The Greatest and the Most Dreadful Ford Mustang Models of All Time

Based on a humble compact sedan, the original Mustang created and perfected the pony car genre single-handedly. To this day, no other nameplate screams America more than the Mustang. Six generations down the line, the four-wheeled feral horse is still going strong regarding sales and fascination. But then again, some Mustangs were rather awful.
Collage 31 photos
Photo: Edited by autoevolution
Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)SVT Mustang Cobra (Fox Body)SVT Mustang Cobra (Fox Body)2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R (SN-95)2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R (SN-95)2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R (SN-95)Shelby GT500 (S197)Shelby GT500 (S197)Shelby GT500 (S197)Shelby GT500 (S197)Shelby GT500 (S197)Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)Ford Mustang E (1969)Second-Generation Ford Mustang Second-Generation Ford Mustang (1973 to 1978)Second-Generation Ford Mustang Second-Generation Ford Mustang (1973 to 1978)Second-Generation Ford Mustang Mach 1 (1974)Second-Generation Ford Mustang Mach 1 (1974)Pre-New Edge Design Language Ford Mustang (SN-95)Pre-New Edge Design Language Ford Mustang (SN-95)Pre-New Edge Design Language Ford Mustang (SN-95)Ford Mustang V6 (S550)Ford Mustang V6 (S550)
A straightforward and bulletproof notion such as the pony car can go sour as easy as 1-2-3. Take this as a case in point: some don’t know how to cook scrambled eggs. Hell, don’t get me started with nutjobs that microwave Twinkies only to find out that they explode. On the other hand, you have people who actually know how to cook scrambled eggs. You know, the soft and extra creamy variety, the type of scrambled eggs that earns you genuine kudos. The thing is, one can’t make a tasty dish of scrambled eggs without cracking a few... eggs.

FoMoCo abides by this rule of thumb, particularly the Mustang. Lee Iacocca was the mastermind, Ford designer John Najjar is credited to have suggested the name, Joe Oros styled the bewitching body shell of the 1964 1/2 model year Mustang, and the rest, as they say, is history. But what we call history has a way of repeating itself, for better or for worse.

I won’t beat around the bush anymore because talk is cheap and times are wasting, so here is a list of some of the worst and some of the best Mustangs ever made. If you feel like adding a bit more to the pile, the comments section is all yours. And now, let’s get going.

The Greatest

Shelby Cobra GT 500-KR (1968)

Shelby Cobra GT 500\-KR \(1968\)
During the 1968 model year, Shelby American prepped no less than 4,451 units of the GT 350, GT 500, and the GT 500-KR. Of the latter species, Shelby American built only 933 fastbacks and 318 convertibles. Back then, the one called King of the Road was a desirable muscle car. Now, though, it is more than just desirable. It’s a legend.

Collectors will pay absurd amounts of money to enjoy the burble of the 428 cubic inch (7.0 L) Cobra Jet V8 engine. Yes, I know that the Boss 429 is more powerful, and yes, I know it’s marginally rarer than the GT 500-KR. But you know what? Ford revived the GT 500-KR moniker four decades later on the fifth-gen Mustang, not the Boss 429.

The peeps at Mecum Auctions have recently sold two fastback-bodied GT 500-KR for $130,000 and $145,000, respectively. If you consider that a 1971 HEMI Cuda convertible is worth millions of bucks these days, the GT 500-KR is a bona fide steal.

SVT Mustang Cobra (Fox Body)

SVT Mustang Cobra \(Fox Body\)
The 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra wasn’t just the last model year of the Fox Body, but a roundhouse kick in the plums of those who mocked the Fox-based Mustang for being a simpleton. You see, the Fox-body Mustang was a perfect car for the Malaise Era of American automotive history. After the 1983 model year, the Fox Body lost its shine.

