Since its introduction in 1964, Mustangs have been the beating heart behind Ford’s all-encompassing lineup. While General Motors aims to take on the supercar segment with the Chevy Corvette, and FCA hits everyone hard with its Hellcats, Ford is taking the American muscle car global. Where it once stayed stateside to take on rivals like GTOs, Rebels, and Grand Nationals, it’s now preaching the gospel of affordable horsepower in places like China and Germany, and doing a damn good job at it too.
Simply put, Ford’s commitment to its ponycar has resulted in a modern day masterpiece. Available with cutting-edge powerplants like turbocharged inline-fours and flat plane crank V8s, a much overdue independent rear suspension, and more tech than ever before, the current Mustang could be the most important model since the original rolled off the line over 50 years ago.
In addition to the current car being the most advanced, nimble, and fastest base-model Mustang in history, Ford has also released some seriously powerful limited edition versions over the past few decades that cater directly to the speed freaks. This means that some seriously powerful Mustangs have been hitting the pavement lately — and that’s saying something since the “regular” GT has never exactly been a slouch.
With a half-century’s worth of attainable speed under its belt, we’ve taken a look back at Ford’s pride and joy to provide a short list of some of the fastest, street legal, factory Mustangs ever produced. To keep things simple, we’ve omitted race-tuned cars, third-party modified vehicles, and concepts. These 15 ‘Stangs are all stock, all vicious, and all legendary.
15. 1971 Ford Mustang Boss 351
When the 1971 Boss 351 debuted, Car & Driver mourned the fact that it felt like more of street car rather than a track star. But drivers of the Boss weren’t disappointed in its 351-cubic-inch V8, which cranked out 330 horsepower and 370 pound-feet of torque. Not everyone loved the car’s new look, but performance-wise, it delivered, running from zero to 60 in 5.8 seconds and the quarter-mile in 14.1 seconds at 100.6 miles per hour — numbers that still make it one of the fastest of all time.
14. 1993 SVT Mustang Cobra R
It may not have been the most muscular looking Mustang ever, but the fleet, final installment of the third-generation Mustang had some zip in the SVT Mustang Cobra R trim. According to Road & Track times published by Ford Racing, the 1993 Cobra R made the zero to 60 sprint in 5.7 seconds and ran the quarter-mile in 14.3 seconds at 99 miles per hour using 235 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque. Only 107 models of this speedster were ever produced.
13. 2003 Mustang Mach 1
Ford was in a retro mood around the turn of the century. Following the release of the 2001 Steve McQueen-inspired Bullitt, it followed up with the 2003 Mach 1. Sporting the shaker hood scoop based on the original ’60s model, the 21st century Mach 1 packed a 4.6-liter V8 capable of 305 horsepower and 320 pound-feet of torque, and a specially tuned exhaust setup. According to Motor Trend, it could launch from zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, and run the quarter-mile in 13.88 seconds at 101.9 miles per hour.
12. 2001 Mustang Bullitt
In the 1968 film Bullitt, Steve McQueen played a cop who went all out in pursuit of the bad guys. Flying through the hills of San Francisco in his Highland Green Mustang GT, McQueen and the film’s producers added yet another layer of coolness to the iconic Ford’s resume. So to celebrate one of the most iconic Mustangs of all-time, Ford launched the Mustang Bullitt in 2001.
The new model had the chops to do some racing of its own. Featuring an upgraded 4.6-liter V8 (265 horsepower and 305 pound-feet of torque), the 2001 Bullitt Ford debuted running zero to 60 in 5.6 seconds, and the quarter-mile in 14.0 seconds at 97.9 miles per hour (both figures per Motor Trend). Fewer than 6,000 units were produced.
11. 1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet
There are many discrepancies (arguments) and disagreements (brawls) over the actual output and performance of the earliest Mustangs, but Gary Wizenburg put together the most comprehensive rundown in Mustang! The Complete History of America’s Pioneer Ponycar (Automobile Quarterly, 1979). According to Wizenburg’s extensive research, the hairiest of the early models was the 1969 Mach 1 Cobra Jet, a Mustang with a 7.0-liter, 428 cubic-inch V8 capable of 335 horsepower and 440 pound-feet of torque.
The 1969 Cobra Jet matched even the 1970 Boss 302 Trans Am (built for the track) in quickness. Both cars went zero to 60 in 5.5 seconds, with the Mach 1 making the quarter-mile run in 13.9 seconds at 103 miles per hour (as clocked by Car Life in March 1969). It also hit a top speed of 121 miles per hour in the Car Life tests, which made it the fastest of the early models — even faster than the Trans Am.
10. 1995 Mustang SVT Cobra R
It may not have had the attitude of the original Cobras, but the 1995 SVT Cobra R had plenty of performance to compensate. Using its 5.8-liter V8, the 1995 Cobra R produced a max of 300 horsepower and 365 pound-feet of torque. That had it running zero to 60 in 5.2 seconds and the quarter-mile in 13.8 seconds at 102 miles per hour (Motor Trend). It also began the trend of upgrading performance with each successive Cobra R model, which Ford’s Special Vehicle Team later brought to the shockingly fast Shelby GT500 models.
9. 2012 Mustang V6 Premium
Once the 2007 base Mustang began challenging vintage GT models with a quarter-mile run near 15 seconds, it was clear that even Ford’s entry-level ponycars had gotten serious. In the 2011 V6 Premium, Ford delivered an engine producing 305 horsepower and 280 pound-feet of torque, capable of going zero to 60 in 5.1 seconds. It also ran the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 102.0 miles per hour. Motor Trend posed a valid question in its test of the car: “Could’ve had a V8, but why?”
8. 2008 Mustang Bullitt
Fans of Steve McQueen and the stripped-down retro Mustangs demanded a new Bullitt model to go with the fifth-generation car’s retro looks, and the company delivered in 2008. This time, there was a lot more under the hood to help you channel some 1960s cool. The 2008 Bullitt’s 24-valve V8 capable made 315 horsepower and 325 pound-feet of torque. That power output vaulted the car from zero to 60 in 5.0 seconds, and it ran the quarter-mile in 13.7 seconds at 102.7 miles per hour.
7. 2003 SVT Mustang Cobra
When the latest SVT Cobra appeared in 2003, it was clear that this was a whole new level of power for the Mustang. The 4.6-liter “Terminator” V8 was as fearsome as its name, with 390 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque on tap. It may not have been as mean-looking as the original, but it would blow the Cobras of yore away with its 13.1-second quarter-mile run and 4.8-second zero to 60 sprint.
6. 2000 Mustang SVT Cobra R
With 385 horsepower and 385 pound-feet of torque, the 2000 SVT Cobra R had a larger displacement V8 (5.4 liters) than the 2003 Cobra, yet had a lower power output. But that didn’t stop the lightweight from outrunning the newer Cobra on the track. Testing by Motor Trend put the 2000 Cobra R zero to 60 time at 4.4 seconds with a 12.9-second quarter-mile at 110.8 miles per hour. Ford produced only 300 models of this Mustang, all of them coupes.
5. 2011 GT California Special
The 2011 GT California Special had a new look and a ferocious new DOHC V8 capable of 412 horsepower and 390 pound-feet of torque, making it one of the fastest Mustangs ever produced. Like the models sharing the same engine, the GT CS made the zero to 60 sprint in 4.3 seconds while covering the quarter-mile run in 12.8 seconds at 110.8 miles per hour (Motor Trend). Standard GT Premium models delivered the same exceptional performance without the limited-edition price tag.
4. 2007 Shelby GT500
Conceived as the next SVT Mustang Cobra, the 2007 Shelby GT500 ended up being the first Mustang to wear the Shelby name in nearly 40 years. With a 500-horse supercharged 5.4-liter V8, it cranked out a maximum 480 pound-feet of torque. The GT500 looked every bit the vintage muscle monster and backed it up with performance, running a quarter-mile in 12.7 seconds at 116 miles per hour, according to Motor Trend. It made the zero to 60 sprint in 4.5 seconds.
3. 2012 Mustang Boss 302
Thankfully, Ford’s line of throwback Mustangs doesn’t seem to be a passing fad. The Boss 302 reappeared in 2012 with a 5.0-liter V8 that made 444 horsepower and 380 pound-feet of torque. How bad was the latest Boss Ford? In Motor Trend tests, it took its 3,621 pounds and went flying from zero to 60 in 3.97 seconds, running the quarter-mile in 12.3 seconds at 115.8 miles per hour. It was the Boss Mustang fans had been wanting for decades, and one which Motor Trend declared the greatest ‘Stang of all time.
2. 2016 Shelby GT350R
The lightweight Shelby GT350R isn’t just one of the best Mustangs ever, it’s also one of the best performance cars in the world. With its innovative flat-plane crank V8 and a healthy dose of carbon fiber, and other lightweight bits, the track-focused GT350R went from zero to 60 in 3.9 seconds during independent Motor Trend tests. It would go on to hit 119.6 miles per hour in just 12.1 seconds, all courtesy of the 471 horsepower being sent to the rear wheels.
1. 2013 Shelby GT500
With the arrival of the 2013 Shelby GT500, Ford debuted a V8 with the most horsepower ever produced in North America. The 5.8-liter, 32-valve supercharged aluminum beast produced 662 horsepower at 6,500 rpm and 631 pound-feet of torque at 4000 rpm, which was enough to intimidate the majority of the world’s land vehicles.
The performance tests did not disappoint in the slightest either. The Shelby blasted from zero to 60 in 3.5 seconds. In the quarter-mile run, the GT500 ran 11.6 seconds at 125.7 miles per hour in Motor Trend tests.