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.
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.
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.