After the 1987 model year had caught the Five-Oh turn it up a notch to 225 HP, FoMoCo bid farewell to the Fox Body with 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra and its 235 horsepower motor. It doesn’t sound like much compared to what Ford squeezes from 5.0 liters these days, but the SVR Mustang Cobra could get to 60 miles per hour (96 km/h) in 5.7 seconds.

For comparison’s sake, that’s faster than the Mercedes-Benz 600 SL V12 (R129), Porsche 944 Turbo, Porsche Cayman 2.7, Seat Leon ST Cupra 280, Honda S2000, De Tomaso Pantera 5.7-liter, and MazdaSpeed3. How about that for a bragging right?

2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R (SN-95)

2000 SVT Mustang Cobra R \(SN\-95\)
For the 2000 model year, the Special Vehicle Team skunkworks came up with the awe-inspiring Cobra R. Produced in limited numbers (300 units), the Cobra R was the sole pumped-up Mustang during the 2003 model year. It’s rather magnificent, isn’t it?

Only available as a coupe and in Performance Red, the Cobra R put a 385 HP Modular V8 to good use. The hell-bent for leather engine sips high-octane gasoline from a 20-gallon (75 liters) fuel cell and sings the song of its people through a Borla side exhaust system. Granted, the standard exhaust wouldn’t fit due to the fuel cell.

The SVT folks were so focused on making the Cobra R as badass as possible that some creature comforts were omitted for the sole purpose of better performance and handling. Nope, no antenna, no backseat, no air con, no radio, no cruise control. Despite being so spartan, the SVT Mustang Cobra R offers a lot of smiles per gallon.

Shelby GT500 (S197)

Shelby GT500 \(S197\)
Remember the first GT500 from the S197 generation? The one that outruns a Porsche Carrera GT in a particular commercial. Good. Well, the GT500 after it was an even better affair, one that trumps the Carrera GT in terms of horsepower and torque.

Of course, the business end of the 2014 Ford Shelby GT500 is the 5.8-liter Trinity supercharged V8 lurking underhood. Thanks to a 2.3-liter TVS blower with a maximum boost of 14 psi, an aluminum block, and Ford GT camshafts, the Trinity V8 churns out 662 HP and 631 lb-ft (856 Nm). To put it simply, more than most people can handle.

At that time, the GT500 was the most powerful muscle car you could buy. Then Fiat Chrysler decided to breathe new life into the HEMI, which is how the Hellcat-ified Challenger happened. Nevertheless, the mean-spirited GT500 can still put up a brawl.

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R (S550)

Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R \(S550\)
You’ve heard motoring journos claim that the Shelby GT350R is the best Mustang that’s ever been. I got sick of it, so to speak, but I have to give it to them and Ford: it is an exciting Mustang, if not the best-handling Mustang that can wear a license plate.

Built in limited numbers for the 2016 model year and available in Grabber Blue starting for the 2017 model year, the GT350R is the creme de la creme of FoMoCo. It stands high next to three other mad contraptions: the 2017 Ford F-150 Raptor dune runner, the drift-a-licious Focus RS hot hatchback, and the finger-licking GT supercar.

I could bore you to death with the lightweight carbon fiber wheels, motorsport-inspired flat-plane crankshaft or the calibration of the MagneRide dampers and I couldn’t encapsulate how great the GT350R is. This Mustang is an apotheosis, period.

The Most Dreadful

Ford Mustang E (1969)

Ford Mustang E \(1969\)
Photo: Vanguard Motor Sales on YouTube
Thanks to Tom Photsios of Vanguard Motor Sales, my memory refreshed and I remembered the loathsome 1969 Ford Mustang E. Care to guess what E stands for? It’s not exhilarating, nor expensive or EcoBoost. E stands for darn bleeding economy.

What if I told you that a 4.1-liter inline-6 hides under the hood? What if I told you that it produced 155 horsepower (SAE gross) when it was new? The 2.33:1 axle ratio is yet another disappointing detail, as is the 13.3-second dogtrot to 60 mph (96 km/h).

