The Story of the Original Mustang: The Era When Performance Peaked (1969–1970)

The third part of our series dedicated to the first-generation Mustang continues with an overview of the 1969–1970 model years. While 1969 brought an unprecedented variety of performance models, 1970 marked the final year for the iconic Shelby GT350 and GT500.
Ford Mustang Mach 1 30 photos
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
1969 Ford Mustang Hardtop1969 Ford Mustang SportsRoof1969 Ford Mustang GT SportsRoof1969 Ford Mustang GT Convertible1969 Ford Mustang GT Convertible1969 Ford Mustang Grande1969 Ford Mustang Boss 3021969 Ford Mustang Boss 3021969 Ford Mustang Boss 3021969 Ford Mustang Boss 4291969 Ford Mustang Boss 4291969 Ford Mustang Mach 11969 Ford Mustang Mach 11969 Ford Mustang Mach 11969 Ford Mustang Mach 11969 Shelby GT 350 SportsRoof1969 Shelby GT 350 Convertible1969 Shelby GT 350 SportsRoofCarrol Shelby and a 1969 Shelby GT 500 SportsRoof1969 Shelby GT 500 Convertible1969 Boss 302 Engine1969 Boss 429 Engine1969 429 Super Cobra Jet Engine1970 Ford Mustang SportsRoof1970 Ford Mustang Hardtop1970 Ford Mustang Boss 3021970 Ford Mustang Boss 3021970 Ford Mustang Boss 4291970 Ford Mustang Mach 1
By 1968, the pony car segment became extremely competitive, with all three major U.S. automakers battling for dominance. Ford was still on top thanks to the incredibly popular Mustang and its slightly more elegant sibling, the Mercury Cougar. GM joined the race a couple of years earlier with the Chevrolet Camaro and the Pontiac Firebird, while Chrysler’s Plymouth Barracuda was in its second generation, and the company was preparing to release another model under the Dodge brand soon.

That year, the development team in charge of the Mustang began drawing up another major redesign. The plan was to make the car even more aggressive, both visually and mechanically. The original 108-inch (2,743-mm) wheelbase of the 64½’s was kept, but the body's length was extended by 3.8 inches (97 mm).

1969: More Performance Versions Than Ever Before

1969 Ford Mustang Boss 302
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
Building on the aggressive stance of the ’67-’68 cars, the new Mustang donned convex rather than concave side panels. It was the first model to use quad headlamps placed both inside and outside the front grille opening. Moreover, the iconic central logo was replaced by a smaller one fitted on the left side of the grille.

The Fastback 2+2 body style was discontinued, replaced by a new SportsRoof variant. Although the latter received its own body code number, the change was more of an unsuccessful rebranding, than a dramatic shift in styling. To this day, SportsRoof models are still referred to as fastbacks by the vast majority of pony car enthusiasts.

In the engine department, the 1969 lineup was among the most varied in model history. For the first time since 1964, there were two inline sixes to choose from. As standard, the Mustang continued to be supplied with the T-code 200-cu in (3.3-liter) six-cylinder and an optional 250-cu in (4.1-liter) version that made 155 hp was added.

The base V8 continued to be a slightly revised variant of the 302-cu in (4.9-liter) Windsor two-barrel, while the four-barrel version was discontinued. New to the lineup was a couple of 351-cu in (5.8 L) units. The two-barrel Windsor produced 250 hp, whereas the four-barrel Cleveland could deliver 280 hp.

The 320-hp Thunderbird Special was the only 390 big-block left, with Ford retiring the two-barrel Thunderbird introduced a year later. Next in line was the tire-torching 428-cu in (7.0-liter) Cobra Jet that was rated at 335 hp but could spit out a lot more, especially when fitted with the optional ram-air intake.

