakers were now deliberately understating power figures to avoid the ire of insurance companies, so the GT-500 doubtless packed far more horsepower than its claimed 355. Car and Driver, which timed 6.5 seconds 0-60 mph, said that while the 428 "isn't the Le Mans winner," the GT-500 "does with ease what the old [GT-350] took brute force to accomplish." Motor Trend's four-speed tester did better at 6.2 seconds and blitzed the standing quarter-mile in 15.42 seconds at 101.35 mph. But Road & Track, which reported 7.2 seconds 0-60, said the GT-500 "simply doesn't have anything sensational to offer..." As if to answer that, Shelby built 36 GT-500s with the 427 engine -- which was the Le Mans winner -- cautiously street-rated at 390 horsepower.

The 1967 Shelby GT-500 doubtless packed far more horsepower than its claimed 355.

Though Shelby Mustangs were still the hairiest pony cars around, performance was now starting to take a back seat to style and luxury because that's what customers wanted and Ford wanted higher sales and profits. Indeed, Dearborn was exerting ever-more control over Shelby operations. Then, too, Carroll himself was increasingly occupied with various Ford racing programs, including development of the GT40s that won LeMans in 1966 and again in '67.

Happily, Ford's heavier hand did produce friendlier Shelby-Mustang prices. The GT-350 dropped more than $600 to $3995. The GT-500 bowed at $4195, about $150 less than 327 Corvette. All this helped boost total production to 3225 for the model year. Significantly, the big-inch version outsold its small-block sister by nearly 2 to 1 (2048 vs. 1175).

The 1967 Shelby GT-500 engine employed a cast-aluminum "427" medium- riser intake manifold and two high-flow Holley four-barrel carbs, plus a unique oval-finned, open-element aluminum air cleaner and cast-aluminum valve covers.

Though Shelby-American didn't race its '67s and offered no new R-model for those who might want to, Carroll's crew did prep the Mustang hardtops that gave Ford a second consecutive championship in SCCA's Trans-Am series for pony cars. The issue wasn't decided until the season closer, where Jerry Titus and Ronnie Buckman fended off a factory-backed pack of Mercury Cougars to win the title by a mere two points.

Torrid Sales Pace Cools

Among regular '67 Mustangs, model-year sales dropped some 25 percent from the previous year's level, which was no surprise. The torrid pace of 1965-66 had to end sometime. Besides, Mustang now faced its first real competition. Not only did Chevy have the Camaro, but Pontiac introduced a midyear clone as the 1967 Pontiac Firebird, and Plymouth trotted out a handsome all-new 1967 Plymouth Barracuda that presented a far more serious sales threat than the previous "glassback." There was also doubtless some intramural interference from the 1967 Mercury Cougar. The top-selling hardtop took the biggest year-to-year hit, tumbling to just over 356,000. The convertible and fastback exchanged places on the popularity chart, the former dropping to only about 45,000 units, the latter moving up to over 70,000.

Still, Mustang's model-year sales tally of 472,121 units was hardly bad. In fact, the new styling and more available power allowed the original pony car to way outpace its new imitators -- more than 2 to 1 over Camaro, the closest challenger. lnterestingly, '67 volume was more than double the most optimistic Ford estimates for Mustang's first year.

Ford responded to the new competitive onslaught by advertising Mustang with an even more "hard sell" tone than in '66. Some pitches took a swipe at the ponies-come-lately with Mustang was "Bred First...To Be First!" and "still the original and lowest-priced car of its kind with bucket seats." Other ads urged buyers to "Take the Mustang Pledge!" or "Answer The Call of Mustang" and "Strike a blow for Originality!"

Want to find out more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

The 1968 Ford Mustang

Exterior Decor Group was dropped for the 1968 Mustang, but its twin-scoop hood with two-tone paint continued, as on this convertible.

Marketeers hyped the 1968 Ford Mustang as "The Great Original" and "the most exciting car on the American road." But though the cars were improved in many ways, model-year sales plunged nearly 33 percent from '67. Still more competition was one problem, as tiny American Motors weighed in with its shapely 1968 AMC Javelin and clever two-seat 1968 AMC AMX spinoff. Also, Mustang probably lost some customers to racy new muscle midsizers like the restyled 1968 Dodge Charger and 1968 Pontiac GTO as well as the new 1968 Ford Torino fastback. Higher prices didn't help. The Mustang hardtop now started at $2600, the fastback at $2700, the ragtop at $2800. Options cost more too.

