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There have only been a few muscle cars with as big of a following as the Ford Mustang. Ford’s running horse badge represents all things power, performance, and personality. With so many models spanning so many decades, you might need a guide to sort out the best of these purring ponies. So, which Mustang is the best? What is the best year Ford Mustang to buy? If you need to know which Mustang car model to prefer, this is the ultimate guide you’ve been waiting for to help you decide. 

From this guide, you can expect an in-depth introduction to the best Mustang models of all time. This list offers details you need to know about some of the legendary Ford Mustangs you probably know, like the Shelby GT350R, Shelby GT500, and the California Special. Additionally, there will also be highlights regarding the Bullitt, Boss 429, Mach 1, and others. Keep reading and take the guesswork out of buying your next Ford Mustang.

Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R

A Ford Motor Company executive introducing the new Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R model at the North American International Auto Show
A Ford Shelby Mustang GT350R model | Scott Olson/Getty Images

When Ford introduced the Mustang Shelby GT350R in 2016, fans rejoiced. This muscle car took performance to an entirely new world-class level, according to Dupont Registry. The 5.2-liter V8 engine produced 526 horsepower, allowing this beefy Ford Mustang to scream from 0 to 60 mph in just 3.8 seconds. It can reach impressive top speeds of 190 mph, too. Car and Driver called the six-speed manual transmission and chassis “lively” when testers beat out the likes of the Toyota Supra, the BMW M2, and the Porsche 718 in a comparative analysis.

The Ford Mustang Shelby GT350R was produced from 2015 (for 2016) through 2020, according to Motor Authority. However, if you were interested in knowing which Mustang model and year is the best to buy, getting one of those limited number units of 2015 might be the most valuable. Only 137 were made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s 1965 Ford Shelby GT350. Buying one of the newest 2020 models might cost you around $73,435 while fetching the earliest 2015-2016 models would set you back about $65,620.

Ford Shelby Mustang GT500

Some Ford Mustang fans will tell you the Shelby Mustang GT500 is quite possibly the greatest model of all time. It was 1967 when Ford launched this version of the pony, reports Car Covers, intended for sheer muscle. The early models came with a 5.4-liter supercharged V8 engine, capable of 500 horsepower. This car got another boost in 2013 when Ford saw that the Shelby GT500 could hit 202 mph with 662 horsepower from its 5.8-liter supercharged V8 engine.

If you find a classic Shelby GT500, depending on its mileage and condition, you could be spending collectors’ prices, up to $200,000. Buying one of the 2013 models could cost you anywhere from $30,000 to $70,000. Ford says you can buy a new 2021 Shelby Mustang GT500 for a starting MSRP of $72,900.

Ford Mustang California Special

If you need to know which Mustang model and year is the best to buy, you have to consider the Ford Mustang California Special. A group of West Coast dealers convinced Ford to bring a limited-production model to life back in 1968. It would be exclusive to the region, and it was called the Mustang GT California Special. Finding one of these introductory year models today might be tough and cost you more than you’re willing to spend since only 4,100 units were ever produced.

Ford Performance lays out the specs for the modern version of this iconic Mustang, including the 300-hp 4.6-liter V8 engine, bolted to a five-speed manual transmission. Newer model Mustangs with the California Special Package will enjoy some of the styling treatments of the original, including iconic hood scoops. Of course, the more recent models also include upgrades like heated seats, upgraded audio systems, and satellite radio, says Ford. A 2021 Ford Mustang GT Convertible California Special has a starting MSRP of $46,815, per an AutoGuide review. However, considering the rarity of those original 1968 models, you should be prepared to spend around $68,000 for one of those.

Ford Mustang Bullitt

The Ford Mustang Bullitt is legendary for several reasons and partly because of its Hollywood roots. It was 1968 when Steve McQueen starred in the movie Bullitt portraying Frank Bullitt, the San Francisco police lieutenant who drove a dark green 1968 Fastback. Together, according to Steeda, McQueen and Mustang defined the pedal-to-the-medal car chase scenes on-screen. This caused the Bullitt to go down as a legendary beast. The car featured in the movie sold at auction for $3.74 million, making it the most expensive Mustang transaction ever.

The 1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt offered 335 horsepower and 0 to 60 mph times of 6.3 seconds, with its 6.4-liter V8 engine. Over the years, Ford has introduced commemorative Mustang Bullitt models with even more to offer. The 2001 Bullitt offered an homage exterior green color to the 1968 version. Another variation of the legendary car came with different styles and engine revamps in 2008 and 2009, says Car Covers. 

On Jan. 14, 2018, Ford announced that it was launching a new 2019 Mustang Bullitt to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the fan-favorite movie and arguably the best car chase scene of cinematic history. This model featured an upgraded 5.0-liter V8 engine that could deliver at least 475 horsepower and 420 lb-ft of torque, capable of an impressive top speed of 163 mph. A 2020 model costs around $48,905. Buying one of the original 1,251 models will likely cost much, much more.

Ford Mustang Boss 429

SuperCars insists you can’t have the “best Mustangs of all time” list without including the beefy Ford Mustang Boss 429. This car was Ford’s answer to the super-fast Mopar HEMI engine in the NASCAR arena back in 1969. This model Mustang came with a robust 500-hp rating, even though racing was limited to 375 horsepower. It was built as a full-on race engine with large exhaust pipes, nicknamed the “shotgun engine.”

The 1969 Mustang Boss remains atop many of the best Mustang lists today, including with Dupont Registry. Mustang car packages also became available later, harkening the fender decals, hood scoops, and front spoilers like the original models. However, as Top Speed points out, the Boss 249 is one of the most sought-after Mustang models of all time. Unfortunately, only 1,358 were ever produced between 1969 and 1970. Even if you find one to buy, a “fair” condition Boss 429 can go for over $140,000.

Ford Mustang Mach 1

Ford lets you shop for a 2021 Mustang Mach 1 right now with a starting MSRP of about $53,400. However, it’s certainly not the first time Ford introduced a Mach 1. Technically, this revolutionary design came out in 1969, with the concept making its debut the year before, according to MotorTrend. The Ford Mustang Mach 1 offered a 351-cubic-inch Windsor V8 engine and a 428-cubic-inch Cobra Jet engine, which was only available in the fastback body style. You could get a three-speed manual, a four-speed stick, or automatic transmission, as well.

In terms of sales revenue alone, it looks like 1975 was the best year for the Mach 1. Then, after a brief hiatus, it made another grandioso appearance in 2003 with a 305-hp engine treatment and a body style reminiscent of the original 1969. However, the most expensive Mach 1 to find today would likely be those earlier models. HotCars says you can expect entry-level price tags for a 1969 Mustang Mach 1 to hover around $70,000.

Ford Mustang II King Cobra

If you are unfamiliar with the Ford Mustang II King Cobra, you’re probably not alone. It’s a model that didn’t earn the Ford Mustang any real brownie points as a fan-favorite in the late 70s. HotCars calls the II King Cobra one of the least successful blue oval Mustangs of all. However, enthusiasts insist there’s plenty to get excited about with this muscle car. Those who still love this model say it merely was a victim of tough times when high gas prices and recession-like economic conditions plagued vehicle owners in 1978. Buying one of these back then would have only cost about $6,350.

The V8 engine under the hood could only achieve 139 horsepower, and it took a full 10 seconds to reach 60 mph, which wasn’t very impressive in the world of performance. However, it looked and felt like the lean, classic muscle car without being the gas-guzzling monster that most car buyers were trying to avoid back then.

Furthermore, Hemmings reminds fans that without the II King Cobra, there would likely not have been a path leading to the ox-chassis Mustang 5.0, the SVT Cobra, the Cobra R, or the new Shelby GT500. If you want to buy a Ford Mustang II King Cobra today and can find one, you’ll spend anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000, depending on its condition.

Ford Mustang SVO

Car Covers and others say the Ford Mustang SVO deserves accolades among the most extraordinary pony rides. A four-cylinder engine had already had its place among the Ford lineup. However, the 1984 to 1986 SVO brought more horsepower to the little engine that could. Engine output for these muscle cars was rated at 175 horsepower, along with a few other upgrades. Highlights include its aerodynamic body, better suspension, and much-improved handling. 

As CJ Pony Parts mentions, SVO stands for the Special Vehicle Operations team and represents a Ford group of officials who ultimately only collaborated for one production car, that being the Mustang SVO. The purpose of this car was to capture the horsepower of the larger engine, all while maintaining better fuel efficiency. The SVO ends up being a light, easy-to-drive Mustang car. Hemmings suggests you can try to find one of these models today and buy it for just $6,000 to $10,000.

Ford Mustang SVT Cobra R

Dupont Registry lists both the Ford Mustang SVT Cobra and SVT Cobra R on its list. Driving Line says the Mustang SVT Cobra R still commands respect as one of the greatest Mustangs of all time. If you’re undecided or still on the fence about which Mustang model and year is the best to buy, a 1993-2004 SVT Cobra R might just be it. These represent some of the most potent Mustangs of the time, with 385 horsepower from its 5.4-liter V8 engine, upgraded shocks, bigger wheels, and even more significant braking power. Ford even removed the back seat for this model, making it lighter. Additionally, let’s not overlook that giant spoiler. According to Ford Performance, this variation scorched pavement from 0 to 60 mph in 4.7 seconds. These cars are considered collectible in today’s market, meaning you will need to spend well into six figures to buy one in great or mint condition. 

So, which Mustang model and year is the best to buy for you? Hopefully, you can find some guidance on this list of Ford Mustang icons. Whether you’re interested in a newer model or a collector’s classic, you’ll be joining a loyal group of industry enthusiasts who hold a special appreciation for all things Mustang.


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