1969 Ford Mustang Mach 1
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
The performance edition lineup saw the official debut of the new Mach 1. It was only available in the SportsRoof body style and could be equipped with any of the five V8s. Among other exclusive visual upgrades, it came standard with a matte black scooped hood that featured exposed lock pins. Inside, it was equipped with high-back bucket seats and special carpeting. It also included all the mechanical upgrades that came with the optional Special Handling Package.

With 72,458 units sold, which was almost 25% of all Mustang sales in 1969, the Mach 1 would eventually replace the GT Equipment Package that was sold for the last time that year.

The Shelbys featured many cosmetic upgrades that differentiated them from the standard cars. These included a redesigned front grille, fiberglass hoods, front fenders, and a luxury-oriented cabin.

1969 Shelby GT 350 SportsRoof
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
While the GT500 came with the same 428 Cobra Jet introduced the previous year, the GT350 was now fitted with the new 351-cu in (5.8-liter) Windsor upgraded to 290 hp. The engine was equipped with a 470 CFM four-barrel Autolite carburetor, an aluminum intake manifold, and valve covers made from the same material.

Apart from the GT, Mach 1, and Shelbys, Ford introduced two additional performance homologation models that would become some of the coolest Mustangs ever built.

The first was the Boss 302, developed to dominate the Trans-Am championship in its respective class and beat the Z/28 Camaro. As its name implies, it used a heavily-modified 302-cu in (4.9-liter) engine fitted with cylinder heads from the Cleveland 351 that arrived later. It produced 290 hp and 290 lb-ft (393 Nm) of torque, helping the car achieve a 0 to 60 mph (96 kph) time of 6.9 seconds.

1969 Boss 429 Engine
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
The second model was the Boss 429. It was conceived primarily to homologate its powerplant for NASCAR use. One of the biggest engines ever fitted by the manufacturer on a production car, the 429-cu in (7.0 L) unit put out a whopping 375 hp and 450 lb-ft (610 Nm) of torque. It could launch the rabid pony car to 60 mph (96 kph) from a standstill in 6.5 seconds.

Another special edition worth mentioning wasn’t performance-oriented but created with luxury in mind. Also introduced that year, it was called Grande and could be purchased only in hardtop form. With numerous visual upgrades and an upscale interior, it was the classiest Mustang of the first generation.

Despite all these additions, sales dropped slightly compared to the previous year. Excluding the Shelbys, 299,824 units were produced in 1969.

1970: Slight Changes and the End of the Shelby Era

1970 Ford Mustang SportsRoof
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
After the extensive redesign of the previous year, the Mustang received only minor modifications. The most notable of them saw the headlights moved inside the grille opening, and the place where they were previously located was covered with a pair of fake intake vents.

The V8 engine lineup saw the removal of the last remaining 390, and Cleveland 351s eventually replaced the Windsor 351. As for the special editions, the Grande, Mach 1, Boss 302, and Boss 429 editions returned with insignificant modifications.

Carrol Shelby and a 1969 Shelby GT 500 SportsRoof
Photo: Ford Motor Co.
Unfortunately, the Shelby story would come to an end in 1970. A year earlier, Carroll Shelby would terminate his contract with Ford and part ways to pursue other projects. The GT350s and GT500s sold that year were carry-overs from 1969 and only featured different hood stripes.

Even though the curtain was drawn on these two iconic models, this period marked the peak of performance for the first generation. With the huge variety of available models, we can only imagine how many sleepless nights customers endured in 1969 when thinking about buying a new Mustang.

A largely unsuccessful redesign coupled with new emission regulations that limited the power of the available engines led to a drop in sales for the following three years. You can read more about the 1971-1973 models in the final part of our series.
If you liked the article, please follow us:  Google News icon Google News Youtube Instagram
About the author: Vlad Radu
Vlad Radu profile photo

Vlad's first car was custom coach built: an exotic he made out of wood, cardboard and a borrowed steering wheel at the age of five. Combining his previous experience in writing and car dealership years, his articles focus in depth on special cars of past and present times.
Full profile


Would you like AUTOEVOLUTION to send you notifications?

You will only receive our top stories