As household a name as Folgers, Marlboro or Kraft Mac 'n Cheese, the Ford Mustang is the longest surviving of the affordable breed of classic American muscle cars. Sold always in coupe and most times in convertible and 2+2 fastback forms as well since its 1964 introduction, the Ford Mustang is the only one of the original pony cars to enjoy an uninterrupted production run. It hasn't been easy, either, as oil crises, tightening emissions standards and corporate budget cuts have put the Mustang's future in doubt on more than one occasion. Ultimately, though, its iconic status within the Ford lineup and popularity with consumers has seen it through.
2008 Ford Mustang GT Convertible Shown
There have been many great Mustangs over the decades: Most revered as collector cars are the 1965-'70 Shelby Mustangs and the '69 and '70 Boss 302 and 429, while the '69 and '70 Mach 1, 1984-'86 turbocharged SVOs, 2000 Cobra R and '03 and '04 supercharged SVT Cobra are also coveted. Most Mustangs have had far more pedestrian credentials, of course, but with at least one V8 in the lineup for virtually all of the car's lifespan, the Mustang has long been the choice of consumers seeking power and style in a rear-wheel-drive coupe, fastback or convertible. The current-generation Ford Mustang is easily the best ever from the standpoints of performance, refinement and day-to-day livability.
Completely redesigned for 2005, the Mustang moved to an all-new chassis after a 25-year run on the late-'70s-era Fox-body platform. Ford's pony car still uses rear-wheel drive and a fairly basic solid-axle rear suspension, but ride quality and handling are more precisely controlled than on any previous Mustang.
Most noticeable is the car's styling, which pays homage to the famed Mustangs of the 1960s: With its big grille, round headlights, high-mounted foglights and fastback roof line, the current Mustang GT coupe is a throwback to the muscle car heyday. The classic motif continues inside where an old-school dash, steering wheel and instrumentation are integrated into a modern, ergonomically friendly design. Some materials are low in quality, however, as Ford sought to keep the price tag low as well.
Indeed, value remains one of the Ford Mustang's strengths. For about $20,000, you can get into a Mustang coupe with a healthy, 4.0-liter V6 good for 210 horsepower. For about five grand more, you can get a convertible or opt for the GT coupe, which packs a 300-hp, 4.6-liter V8 complete with burbling exhaust note. Fully loaded Mustang GT convertibles top out in the mid-$30K range.
For those who find the GT too tame, an elite Mustang called the Shelby GT500 debuted in coupe and convertible form for 2007. It's much pricier than regular Mustangs, but the payoff is a supercharged 5.4-liter V8 good for 500 hp, and a thoroughly reworked chassis.
There have been eight previous generations of the Ford Mustang, and given the car's sustained popularity over the years, older models are relatively easy to find on the used market. Still, most specimens you're likely to find will be from the eighth generation, sold from 1999-2004. This is the best of the Fox-body Mustangs, and like the current car, it offered a good blend of performance, fun and affordability. Downsides included rather crude handling characteristics (a consequence of the aged platform) and a cheap interior with an awkward driving position.
If you're shopping for an eighth-gen Mustang, our pick would be a GT from any year, as it offered a healthy 260-hp V8. If you're seeking something faster and rarer, consider the limited-edition Mach 1 (305-hp V8) or supercharged SVT Cobra (390-hp V8), which were sold in 2003 and 2004. The Cobra is the only Ford Mustang ever fitted with an independent rear suspension; it was also sold in '99 and 2000 but wasn't supercharged. Even rarer is the 2000 Cobra R, a race-ready, 385-hp Mustang coupe stripped of its rear seats and air-conditioning.
You'll also encounter plenty of seventh-generation Mustang coupes and convertibles, sold from 1994-'98. This car is very similar mechanically to the eighth-gen Mustang; the main difference is exterior styling. If you're thinking of buying one, 1996-'98 GT and SVT Cobra models might be preferable, as the '96 model year brought a new 4.6-liter, SOHC V8 that was much smoother than the outgoing 5.0-liter V8. Although horsepower held steady in the GT, the Cobra jumped from 240 to 305. The most collectible Mustang of this period is the '95 Cobra R, a 300-hp coupe without a backseat.