Oh, and another thing: air conditioning was not available because it would’ve spoiled the purpose of a highly efficient Mustang. The idea of making the Mustang frugal speaks for itself: about 50 examples were ever sold before it was discontinued.

Second-Generation Ford Mustang Models (1973 to 1978)

Second\-Generation Ford Mustang Second\-Generation Ford Mustang \(1973 to 1978\)
Let’s put it as it is: the second-generation Mustang is the worst generation of the pony because: a) it’s based on the Pinto; b) it’s a response to the 1973 oil crisis; c) it’s horrible inside and out; d) all of the above. Sorry folks but this pony is better off dead.

Despite the fact that it shed close to 500 pounds (226 kilograms) over the first generation, outright performance is not on this pony’s agenda. As if things weren’t horrible enough, Ford had the nerve to christen a particular model the King Cobra.

Why? How? What was the marketing department thinking about? 139 horsepower is all the puff the V8 engine offered. Then again, the 1978 model year King Cobra is a lesser offender than the biggest affront the second-generation Mustang had to offer.

Second-Generation Ford Mustang Mach 1 (1974)

Second\-Generation Ford Mustang Mach 1 \(1974\)
As far as styling is concerned, the Mach 1 from the 1974 model year was remarkably similar to the second-generation Chevrolet Camaro, so why doesn’t it get any love? You see, the Camaro could be had with a 402 V8. The Mach 1? An anemic 2.8-liter V6.

Rated at 105 horsepower, the 1974 Ford Mustang Mach 1 is an inexcusable mistake. As fate would have it, the 302 cu. in. Windsor V8 returned in 1975 with a similarly inexcusable 140 horsepower. Thank goodness it came with a stick shift.

Sales plunged so hard that Ford decided to discontinue the nameplate with the advent of the third-generation Mustang. The Mach 1 handle returned for the 2003 model year, only to delve back into the history books after the 2004 model year.

Pre-New Edge Design Language Ford Mustang Models (SN-95)

Pre\-New Edge Design Language Ford Mustang \(SN\-95\)
Don’t get me wrong on this one. I have a soft spot for the SN-95, but I can’t stand the design of the pre-New Edge Mustang. Sharp contours, creases in the body shell, and large wheel arches are the name of the game, not heavy-handed soft lines.

If anything, the Pre-New Edge Mustang was more impressive under the skin, partly because engineers worked day and night to increase the structural rigidity over the Fox Body without adding weight. The design of the interior isn’t too shabby either.

Make no mistake about it, the first iteration of the SN-95 wasn’t a looker, but it is an unsung hero considering that it shouldn’t have existed. During the 1980s, FoMoCo was pondering if it should stop making the Mustang or make a transition to FWD and four cylinders. Happily, however, protesting enthusiasts convinced the Blue Oval to continue the lineage without messing the Mustang up with such feeble horseplay.

Ford Mustang V6 (All of Them)

Ford Mustang V6 \(S550\)
A V6-powered Mustang is synonymous with car rentals. I couldn’t live with such a Mustang, even though the flaw isn’t as plain as the nose on one's face. After all, a V6 Mustang still looks like a Mustang and still offers satisfying performance. But only just.

Despite the fact that it has two more cylinders and a larger displacement than the 2.3 EcoBoost, the 3.7 Cyclone V6 of the S550 tops out at 121 mph (195 km/h). The 2.3 EcoBoost with the Track Pack, on the other hand, goes up to 145 mph (233 km/h). It’s uncanny, to say the least.

Another drawback of the Mustang V6 is that you can’t get as many creature comforts as you can on a four-potter. On the upside, the husky exhaust note is miles better than the flat, synthetic drone produced by the EcoBoost.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram X (Twitter)
About the author: Mircea Panait
Mircea Panait profile photo

After a 1:43 scale model of a Ferrari 250 GTO sparked Mircea's interest for cars when he was a kid, an early internship at Top Gear sealed his career path. He's most interested in muscle cars and American trucks, but he takes a passing interest in quirky kei cars as well.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories