By Charlotte Iggulden
What Was the Best Mustang?
To help answer the old question “What was the best Mustang model?”, this is Muscle Car UK’s comprehensive review of the 1968 Ford Mustang, the first of a series of reviews that will examine each Mustang year in turn.
Looking for a 1968 Mustang in the UK yourself? You might get lucky: see our UK stock for the car of your dreams.
About the 1968 Mustang
At first glance, 1968 Mustangs shared the successful restyling of the longer, wider, and heavier 1967 Mustang, with subtle modifications.
Increased rivalry from adversaries Chevy Camaro and Pontiac Firebird, alongside the revised Dodge Charger, Cougar, Barracuda, Javelin and intermediate-sized performance cars such as the Pontiac GTO, were penetrating the Mustang’s sales. Even past successes from Ford’s own brand like the 1965 Shelby Mustang were hard to surpass.
Ford responded with more powertrain choices for the hardtop, fastback and convertible, with four engines in seven options, four transmissions and nine rear axle ratios. First came their 427cid detuned race engine in early ’68, before unleashing their landmark NHRA drag-race winner, the 410hp 428cid ‘Cobra Jet’ V8 on limited GTs and the Shelby GT500KR in late 1968. Big-block Mustangs were now pure American muscle.
According to Motor Trend, “The entire world will come to recognize this engine – the 428 Cobra Jet – at the pop of a hood.”
Mid-year, the popular 289cid Windsor V8 engine was superseded by the new, more powerful 302cid V8 and 390cid.
Although 1968 Mustang production decreased to 317,404, with convertibles by over 40%, Ford’s pony led competition by 80,000 units; power-hungry customers bought 870 Mustangs a day.
1968 Mustang Styling Changes
Former extras became standard: All three body styles received the base 200cid inline six, deep-foam bucket seats, rocker panel moulding, ‘keyless locking,’ side marker lights or reflectors, padded energy-absorbing steering wheels and seat backs, self-locking folding front and rear seats, and shoulder belts.
The base price for Hardtop Coupes with these features was $2,602—almost $300 more than the standard 1964 Mustang. Convertibles cost $2,800 and Fastbacks $2,712. Ford produced 17,458 GT Mustangs, Fastbacks, Convertibles, and Hardtops, the latter remaining the most coveted.
For the first time, buyers could order a bench seat in a fastback, and specify a car (deluxe) with bench seats, both combinations that are rare today.
The exterior grille was more deeply inset, its vertical and horizontal bars removed, and the pony emblem is smaller. The 1968 Shelby had a larger front grille, with fibreglass hood and twin scoops.
The Ford lettering on the bonnet was deleted, and the MUSTANG block letters replaced with script until 1973. The Mustang’s characteristic side sculpturing is simpler, with a single wide simulated air scoop with dark metal moulding.
Ford’s GT equipment group had reflective tape in white, black, red, or blue, and reflective paint on its steel wheels. They sported four-inch fog lights, and Government-mandated front and rear side marker lights for safety.
The GT convertible had a large, padded roll bar positioned behind the front seats and a flatter top than a fastback. This meant the new Shelby convertible was dressed like the fastback, with fibreglass nose panels and hood, functional scoops, vents, and decorative bodyside intakes.
Popular factory options included a power convertible top, tinted windows, accent stripe, and rear window defogger.
1968 Ford Mustang GT Driving Experience
Improved suspension and handling characterised 1968 Mustangs, with the best stopping ability of any pony car to date. Cars with 390cid, 427, and 428cid used power discs; power steering was highly desirable with V8s or those with wide tires. Three-speed manual transmission was offered free for a second year, with optional Cruise-O-Matic and four-speed manual.
428 Cobra Jet
Said to be the “performance option for all Mustang GTs, Torinos, and Fairlanes,” the CJ had ram air induction, functional hood scoop, and high-performance equipment like lightweight valves, high-ratio rocker arms, and solid lifter cams. For $500, the package included front disc brakes, totalling $3,600.
Originally rated 335hp at 5400rpm and 440 lbs-ft torque at 3400rpm, NHRA claimed the 428cid peaked around 410hp. With a 5.4 second acceleration and 14.01 second ¼ mile at 101mph, the CJ gave the Mustang ‘Supercar’ status.
Ford quoted in a 1968 advert, “The Cobra Jet will be the utter delight of every Ford lover and the bane of all the rest because, quite frankly, it is the fastest running Pure Stock in the history of man.”
The 427 and 428 were wedged into 3620lb cars with 108-inch wheelbase, nearly filling the engine bayA special 1968 Ford Mustang 428 Cobra Jet fastback/GT was introduced to promote the engine. Ford built 2,258 CJ Fastbacks and 564 Coupes.
‘California Special’ GT/CS
With one in five 1960s Mustangs destined for California, Ford built 4,118 limited production California Specials from February-July 1968, with 251 rebranded as ‘High Country Specials’ (HCS) sold in Colorado.
Available on Hardtop Coupes, the GT/CS was based on Shelby’s ‘Little Red’ coupe prototype and featured elements from the Shelby GT350, Shelby GT500 and Fastback GT, boasting Shelby trim, side stripes, ‘California Special’ chrome script badging and 1965 sequential Thunderbird rear taillights. Both HCS and CS had front fog lights, simulated side scoops and Shelby’s rear faschia.
Carroll Shelby’s AC Cobra production stopped after 1968, but he renamed his Mustangs the Shelby Cobra GT350 and GT500/KR. They had an aggressive front end, functional scoops, and vents. 1968 marked peak production for Shelby’s, with 4,450 units compared to 3,225 in 1967.
With the solid lifter 271hp 289cid Hi Po discontinued, the 1968 GT350 used the 302cid 4-barrel 250bhp with hydraulic lifters. 1,253 GT350 Fastbacks and 404 Convertibles produced, with 224 Hertz Rent-A-Racers.
A few early GT500s had the 400bhp 427cid. Less than 50 were built to order with Ford’s C-6 automatic transmission and are now rare and valuable.
The 1968 Shelby GT500 began with Ford’s ‘67 ‘Police Interceptor’ 360hp 428cid until mid-year, when the new 428 Cobra Jet became available, gaining the new suffix KR: King of the Road.
1,140 GT 500 Fastbacks produced, outselling GT350s two to one. The competition version had 427 or 428cid.
The GT500-KR 428cid had functional Ram-Air hood and Cobra Jet emblems. Ford gave it a low horsepower rating and torque, although it had higher output.
With its wide tires and improved suspension, the GT500-KR outhandled most sports cars but it was heavier than a Cobra Jet and could not outrun a hemi on the dragstrip.
However, as Car Life pointed out: “The KR’s vincibility doesn’t matter. The car is so impressive, so intimidating to challengers, that there are no challengers. The KR breeds confidence bordering on arrogance.”
933 Competition Fastback KRs produced, 402 Convertibles and 318 Competition convertibles.
1968 Mustang’s Appearances on Racetracks
Ford’s team of eight Cobra Jet Mustangs won everything in Super Stock class at the 1968 NHRA Winternationals.
According to Bob Tasca, “The Cobra Jet Mustang began the era of Ford’s supremacy in performance. It was the fastest production car built in the world at that point.”
1968 Mustang in Popular Culture
A Highland Green 1968 Mustang GT390 V8 fastback features in the 1968 film, Bullitt. Driven by tough San Francisco Police Detective, Lt. Frank Bullitt, in an 11-minute chase sequence, it outmanoeuvres the mob’s black 1968 Dodge Charger R/T 400.
At over 110mph and with a soundtrack of V8s and burning rubber, Hollywood had never produced a realistic car chase scene before, with actor Steve McQueen driving for a significant part of the chase. It transformed film making and helped Bullitt win an Oscar for editing. Ford created limited-edition Bullitt tributes in 2001, 2008, and 2019.
In the 2009 science fiction film, Race to Witch Mountain, a Mustang Bullitt is integral to the film’s plot, as Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson’s character dreams of owning “the car from Bullitt.”
In the 1988 comedy, Bull Durham, actor Kevin Costner drives a 1968 Shelby Mustang GT-350 convertible.
1968 Ford Mustang Prices Rising
Two identical 1968 Mustang GT fastbacks were used in Bullitt, both presumed lost until recently. After disappearing for decades, the ‘hero’ car reappeared in public at the same time as the 2018/19 Bullitt Mustang debuted.
Warner Bros. had sold the car to a studio executive who then passed it onto a detective on the east coast. In 1974, Robert Kiernan bought the Mustang for $6,000 after seeing a Road and Track advertisement and it became his family’s daily car for shopping trips and school runs, stored in various garages as the family relocated. His son Sean moved to their family’s Kentucky horse farm and sold the car for $3.74 million at Mecum Auctions in January 2020.
It is the 21st car to be added to the National Historic Vehicle Register.
1968 proved to be an iconic year for Ford’s Mustang range, with the introduction of their landmark engines and success on the racetrack, reflected in more showroom sales. Arguably one of Ford’s best years for muscle cars, 1968 contributed one of the most culturally important vehicles in automotive history.
With many classic Ford parts still available, Mustangs are popular and easy to restore, stocked in the UK by specialist dealers. Muscle Car UK is proud to have only the highest-quality, rust-free classic Mustangs for sale in the UK.
Perhaps the most simply and most fittingly, as Sean Kiernan said, the 1968 Mustang is just “great fun to drive.”
Author: Charlotte Iggulden
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