Familiarity was another likely factor, as the '68s looked much like the '67s. As before, creaselines ran from the upper front fenders to loop around simulated scoops ahead of the rear wheels before running forward into the lower doors. GTs now accented this shape with jazzy optional "C-stripes." All '68s wore a more deeply inset grille, with the galloping horse (still in a bright rectangular "corral") newly flush-mounted rather than protruding. F-O-R-D lettering was erased from the hood. So was the horizontal grille bar, leaving the pony mascot and GT foglamps to "float" within the cavity. The rest of the GT package was happily unchanged, so you again got dual exhausts with chrome "quad" outlets, pop-open fuel cap, heavy-duty suspension, and F70-14 tires on styled-steel wheels. Wide-Oval tires were again sold separately.

Satisfying the Feds

With federal safety and emissions standards now in force nationwide, some Mustang engines were detuned and "desmogged" for '68. Lower compression pushed the base 200-cubic-inch six down to 115 horsepower. The two-barrel 289 V-8 withered to 195 horsepower, but the 390's rating actually went up a little, to 335. And for the first time, there was an optional six: a 250 lifted from the Ford truck line, offering 155 horsepower for just $26 extra. Sadly, the four-speed manual was no longer available for six-cylinder Mustangs. The high-winding four-barrel 289 also departed, replaced as the middle V-8 by a considerably changed small-block stroked out to 302 cubic inches and a rated 230 horsepower. A tractable, reasonably economical compromise, it cost only about $200.

Topping the chart at a whopping $755 was Ford's mighty 427 big-block with 10.9:1 compression and a conservative 390-horsepower rating. Though restricted to Cruise-O-Matic, it was good for 0-60-mph times of around six seconds -- the fastest showroom-stock Mustang yet. But few were ordered because of that formidable price, as well as the added weight that tended to overwhelm the front end.

Engineers are a persistent lot, and all '68 Mustangs got more detail refinements. The front suspension was again tweaked to improve ride and handling, and Michelin radial tires, available on a limited basis for '67, were now a full factory option with any V-8. Just as laudable, the available power front-disc brakes switched from fixed to "floating" calipers, which provided extra stopping power with no extra pedal effort. The design was also claimed to promote longer brake life and, because it employed fewer parts, to be more reliable. Ford recognized the necessity of front discs for hot Mustangs by making them a mandatory option with the 390 and 427 engines.

Mustang's '67 styling was little altered for 1968. Interior updates for '68 mostly involved new federally required add-ons.

Like other '68 cars, Mustang met new federal regulations for interior safety, adding collapsible steering column, locking seatbacks with release levers, seatback and console padding, and redesigned knobs, switches, and door hardware that would be less user-unfriendly in a crash. Side marker lights appeared in the front and rear fenders. Dull-finish windshield wiper arms, steering wheel hub and horn ring, rearview mirror, and windshield pillars met government specs for glare.

Other '68 changes were strictly Ford's own doing. A standard mini-spare tire opened up a bit more trunk room, and the convertible's top boot was remade in a stretchable vinyl and given hidden fasteners for a neater appearance. A new Sports Trim Group gilded any model with woodgrain dash appliqués, two-tone hood paint (also available separately), "Comfort-Weave" vinyl seat inserts, wheel-lip moldings, and, on V-8s, styled-steel wheels and larger tires. Fingertip Speed Control (cruise control operated from the turn-signal stalk) and rear-window defogger also joined the options list. Spring ushered in another specially priced Sprint Sports hardtop and ragtop, this time wearing GT C-striping and pop-open gas cap, plus full wheel covers; cars with V-8s substituted styled wheels shod with Wide-Oval tires.

The 1968 Mustang fastback retained rear-roof louvers, but "cheese-grater" dummy side vents gave way to a slim vertical accent.

Horsing Around with Hardtops

A unique '68 confection was a special hardtop cosmetic package aimed at buyers in California and Colorado. The Golden State version was originally called GT/SC ("GT Sport Coupe") but appeared as the GT/CS -- "California Special." Aping Shelby styling, it featured a plain grille with foglamps and no Mustang emblem, twist-lock hood fasteners, bespoilered trunklid, Cougar taillight clusters, dummy side scoops with large GT/CS lettering, and contrasting tape stripes around the tail and along the bodysides. Ford also threw in styled wheels and wider tires. About 5000 California Specials were built. The Colorado edition was dubbed GT/HCS -- High Country Special. Except for shield-shaped name decals, it was virtually identical to the California package. Production is unknown but was likely less than for the CS (due to the smaller Rocky Mountain market), so an HCS would be a pretty rare find today.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

The 1968 Mustang 428 Cobra Jet

Bob Tasca fisrt dreamed up the Mustang 428 Cobra Jet, or "CJ."

At mid-model year 1968, the Mustang's 427 option was retired in favor of Ford's new 428 Cobra Jet, a huskier big-block with vacuum-actuated ram-air hood scoop. For drag racing and insurance purposes, it was advertised at 335 horsepower on 10.7:1 compression, but was doubtless much stronger. A quarter-mile zip of 13.56 seconds at a trap speed of 106.64 mph caused Hot Rod magazine to sing its praises.

The "CJ," as it came to be known, was a better idea of Bob Tasca, then the country's number-one Ford dealer. Tasca had been backing big-block Mustang drag cars that tore up the strips in 1965-66 and had customers flocking to his Rhode Island showroom. But while Tasca welcomed the factory 390 option, he found it wasn't strong enough to be a winner in local drags, and that was costing him sales. When an employee blew up a stock 390 car, Tasca ordered his mechanics to piece together a more competitive engine using only the Ford parts catalog. Starting with the "short-block" 428 Police Interceptor, they bolted on a pair of 427 low-riser heads, a big Holley carb, and 390 cam, then turned a 13.39-second quarter-mile at 105 mph. Dearborn was impressed -- even Henry Ford II took note -- and used Tasca's monster mongrel as the starting point for the production Cobra Jet.

Drag racers were quick to seize on the potent 428 Cobra Jet V-8 that became

Announced at about the same time as the CJ was a fortified 302 with high-compression heads, larger valves, wild cam timing, and a pair of four-barrel carbs. Humorously rated at 240 horsepower, it was Ford's new weapon in Trans-Am racing, but unexpected troubles delayed production after SCCA approved it, and few were actually installed this year. Not that it mattered. Mark Donohue's Camaro won 10 Trans-Am contests to Mustang's three, and Chevy collected the manufacturer's trophy.

"CJ" fastbacks were always a threat in the National Hot Rod Association's Super Stock class.

Buyers Shift Gears

At over 300,000 units, Mustang's 1968 model-year sales were far below the heady days of 1965-66 and thus a disappointment to Ford executives hoping for an upturn. In fact, the pony car market was nearing its peak, though no one could know that at the time, least of all Ford.

But there was a hint of a trend in optional equipment orders, which showed a shift in buyer preferences from low-priced sportiness toward convenience and luxury features. Cruise-O-Matic, for example, was fitted to 72 percent of '68 production vs. just six percent for four-speed manual. V-8s claimed fully 70 percent of sales. Power steering was specified by 52 percent of buyers, air conditioning by 18 percent, tinted windows by 32 percent. By contrast, only 13 percent ordered power brakes, another 13 percent the power front discs, and a scant 3.7 percent a limited-slip differential. Increasingly it seemed, Mustangers were less concerned with price and pure performance than with going fast in comfort and looking good while doing it.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.

The 1968 Shelby Mustang

Convertibles, like this GT-500, joined the Shelby-Mustang stable for 1968.

The 1968 Shelby Mustangs got a heavier facelift than the regular-production 1968 Ford Mustang. The hood sprouted louvers and a full-width scoop placed nearer the panel's leading edge to improve airflow to the carburetors. Below was a wider grille with square foglamps (not driving lamps) sitting outboard. Taillamps adopted the sequential-turn-signal feature from the 1967 and 1968 Mercury Cougar. Carroll had built a few '66 convertibles as gifts for friends, but now offered ragtops as regular models -- a GT-350 and GT-500 with a built-in roll-over hoop that enhanced safety but looked a bit awkward with the top down. Though some '68 advertising used the name Shelby Cobra instead of Shelby GT, the cars again displayed Shelby GT-350 or Shelby GT-500 labels.

To meet emissions limits, the GT-350 switched to the new 302 V-8. Despite a deep-breathing four-barrel Holley carb and hydraulic lifters, rated power was down to 250. To compensate, Shelby revived his Paxton supercharger option from '66. It added about 100 horses but again found few takers.

That's because Shelby buyers still much preferred big-block power. Early GT-500s retained the 428, albeit re-rated to 360 horsepower. However, some later cars got ordinary 390s when a plant strike created a spot shortage of 428s. Oddly for straight-talking Shel, customers weren't told of the substitution, though it was very hard to spot. And mid-model year brought redress in a replacement 1968 Shelby GT-500KR ("King of the Road," a title likely taken from a hit tune of the time). Also offered in fastback and convertible form, the KR packed the Cobra Jet engine, muscled up with big-port 427 heads and larger intake manifold and exhaust system. Horsepower was 335 advertised but was probably closer to 400 actual, as torque was a thumping 440 lb-ft at just 3400 rpm. Shelby also tossed in wider rear brakes and special exterior trim. Transmissions and rear-end ratios carried over from the GT-500, but the KR was quicker, generally matching the peformance of CJ-equipped non-Shelby Mustangs.

The 1968 Shelby GT-500s came with, at first, a 428 "Cobra" V-8 uprated by five horses to 360.

Though inflation was pushing up prices on most cars, the Shelbys didn't go up much for '68. The 1968 Shelby GT-350 fastback started at $4117, the 1968 Shelby GT-500 at $4317, the 1968 Shelby GT-500KR at $4473. Ragtops listed at $4238 to $4594. Partly as a result, Shelby volume rose for the fourth straight model year, hitting 4450 units. But it would go no higher. Increasingly potent regular Mustangs were fast eroding the performance aura of Carroll's pony cars. And Ford was now calling all the shots, fast morphing the Shelbys from no-nonsense racers into fast but cushy cruisers. In a telling development, Ford shifted '68 Shelby production from California to Livonia, Michigan (not far from Dearborn), where contractor A. O. Smith Company carried out the conversions. From now on, Ford alone would handle Shelby-Mustang promotion and development.

Times were indeed a-changin' for both Mustang and Ford Motor Company. As if to hint at things to come, Ford showed a wild Mustang-based concept at 1968 auto shows. Dubbed Mach 1, this low, sleek, and muscular fastback took familiar styling cues to extremes. Its enlongated nose was very aggressive, with a slim-section grille thrust ahead of pointy front fenders and rectangular headlamps. A louvered twin-scoop hood led back to a radically raked windshield matching a severe "chopped top" with much "faster" rear glass. Bodysides bore Mustang's signature character line, but fenders and wheel openings were prominently bulged to snug tightly around low-profile racing rubber on wide GT-40-style five-spoke aluminum wheels. A "ducktail" spoiler loomed over wall-to-wall taillamps and twin center-mount exhaust outlets. Other racing-inspired touches included a large, bright quick-release fuel filler behind each door window (the door glass was fixed) and working rear-brake cooling scoops. The rear window was combined with the trunklid, and the unit could be opened or closed by an electrohydraulic mechanism by flipping an interior switch.

At mid-model year, the GT-500s gave way to GT-500KR models with the new Cobra Jet engine boasting ram-air induction.

Designers must have had fun creating this one-of-a-kind showstopper, which looked for all the world like a Shelby Mustang on steroids. But did it also forecast the next showroom Mustang, which would have been mostly locked up when the Mach 1 was designed? And if Ford was mulling a bolder, brasher pony car, how would people take to it? No one could know, of course -- those pesky lead times again.

Still, we're pretty sure that Ford was well aware of one vital fact. Mustang was no longer the only horse in the stable, so future models would have to be even more carefully considered for the original to stay out in front. The pony car stampede might be slowing as 1969 beckoned, but the race was far from over.

Want to find out even more about the Mustang legacy? Follow these links to learn all about the original pony car:

  • 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.
  • America's youth was looking for a car to call its own, and the Mustang delivered. Learn why the sporty, practical, and affordable 1965-1966 Ford Mustang was such a runaway success.
  • Sales were lagging, but performance and style were piled on high. Learn how rocky times for the 1969-1970 Ford Mustang resulted in two of the greatest cars in performance history.
  • The 1968 Shelby Cobra GT-500KR was no mere Mustang. Check out this muscle car profile, which includes photos and specifications.