History of the Ford Mustang GT


With its 460-horsepower 5.0-liter V-8, the 2018 Ford Mustang GT offers ready-made power for the masses. It’s not the top performer in the lineup, but it is Ford’s symbol for obtainable Mustang performance and it’s better than ever.

The GT badge has held various meanings throughout the life of the Mustang. It started as a $165 package in 1965, starred as Steve McQueen’s hero car in the 1968 film “Bullitt,” then took the 1970s off before marking the return of performance with the 5.0 in the 1980s, much to the delight of Vanilla Ice.

While performance was its hallmark in the GT-390, 0-60 mph times didn’t drop appreciably for decades. That all changed in 2011 when Ford shoved a new 5.0-liter V-8, this one with dual overhead cams, under the hood. Today, that engine and a modern suspension make the Mustang an American icon with the goods to take on the world.

Join us on a trip the the Mustang GT’s history, in all its American glory.

1965 Ford Mustang fastback with GT package

1965 Ford Mustang fastback with GT package

1965 Ford Mustang GT package

The Mustang GT didn’t start as a model, but as a $165 package that included disc brakes, dual exhaust, driving lights in the grille, badges, rocker panel racing stripes inspired by GT40, and a full gauge cluster instead of idiot lights. It also came with the equipment from the Special Handling package, which included stiffer springs, heavy-duty shocks, a 13/16-inch sway bar, and a quicker steering box. It was only available for 4-barrel versions of the 289-cubic-inch V-8, which made 225 or 271 hp. The package was not available for the early cars referred to as 1964 ½ models. For the 1966 model year, it was only offered on the hi-po 271-hp engine, but it was available for all V-8s in 1967.

 

1968 Ford Mustang GT 390

1968 Ford Mustang GT 390

1968 Mustang GT-390

The elements of the 1965-67 Mustang GT equipment group carried over into 1968, but they were available for two new engines: a 230-hp, 302-cubic-inch V-8 and a much more powerful 390-cubic-inch V-8 that cranked out 335 ponies. The latter was known as the GT-390. The stripe moved up into the body and got a new “C” shape to match the body sculpting, and all the GTs rode on Wide Oval tires mounted on 6-inch-wide GT-style wheels. Ford offered the package for the hardtop coupe, the convertible, and the fastback. In Car and Driver testing, an automatic-equipped GT-390 posted a 0-60 mph time of 6.3 seconds and a quarter-mile time of 14.8 seconds. Ultimate performance numbers didn’t matter, though, when Steve McQueen drove a 1968 Mustang GT-390 though the streets of San Francisco in the movie “Bullitt” to create one of the all-time great car chase scenes. That car became so iconic that Ford has issued four special-edition Bullitt Mustang models in the ensuing years.

 

1982 Ford Mustang GT

1982 Ford Mustang GT

1982 Ford Mustang GT

The GT nomenclature went away for the 1970 model year and didn’t return until 1982. By now, Ford had moved on to the Fox-bodied Mustangs (and past the unloved Mustang II era of 1974-1977). The new Mustang GT was powered by a 302-cubic-inch (5.0 liters) V-8 that produced a rather anemic 157 hp and motivated the car to 60 mph in 8.1 seconds. Buyers could also choose a 120-hp 255-cubic-inch V-8 as a credit option. The car featured bucket seats, power brakes with larger front discs, Ford’s “handling” suspension, and a locking rear differential. The Fox platform that debuted in 1979 for the third-generation Mustang also underpinned those performance stalwarts, the Ford Fairmont and the Mercury Zephyr, but it created a light, nimble Mustang. In ’82, the Mustang GT was offered only in a hatchback coupe body style.

1983 Ford Mustang GT

1983 Ford Mustang GT

1983 Ford Mustang GT

The third-generation Mustang received its first facelift in 1983, with a rounder nose and a narrower grille. A convertible body style returned to the Mustang lineup for the first time in a decade and became available for the GT. Ford bumped the 5.0-liter V-8 to 175 hp with a new carburetor and changes to the valvetrain and exhaust system, and switched the manual from a 4-speed to a new close-ratio 5-speed Borg Warner T-5 gearbox. The GT also received wider 220/55 tires on wheels slightly larger than 15 inches, a larger anti-roll bar, softer rear springs, and higher-effort steering. Mid model year, Ford added a 140-cubic-inch turbo-4 version of the GT using the engine from the Thunderbird Turbo Coupe. The engine produced 145 hp and 180 pound-feet of torque. While the V-8 GT could conquer the 0-60 mph run in close to six seconds, the Turbo needed almost 10 seconds. Worse yet, the Turbo lacked an automatic transmission and air conditioning and cost $250 more than the V-8 GT. Only 483 1983 Turbo GTs were built.


 
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